Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sailing Into The Sunset : Vanguard

Just a few days now before the curtain comes down on Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. When the "sundown" was announced I had a whole load of plans - videos to make, places to re-visit, adventures to have - but in the end it all felt too painful and not much fun at all so not much got done.

I already had all the music downloaded and of course I have a wealth of screenshots and video clips, but when I learned that some of the people behind previous successful MMO emulators had a project going that aimed to preserve Telon itself, well, that did take some of the sting out of situation. When it comes down to it, I'm not obsessed over which Telon survives; just so one does. 

Whether they'll ever get something up and running that can be played as a game I have to wonder. The code for Vanguard was famously unravellable and even now it barely works much of the time. Frankly, though, I don't particularly care how "playable" it gets. Had SOE left a server running Vanguard for another decade or two I don't suppose I'd ever have gone back and played any hours you'd call full-time. I'd have gone on doing what I'd been doing for years, dropping in now and again as the mood took me, knocking out a level on my Sorceror here, another on my Necromancer there, mostly just flying around on my toothpaste-blue griffin, taking screenshots.

If the VGOEMU people can just get the world back up so I can wander around the streets of Khal when I'm of a mind to that'll do me. Oh, and Diplomacy please, guys. That'd be neat. As soon as the official server goes down next week they're going to be taking a break for a few months to assess what they've got but they seem very confident they'll get this horse back in the race. And why shouldn't they be? They've done it before. I'll be watching with interest and cheering them on with enthusiasm.

In the meantime, though, I thought it might be appropriate to commemorate the characters that have given me so much pleasure over these last seven-and-a-half years. There's a round dozen of them and here they are:

Rolled on some long-forgotten server one day, when my own server, the much-missed Hilsbury, was down. That was back in the days when Vanguard had more than one server. Explored Mekalia with him a little but never really played him. He came along for the ride when the merges hit because why shouldn't he?

I needed a bank mule and I was determined to have one who wouldn't sneakily worm his way into my affections and end up as a proper character. Hence, halfling. It worked. He never left Tursh.

Goblins are great. Every fantasy MMO should have them as a playable race. Blood Mage, on the other hand, is something of an acquired taste and one I never really managed to acquire, even though I first played one back in beta. This one, like half my people, ended up in New Targonor because when SOE decided Vanguard was a lost cause the first time round, rather than close it down, they began giving away presents by the barrowload and the bottom of the ramp into NT was where the man with the barrow used to stand. No, he didn't really have a barrow...

Another goblin and there's plenty more where he came from. In theory this was a less unusual class than Blood Mage, somewhat resembling an EQ Enchanter, but it still took some getting used to and I never put in the hours for that. The whole Union of Minds thing, where all Psionicists automatically entered a global chat channel for Psionicists only (something no other class had) creeped me out a bit if I'm honest.

Ah, the good old Dwarf. He got played a lot more than his lowly level would suggest because he was my original Diplomat. He spent most of his time mediating in the endless court intrigues of Bordinar's Cleft. Since he was a Paladin he never had much hope of progressing as an adventurer - it's a class I've never enjoyed in any MMO ever. I have no memory of why I chose it when I rolled him although given Vanguard's Class/Race restrictions there probably weren'ta lot of choices for dwarves.

Here come the Rakis. My favorite race in any MMO or RPG ever. This Sorceror was the character I created when the Isle of Dawn was added, which in itself was long after Vanguard had ceased to be my focus game. He finished everything on the island and carried on from there. He got played a lot, mostly in short, late-night sessions. Sorceror turned out to be a really fun class. I don't normally get on with wizards but I got on just fine with him. He'd have made fifty one day - probably sometime around 2025.

Mrs Bhagpuss played a Shaman in the first duo we took to the Level Cap so I had a good idea how they operated. I know they have dogs that bite you all the time even when you're on the same team for one thing, although maybe that was a bug. It was certainly a class that required a lot of choices, anyway, never something that appeals to me. It got simplified some later on but by then it was too late. I already had the best healer ever and I didn't have time for a runner-up.

Like most MMO fantasy worlds, Telon is dominated by humans. They have some great starting areas. The clifftop village that looks down on Khal and the Lomshir horselands are wonderful. Despite that, this is the only one I played and I'm quite surprised he got as far as level twenty. Ranger is one of those classes that always sounds as though it's going to be more interesting than it turns out to be and even Vanguard struggled to buck that trend.

Good old Gnomes. Good old Necros. Can't go far wrong with either. He was a relatively late addition, made long after I'd stopped playing regularly, but he had a good run all the same. I think he had to defer to the Sorceror above as the late-night go-to guy. I remember a lot of messing about with grafts and that's about it. Look at that 'tache though...

