Sunday, January 21, 2007

Phew ....

I think I dodged a bullet with Vanguard. I'm kind of glad I downloaded the Beta. Gave me some time to see the game with my own two eyes.

And what's more important ... It let me get over that "Wow!/Cool!/" phase and take a hard look at the game.

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I know I just posted that I like the game the other day. I know that this will sound ADD-ish of me, and I'm sure there's a certain someone out there that will snicker , but I really can't see myself buying the game.

Sure, I'd give it a go if I didn't have to pay, but that would probably end once I hit the "teaming required" point in the levelling grind.

I think the #1 thing that gave me the goosebumps was the size of the world, and the seemlessness of it all. Thinking about it now, it really reminds me of my time in Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). That was my first true MMO ( I don't count the free month in Earth & Beyond, as it was near it's end), and my first love in an MMO sense. Ever since that point, I've been looking for something that can recreate that style of play, and sadly, there's /absolutely nothing/ out there that does.

The only thing that even comes close is EVE Online. And we all know how much of a love/hate relationship I have with that game.

Anyway, back to SWG. The only reason I left the game was because almost all the people I knew were gone. I still enjoyed the planets, the creatures, the PvP (slightly), and the sandbox nature of it all. There weren't quests like most new MMOs, and somehow, I enjoyed it more. I also liked it more when there were corpse runs, but sadly, they took that out earlier on, due to lag/crashes losing people's corpses (and hence, all their shit).

The first bit of Vanguard, especially after I got the game to a level of actual playability, was awesome. I was truly interested in the world I was playing in. Even last night when I played, I really liked the size of the world. Standing in the Elven city, among the insanely huge trees, with buildings in them, was breathtaking.

But .... that can't overshadow the lacking features I've found in the game. Not at all. Especially when the performance is still not that great (especially in towns. It chugs like shit), and the textures aren't all that great either. Besides, it doesn't have any of that "energy" that I get from other games I like. NWN 2 had it at the beginning (lot it near the end). My FPS games all have it. GTA has it. Old games like Master of Orion 2, X-Com, Aliens vs. Predator 1 & 2, Morrowind, Rune, etc. They all had that little spark, that intangible thing that made me want to play them as much as I could. It can't be good for Vanguard when I lose that feeling (if it was even there to begin with, I don't know), after a /week/. Especially when it has some of the things I really like in a game.

So, without further ado, here are the negatives I've found in Vanguard already: (after a week of playing)

1. The animations are pretty crappy, to say the least.
This might change in the future, I'm not sure. They have adjusted some of them, but for the most part, they look wooden and uninteresting. The Monk ones look cool right now, but try a Fighter and you'll want to hurl. They look like fucking shit. They need to fire their animators and get some real ones. Talk to guys who do movies or something, please.

2. The game still has major performance issues.
I tweaked the game a bunch, editing .ini files and such, but it still lags a lot in cities. Mostly when I'm moving around, as I think it's harddrive lag. Probably from all the loading of textures and such. My harddrive is a top of the line SATA one too, so this shouldn't be an issue.

3. The quests are fairly boring
Like WoW, and most other EQ-clones, the quests are the standard "Kill X of ", or "Collect X of from ". I've yet to see anything that's all that engaging, and personally, I'm hard-pressed to withstand mindless quests anymore. Blame WoW for this. I've had my fill, thanks. No more.

4. The world is MASSIVE (-ly sparsely populated)
This is a double-endged sword, IMO. The game is big, and that adds to the feel of a real world. But, it also has some big spots where there's absolutely /nothing/. There's landmass, trees and rocks, but there's nothing you can interact with. I don't really see the point to all this, unless it's something like a road, where it's free from mobs/harvesting stuff/etc. as it's simply there to guide you from one place to the next. There are some major cities in the game too, but from what I've seen, the NPC counts are freaking small. I saw hardly any NPCs in the Middle-Eastern city. You could walk along the docks and maybe see less than a dozen NPCs. That's more like a hamlet than a city.

Though it's true that if they did populate their towns with enough NPCs, everyone's framerate would be less than 1 fps. I don't think there's a game out there with a decent city-sized NPC population, but after playing NWN 2, I can't see how one zone in NWN can have more NPCs than an entire city in Vanguard.

5. The player characters
I really like how the characters in Vanguard are more realistic than, for example, WoW. The armour and weapons are much more life sized, and not "toony" in appearance. Though the characters are very wooden, and still don't make me feel as if I was looking at anything resembling a living organism. It's not the appearance of them, per se, it's more the animations. Or the lack thereof.

There seems to be a minimal amount of idle animations, and the character's gear, hair, etc, doesn't move when they run. WoW was good for this, though. A ponytail on a character would flop about. The braided beard and tail of a Tauren would move. The character's cloak. They still had some fairly basic animations, and didn't really respond accordingly sometimes, but it was there. I'm thinking more of the capes in City of Heroes/Villains (CoX) for this. The wind would move them. If you fell they flew up, if you stopped, they hit your body and flowed around. Real physics to the characters is what I would like to see. As well, the characters don't really seem alive, even as much as NWN 2. In that, they even blink, look around, and stuff. In Vanguard, they might stare off one way, but their faces and eyes don't animate at all.

Also, the characters aren't all that customizable ATM. Even less so than WoW. Sure, there are facial sliders, but for the most part, they are restricted in scope. They actually have full sliders for facial features, but restrict certain ways for each race. So that they aren't used to make monstrous looking characters. I managed to make slightly different faces from the same race, but right now there are only 4 different hairstyles. And there are 4 different faces. They aren't different faces in that they are fundamentally different shaped. More like, what kind of wrinkles do you want on your character. No one, besides yourself can even see them to make a difference.

