Sony Online Entertainment is home to some of the most popular MMO’s on the net today. Both the Everquest series and Star Wars galaxies are still being played years after their releases, and, like it or not, SOE seems to have a good formula for putting products out there that people are willing to spill cash on each month. Enter Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.VSOH is an MMO that is not mean for the faint of heart. As a matter of fact, anyone new to the genre may find the learning curve a complete turn off. It took me no less than 10 hours to gain level 10 with my first character. Keep in mind that there is no experience penalty before level 6 and combat options are plentiful. Of course, any MMO fan will not mind a long semi-exponential grind for experience. As a matter of fact, I believe the whole point of MMO’s is to role play a life in a fantasy existence. Quick level gains would be counterproductive to keeping folks hooked. On the flip side, one can kill only so many scorpions and Dark Elves before wanting to see something else.Before I become completely tangential, I should explain the premise of the game. VSOH is set in a fantasy world that contains (at this point) three distinct starting areas: Qalia, Thestra and Kojan. The first two are continents and the third is an “archipelago” (as described in the manual) which my geographically challenged self would describe as a bundle of islands. Each of these areas has indigenous races and each race has specific classes.Upon startup you will be met with an update session that allows plenty of time to read the manual and plan out your VSOH career several times over. I believe my initial patch took nearly 3 hours over a very high speed connection. To that end, I actually read a bit of the manual, that is until, my eyes were fatigued from the inordinately small font size. I believe it was about a 0.5 pt (note sarcasm).The race choices are as follows:
• Barbarian
• Dark Elf
• Dwarf
• Gnome
• Goblin
• Half Elf
• Half Giant
• Halfling
• High Elf
• Human
• Kura
• Mordebi
• Orc
• Raki
• Vulman
• Wood ElfThe classes available, which are restricted by race (and thus your starting area) fall into four basic categories:• Protective Class
o Dread Knight
o Paladin
o Warrior
• Offensive Class
o Bard
o Monk
o Ranger
o Rogue
• Healer Class
o Blood Mage
o Cleric
o Disciple
o Shaman
• Casters
o Druid
o Necromancer
o Psionicist
o SorcererLogic would dictate that this set-up should provide for some inter-player hostility, and factions are clearly evident from the start. Even late into a character cycle, I had to spend a very long time killing low level creatures to get my Dark Elf to a point where he could enter a village without being killed on sight by the villagers. The potential for frustration is very high, especially when you travel far to a location so that you can complete a mundane experience gaining quest, only to be KOS and resurrected a long way from where you just were.There are multiple paths to fame in VSOH. As a matter of fact, there are 3 basic occupational tacks every character can engage in. You are not locked into only one career path. The first two are found in many other games- fighters and crafters. The third , however, is fairly interesting, although it is more mini-game than role playing else.Diplomacy is an “occupation” in which you learn to argue. Instead of following a simple sequence of rational thought to fruition, you are given a small deck of cards with which you can play a very complex game of rock-paper-scissors with your opponent. The mini-game is a bit strange at first, but before long you may find yourself slinging the word “parlay” around in everyday speech. While not for everyone, I imagine the proto-politicians out there will really like this.So many elements used in VSOH can be found in other games that any MMO veteran will be bored with the details. There is not much instant travel (only to your starting location and it has a very long countdown timer for reuse) until higher levels are achieved, and even then, you are limited as to where you can go. VSOH s designed to be a world with real laws of physics and a true timeline. That said, you will go through multiple day/night cycles in a true day of playing.As I mentioned earlier, death is not something a higher level character will enjoy. There is an experience loss, and unless you are fortunate to find a good group with someone who can resurrect you, it is a long, naked walk back to your tombstone to gain back some portion of your lost experience by tagging it. You do have the option to bind your gear if you do not wish to loose it (temporarily) at death. You can also summon your tombstone to your local resurrection altar, but be aware that you will no longer have the option of regaining the lost experience the “easy” way. Even the most stoic player will wince if he is mid to end “grind” in a level.Low level soloing in VSOH is fairly easy but not all that enjoyable. Finding a group was, in my experience, very difficult as the server I play on seems pretty barren. That issue is resolved easily enough by joining a competent guild. VSOH seems tailor made for guilds and the management system is very good with offline communication through the web forums available. It is quite nice to play with the same group of people over and over again and, given the fact that you are allowed multiple characters on the same server, you will always find someone starting a new character even if you are a more casual player. However, I would a*ume anyone paying a monthly access fee will not stay offline for extended periods of time.The enemies in the game range from the mundane such as scorpions and lizards to some semi-f**htening creatures. The AI is sound for the most part and the hostility zone is easy to figure out. If you are very careful, you can tiptoe your way through most hostile outdoor environments. Doing the same indoors is sure suicide without invisibility. Smarter enemies will alert their “friends” to join them in bashing your head in, so groups are always ideal.Loot drops are pretty generous and you can roll against your group members for items you really want. I did not run into any situations where the drops were extraordinarily large or small, given my combatants. There are plenty of vendors who will buy almost anything you happen to find, so purchasing weapons and abilities is not generally frustrating.NPC’s litter the landscape and many offer good options for gaining both experience and coin. If you stay in your starting area and follow quests logically, you will progress efficiently in terms of gaining levels. Again, this is a good time to solo so you will not look like a complete noob when you start grouping. Some NPS’s are trainers specific to your class and you can buy spells and special attacks from them. You do not need to purchase every ability to advance unless is from a level I to a level II of a specific spell.The standard health, action and mana bars fill at a very good pace after combat, but you need to pay close attention to all three before jumping in to a second fight. There are recharging foods available to each level and, thankfully, no specific potions for one recharge or another. In addition, there are some great buffs available to the classes and I found that players, myself included, are very generous in buffing others they happen to see. Most buffs last a full hour of game time, which does not run out if you log out and retu
rn later.The game’s interface is standard for MMO’s. Getting to your quest log, inventory and such is pretty mindless. There are multiple hot-key load-outs available for the different actions you will wish to utilize. The standard options for adding inventory slots are available, provided you do not over encumber yourself. Again, this game is meant to be a real-world experience, so no limitless weight options are available.The graphics and sound are where VSOH really shine. Outside of Oblivion, I have not often stopped to just enjoy the sights. In one of my first group outings, one of my guild members took me on a tour and pointed out beautiful scenery and interesting places and this was not at my request, just a natural reaction of that player. In my mind, any game that encourages players to take others sightseeing is well-designed in the art department. My only complaint is that the seamless world is clearly not seamless and my character got buggy at times, especially with mounts and pets either disappearing or behaving strangely.VSOH seems buggy at this point, and I got into it pretty late in the patch cycle. Of course, one of the beauties of this type of game is that it does update (frequently, IMO) and the developer seems to be listening to the major complaints out there. I played the game both on my “old” PC and a newer Vista machine with similar results. Obviously the game looked better on the newer graphics card, but if you have a reasonable rig, the game is very playable. As with any game, the minimum specs are certainly not optimal!VSOH is very well thought out and rewards the patient, thoughtful gamer. If you like to run into combat with guns-a-blazing, you will be sorely disappointed with the outcome. If level capping is your bag, you may find yourself very turned off by this game. However, if you like to stop and smell the roses and are more interested in developing a truly deep character, in a sometimes breathtakingly beautiful world, the game is worth a look.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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