Friday 26 January 2007

No time for Vanguard

With Vanguard: Saga of Heroes about to launch, I've been taking a bit more interest in it. The timing is pretty bad from my perspective, though: a couple of months ago there was the pre-Burning Crusade lull in World of Warcraft, in three to six months time I might well be ready to move on again (or I might be a dedicated raider, you never know... well, you probably do actually, but still). Right now, though, I'm quite happy wandering around Hellfire Peninsula. There was a cheap Vanguard pre-order pack available with access to the final beta, which at any other time I would have jumped at, but during Burning Crusade launch week?

Maybe that's for the best; while I've been keen in the past to get into open/final betas (or "free trials by any other name with a bit of server stress thrown into the deal") as a way of getting a look at games without paying, this might not be the best idea. Open betas don't usually last too long (one exception being Auto Assault, which I think managed about a year and a half... I still have a soft spot for that game, but sadly almost nobody else did). Being a comparatively casual player to start with, and then knowing that any progress will get wiped away for launch anyway, I usually don't get too much further than the starting areas with a few different races/classes; unless the game is disastrously underdeveloped, these areas should be fairly well polished, and the combination of shiny new game smell, and rapid progression through levels/skills/items (shouts: "LOOK! I have upgraded my rusty blunt spoon to a rusty *sharpened* spoon!") tend to give a positive experience. If the game's called Captain Grind's Grindcrusher: The Ultimate Earache (Extreme Grind Edition), and you start up the beta and the first NPC is Geoff the Assigner of Extremely Grindy Quests who gives you a quest to kill 100 identical Grindbeasts, followed by a second quest to kill 200 identical-except-very-slighly-differently-coloured Grindbeasts... you might just about figure out it's not for you if you don't like grinding. The more cunning designers might adopt the Melmoth's First Circle approach to questing, showering you with plaudits (and indeed "phat lewt") for accomplishing such arduous tasks as "walking to that person just over there, the one with the huge flashing arrow pointing to them, in case you get lost on the way", so by the time beta finishes, you decide this is a really most splendid game and well worth buying.

Having actually gone and bought the game, and raced back through the initial content you got to know in the beta, you suddenly find yourself in a wilderness with not much to do, and a conspicuous lack of showers of rose petals from delighted NPCs. Some heavy crunch time got the starting areas finished, but unfortunately the development team were turned into shambling zombies in the process, and are now trying to eat the brains of the marketing department who *promised* users all sorts of features which would take another six months of unpaid overtime to actually put in. As Van Hemlock most appositely put it: "MMOs are a lot like fine wines - they're best if they've been left to mature a bit, and then should be allowed to 'breathe' before drinking!"

So actually, maybe the "bad" timing is the best possible timing. Once I'm done with the Burning Crusade, if people are generally positive about Vanguard I'll probably check it out. They'll have worked the initial kinks out, be adding new content, the box will be £10 cheaper to buy, and there might be a few old guildmates playing from launch who can spare a couple of copper pieces! (And there'll be world peace, and a solution to global warming, and I'll have won the lottery and be free to play all day... hey, I can dream...)

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