Telon has not one but two canine races. Well, to be accurate, it has a Vulpine race, the Raki, and a Lupine one, the Vulmane. This was one of my earliest charaters. I loved the Vulmane starting area and I found the Druid spell-set and gameplay very familiar. Vanguard took an awful lot directly from EQ and one of the things they lifted almost unchanged was the Druid class. He'd probably have made it all the way if Vanguard didn't have some extremely annoying (intentionally I think) issues with tethering and agro. Playing a class that's been given all the tools for kiting but wasn't allowed to use them effectively eventually became just a little too annoying and he took early retirement.

And so we come to the Big Boys. An Orc Dread Knight was my second character to hit the cap back when the cap was fifty. I never went on to 55, which was designed mostly to occupy the time of the small but dedicated hardcore and which therefore took for-frickin'-ever. 

Back when the level cap in Everquest was 60 and subsequently 65 I'd had two characters at cap simultaneously. One was a healer, the other a tank, a pattern I repeated in Vanguard. My EQ tank was a Shadowknight and I thought the Dread Knight would play similarly but I was in for a surprise. Instead of focusing on a single target the way my SK had, the DK's motto is "the more the merrier". This was the class that taught me to love AE, a preference that has stayed with me ever since. There's nothing like being in a massive fight, seeing your health dropping uncomfortably fast and thinking "Crap! I better pull some more mobs, fast!"

I thought about retiring him to the Orclands but he left there so long ago it scarcely feels like home any more. No, he was happiest in the great seaport of Khal and the souks of Ahgram so that's where he's going to stay. I picture him, standing on the dockside, cleaning imaginary specks from the immaculate, enameled inlays of his mace while the colorful cloth awnings overhead flap and crack in the breeze. There he waits, patiently, for the sailors to unload the cargo and the merchants to pack the camel-bags, before he sets out once again, a highly-paid mercenary guard on the Khal-Ahgram run. Bandits beware.

And so we come to the the undisputed champion: best race I've ever played, best class I've ever played, best character I've ever played. Stand up, my Raki Disciple. Oh, you are standing up...

I'd never played anything like him before although I've played a few poor imitations since. A three-foot high whirling bundle of fur and claws with impeccable manners, he was equally at home hurting or healing, but he was at his very best doing both at the same time.

The class went through many changes and refinements. In the early days he seemed as weak as a kitten, later he could comfortably solo mobs intended to challenge a full group. He could Feign Death and, until they changed the way FD affected aggro, his hobby was to run into dungeons, round up everything then fall over and let the monsters fight it out between them as they blamed each other for the trouble he'd started. That never got old.

He wasn't only my favorite character of all time; he was one of the most rounded. He hit the cap as an Adventurer and only stopped a couple of levels short as a Leatherworker because by then there were no more recipes left that he had any use for. He never quite made it to the same levels as a Diplomat but he was making steady progress, working on it until the end.

My memories of him are manifold, his adventures and exploits multifarious, but I like to think of him best sailing his blue sloop Foxglove along the rivers of Qalia, following the shoreline of Abella Cove, where the domed home he built and rebuilt with his own paws stands. He always did like to fish. Now he'll have all the time he needs.

Rest well, old friend. All my old friends. Though the gates are barred to us may your roads roll ever on.


  1. A wonderfully poignant post, Bhagpuss. This is why I read blogs. Thank you for sharing it.

    1. I second that, wonderfully written. It's hard to say goodbye to a world, and more so to the splinters of ourselves which we call avatars. They do take on a life of their own sometimes.

  2. The EMU site doesn't seem to load atm, but from I understand they plan to bring the option to use the original Racial starters without glitching/travelling so they are/were gunning for a full game.

    According to that Thread, the reason SOE decided to sunset the game was that they couldn't put it back in maintenance mode as the Full Access plans required it to be updated for the account info, and with the mangled mess the coding is, this was hard to do.

    What surprised me is that they promoted the game very little, and that when the Freemium conversion did draw in quite a few new people - many like me hungry for a fulfilling levelling experience with distinctive Classes and a schlew of Races in an open world/'oldskool' - they then proceeded to not focus on what set Vanguard apart, but 'rewarded' your subscribing by speeding up your Loot and levelling and bringing out new Raid content iso say an option to do the original Racial starters.

    Add in giving all Race/Class options past 20 for free, and you got the situation that not only subscribing had no point but also micro-transactions not (except if you really, really wanted to buy a Mount).

    I can't help but feel that if they marketted the game esp. after the Freemium change as an 'oldskool levelling, open world' game and monetized it better, it would have run better.

    Rationally it's 'a waste of time', but I'm still playing it now, while the game obviously has issues, it does have a lot of soul.

    Speaking of one aspect of this, could you recommend a good site to download the OST :?

    1. I don't know of anywhere that has the OST as a coherent, convenient MP3 download but I got mine from YouTube. It's not convenient but it's complete and it works.

      Vanguard Soundtrack

      From the reply I got on the forums they are definitely planning on bringing back a full, playable version and they're confident they can do it. I imagine it's going to take a while but who knows, we might see it before we see EQNext.