For the most part, there are 4 different types for each feature. There are sliders for hair colour, nose length, eye slant, etc. But when the basic facial structure is the same for everyone of that race, it doesn't make that much difference. Hell, even NWN 2 had better options than Vanguard. Though it had no ability to modify the face's features, it still had completely different heads. Not just a slightly slimmer nose, and higher cheeks on one face compared to another. Makes everyone of the same race look like they are related.

Basically, it's a /major letdown/ for a game that's supposed to be "next-gen".

6. Forced grouping/Raiding
I don't mind grouping in MMOs, as long as the people aren't assholes or idiots. But I do like the ability to be able to go do something if I'm on my own. And the fact that I work the screwiest shifts possible, hence my gametime is equally screwy, makes soloing a major part of what I do.

But, Vanguard is designed with teaming and raiding in mind. Much moreso on the teaming aspect, but it's still not very solo-friendly. Their breakdown of the content is supposedly something along the lines of: 20% solo, 20% raiding, 60% group. That means I have maybe 50% percent of the content to look forward to, if I get split between soloing and grouping. That's fucking waaay too little for me to play the game. Half of the content is unavailable to me? That's crap.

Going back to SWG (cause I just love comparing all MMOs to it for some reason ), there was a lot of content that was group and raid only. Except the one major difference was that I was able to do whatever I wanted, at any time. If all the quests I have require a group or a raid, and not enough people are available, I'm most likely going to get stuck grinding crappy mobs for crappy loot and little to no XP. I'm betting a lot of downtime will be involved with that too, as I'll have to sit and regen my HPs and stuff. That doesn't sound like "content" to me. It just sounds like tedium. At least in SWG I could go do some easier missions (randomly generated from the terminals) for XP and credits. You never got XP from finishing the mission, only for using your abilities. And the XP was in only for that ability line. Or I could go wander around and see the sights. Areas in SWG were never level restricted, it was just much more dangerous in some spots. I really don't like levels at all, and I find the whole idea that all the tougher monsters, etc. stay in one area. It makes no sense, especially compared to RL. But I digress.

Simply put, soling tends to be the thing I do the most, and being restricted to only 20% of the content in that department isn't going to cut it. I doubt the hordes of WoW players will be interested in that either.

7. Crafting is sub-par to loot
I hate this actually. Gear based games don't bug me at all, it's only when the best gear is only loot based. WoW is the shittiest for this, as I played as a Blacksmith, and I know first-hand. For the vast majority of stuff a Blacksmith can make, it's not fucking useful in the slightest. I think after almost maxing my skills, there were maybe a handful (like 6) things I could make that someone might actually want to buy. Unless you did all the epic stuff (and farmed for ages to collect all the materials), you couldn't make money, /at all/. It was actually a money-sink. Fucking stupid.

Anyway, in Vanguard, there's a insanely complex crafting system. I tried to learn it the other day but got so confused I gave up. All I wanted to do was make some arrows for my Ranger, with the items I foraged in the wild. But I couldn't figure out how the hell it all worked. Regardless, the stuff a crafter can make pales to what you might find from some random mob. Group mobs and raid mobs have even better stuff. So why would someone want crafted items? I'm not sure, but it didn't seem all that useful to me, especially when you get gear for completing quests.

Crafting in my mind, should be #1 for items. Tough mobs should maybe drop items comparable to crafted ones, but if the crafters have superior materials to make them, the crafted ones are better. Mobs could also drop crafting materials, rather than gear itself, so that they could be used to make items. Ryzom has this, but doesn't have the regular loot at all.

EVE is the best for this IMO. Almost all the stuff you can loot, you can buy. There are a lot of faction loots that you can't, unless someone is selling the ones they got, but with PvP being so harsh, risking the loss of a ship module worth /millions of credits/ becomes a big deal. It's better to use the regular stuff to PvP, and keep the faction mods for times when you simply killing NPCs. Unless you've got the credits to burn.

8. Etc., etc., etc.
I could think of more, I'm sure, but I want to finish this while I'm still kind of young.

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So that's it. Vanguard is a big letdown. I was so hyped up after the first day or so of playing. It seemed like I had found a successor to what I'd lost in SWG. But after a while, I could see that I was wrong.

Oh well. At least it didn't cost me any money, and not very much time either.

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As a closer, I wanted to mention that I /finally/ finished NWN 2. I would have done it a bit earlier, but I was trying to download the Vanguard client while I was playing, and after a major fight the game crashed to desktop. I didn't have the option of saving the game during the breaks between the fight sequences, so I had to reload my last savegame the other day. It only took me an hour tops, to get beck to where I was, and another two to finish the entire game, so no big deal. Plus I did much better the 2nd time around than the first.

But, (cause there's always a "but") I was pretty let down by the seemingly "forced" ending of the game. I'm fine with games that don't really tell you what happened, but NWN 2 just sort of "decided" everything for me. And not in good ways either. You don't get to return as the conquering hero, etc., or any of that. The ending isn't happy, nor really sad. It just seems like it is thrust upon you, and you have to like it whether you want to or not.

Maybe cause it's basically a tabletop conversion that I didn't like the ending. If I had a GM who did that at the end of a major campaign, I'd probably ring his neck. And I doubt I'd play any of his adventures anymore.

You can draw your own conclusions from there.

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Other than that, nothing is new. I /might/ give EVE an "honest try" here soon (ie. actually joining a player corporation, and doing stuff with people), as it has the potential to be really good. It's just I don't really give it the effort it should, and then write it off on a whim. We'll see how that goes though.

And Smallville and Heroes should be new this week. I can't wait. Smallville was new last week, but this week's episode sound promising. Last week they had Tori Spelling as a guest. Fucking idiots!

I'm out.
Laters.

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