      I don't believe SOE ever knew what to do with Vanguard. If I recall correctly, they originally only expected to publish it the way they (successfully) published Pirates of the Burning Sea but then Sigil went down in flames and they ended up owning and operating it. They repeatedly said that the code was nigh-on indecipherable and they spent the first couple of years just getting the thing to run quasi-acceptably.

      After that they mithered around making it less hardcore, then more hardcore, then forgetting about it altogether, then putting it into maintenance mode and giving loads of stuff away (all-year-round Randolph for example). Then they took it free to play and did just as you describe, which I agree was an error of judgment. Right before the sunset announcement they actually had Devs working on and adding significant new content.

      I think the most ironic thing is that Vanguard is almost exactly the MMO that so many veteran forum posters and bloggers have been insisting they want to play these last few years. It's basically the "Everquest with better graphics" they all want.

  3. Thank you for the link on the OST. At first I thought it was Jeremy Soule, wonder what Matsen has done more. Ah well Google is your friend (your invasive, inquisitive friend ;)

    "I think the most ironic thing is that Vanguard is almost exactly the MMO that so many veteran forum posters and bloggers have been insisting they want to play these last few years. It's basically the "Everquest with better graphics" they all want. "


    I remember 'going in' about a week after the game went F2P (a.o.t. the whole 'the coding is a buggy mess'-thing and the box+ sub did prevent me from playing earlier), and within playing for an hour, I felt so 'at home' that I subscribed for a year right of the bat - something impulsive I normally NEVER do.

    The deal being pretty sweet (I figured at worst I'd pay 72 euro for 60 euro worth of Station Cash) of course helped, and I used my first 'stipend' for opening up my favorite Race (Gnome, especially cute ones which are suprisingly rare -besides Vanguard and WoW I think only Lineage's Darwves fill the bill) and preparing for a Class lockout. When they changed the F2P rules, okay fine, I want to support the game anyway so no problem, and I only 'missed out' on...a hat or something?

    Then however they announced the subscriber benefits, and bascially I couldn't either play the game I wanted to play anymore (would be nice if MMO Devs made XP-hikes optional, not mandatory) or would have to stop supporting it (which in the end is a zero-sum situation).

    What did surprise me were the reactions on the Vanguard Forums where I explained my situation. Besides several sympathisers (including people who like me had 'left' WoW and subscribed for pretty much the same reasons) including several old-hands, there were also a few very loud established players who talked down to everybody else for wanting 'glacial levelling for their alts'.

    We 'should Lock our XP and stop whining' (clearly the best solution for newcomers, remove their sense of exploration by forcing them to micro-manage their XP and hence read up on everything in advance ie 'read your DM's adventure befroe he runs it'). The argument that Vanguard already had XP-Pots for those who wanted extra XP (one of the reasons I liked the game - this kind of voluntary XP-hikes is the way to go) fell on their deaf ears.

    Now these kind of players (Endgame ASAP) abound in WoW, and the 'WoW tourist' phenomenon is well-established (and some attribute the dearth in variety in MMOgames to them), but it surprised me immensely to find them in a game that for four years hadn't had 'even' a Raid update - what's the use of being soley into Progression Raiding in game that hasn't had Progression for so long? You'd think those kind of players would have left for, say WoW, years ago.

    Anyhoo, starting to ramble again :P. I created a Raki Disciple and I can see what so fun about a wirrly ball of fur. If the EMU ever hits I'll definitely add one to my stable.

  4. You got two characters to 50? That's quite a feat, I think. 55, as you said, doesn't really count. I never even made 40, though I have a few characters between 19 and 34.

    You are right that it's weird that Vanguard is so close to what a lot of us seemed to want. It's one of the reasons why I always feel a bit ashamed I didn't spend more time in the game, when, in theory, it was exactly what I wanted. My excuse is that, at launch, the bugs and my aging computer made it almost unplayable for me, and I gave up in the 20ies. And later on, I tried to come back once or twice, but never during phases where many people were around, which made playing quite hard at times. Plus, to be honest, time only solved the performance problem; so many bugs stayed unfixed to the very end...

    1. Both my 50s were played mainly in a duo with Mrs Bhagpuss's 50 and 47 (she never quite finished the second one). While we often duo in many MMOs, Vanguard is the only where we duoed the most. That's another reason we're both so fond of it.

      Given that they sold hundreds of thousands of copies at launch, I've always felt the sheer scale of depopulation was surprising. I don't know recall SOE ever doing much in the way of "Come Back To Telon" promotions but even if they had I think the game had such a bad name for so long that wouldn't have worked.

  5. Great blog loved the parts on your Raki characters. I played a Raki in this game as well at launch on Varking. I really liked this game I put so much time into it when it came out. To me it was a huge improvement over EQ but of course EQ was awesome as well for its time and gave many good memories to so many people. I would love to see this game make a comeback somehow.


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