Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Pair of Phoenixes : Vanguard, Pantheon

On Thursday the Visionary Realms crew ran another lengthy stream showing actual gameplay from their pre-alpha build of Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen. I haven't had time to watch the whole thing but I've skimmed a good deal of it and against all odds Brad McQuaid's plucky little MMORPG that could continues not only to exist but to impress.

There's a handy "highlights" video for those who don't have two hours to spare. That certainly gives a good feel for the game but the full version comes with a lot of conversation between the developers and the host of the stream. Anyone who thinks they might want to play Pantheon, when and if it ever becomes publicly available, would probably find the details very interesting.

Brad and his team repeatedly emphasize that the game is about open world exploration. Issues of accessibility and entertainment come up a few times. There's a welcome emphasis on maintaining a balance between building a challenging and dangerous world and not making it so dangerous and challenging that players are scared to explore it.

They don't overemphasize the heritage of EverQuest and Vanguard but they really don't have to. As the voiceover on the highlights video points out this is pretty obviously that "EQ with better graphics" so many old-timers have been saying was all they wanted for years.

The "better graphics" in question are, in fact, merely placeholders. A warning note at the top of the YouTube page stresses **The footage seen is taken from an early pre-alpha build of Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen. All art and animations should be considered placeholder.** Well, fine, but they don't look terrible to me. I'd play that as it stands.

One thing that stands out is how very dark the dungeon seems. At one point there's a brief discussion on the use of torches and the ability of the Unity engine to handle multiple light sources. The topic comes up because someone observes that several of the characters in the group have a torch in their off hand, at which point you can almost hear everyone thinking "geez, it's not going to be like that crazy game where some guy gets to do nothing but hold the torch, is it?"

Well, no, it isn't. The more I hear about Pantheon and the more I see of it in action, the less extreme-hard-core-old-school it looks. It's still probably going to pan out to be too group-centric to hit my sweet spot but it has moved a considerable distance from "not interested" to "definitely worth a dabble".

Launch is being touted for "late 2017, early 2018" with a beta before that. Apparently Brad plans on eschewing the current fad for Early Access, which should make Syp happy if not Brad's accountant. I guess that means a traditional access-by-application beta but who knows?

Watching Pantheon put me in mind of Brad's last, lost vision: Vanguard. I hadn't checked how the VGOEmulator team were getting along for a while. I also hadn't gotten around to installing the 38GB behemoth on my new PC and frankly I didn't fancy starting, so I tried running it from the old drive in an enclosure via USB.

It worked perfectly. There wasn't a client-side patch but clearly the magnificent people behind the project have made a lot of changes at their end since I last logged in.

There hadn't been a character wipe but it seems that levels have been reset because I'm certain sure both my Raki Disciple and my Goblin Warrior weren't Level 1 last time I saw them. The Disciple still had the Storm Griffin he bought back when the broker was being tested so the first thing I did was fly around Khal taking screenshots.

Vanguard still looks great to me. The textures are sometimes a little flaky and the visuals undeniably show their age, but the art direction was always strong enough to overcome any technical shortcomings. It's a world that just feels full of possibilities and that hasn't altered a jot.

So much so, in fact, that although I only logged in to take a few screenshots and see what had changed, I ended up playing for a couple of hours, finishing with a level six Disciple and a Level five Warrior. The Warrior continued making his way through the Isle of Dawn and I took the Disciple back up to the starting area on the Cliffs of Ghelgad above Khal, where all the quests were fully functioning, now with their correct rewards attached.

The drops and loot tables have been adjusted. No longer does every mob drop a random selection from the entire 55 levels of the global table. Mostly they now drop the level appropriate gear and cash you'd expect. I got several items of armor and a nice Rare pair of pants - Cloth rather than Leather but still a big upgrade.

I also got a crossbow, which I was able to equip. I don't believe Disciples can use any kind of ranged weapon other than throwing stars so that's probably a bug. Looks good though!

The game seems remarkably bug-free. Apart from the crossbow the only malfunction I came across were some hobgoblins who didn't seem to know when they were beaten. Or dead. They ran out of hit points and fell down but they carried on hitting my Goblin from beyond the grave. He had to run away with them trailing along the ground behind him flat on their backs like a couple of coal sacks until they reached the end of their tethers, dropped aggro and promptly slid all the way back to where they started.

Really, though, it wouldn't be Vanguard without a few bugs. It only happened the once. It hardly even counts.

Reading the forum I see that so far there are fourteen areas with adventure questing partially restored. As of May over 500 quests had been restored along with two and a half thousand supporting scripts. I dread to think how many there are in the entire game.

I took the introductory quests for Diplomacy, Crafting and Harvesting but I don't think those spheres are up and running yet, even at the low end. All in good time. As always I'm just extremely grateful to have Telon back at all but the increasing number of working quests, fully-functioning combat and communicative NPCs has already taken this project well beyond the worthy realms of archival preservation. This is now a game you can play as well.

There's still a huge amount left to do, of course, and who knows when or whether the small band of volunteers will be able to restore Vanguard to its full glory? Pantheon will probably be up and running before that happens. But it does look very much as though both those things will come to pass, given time.

Two of the most unlikely, unexpected comebacks the genre has seen for a while, I think. And two of the most welcome. Here's wishing the best of fortune to them both.


  1. Replies
    1. You're more than welcome. And thanks for all the entertainment you've given me over the years! Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks for linking my highlights video. Great article too I enjoyed reading it.

    1. Thanks! You did all the work though - I should thank you.

  3. I'm not sure why you referred to Saga of Lucimia as that "Crazy Game", but that seemed like a cheap shot. It obviously comes from a lack of information (which is understandable at this stage) as Lightbearers will have plenty to do in their own special way. It's a valued and prestigious position in the group and most likely people who are already built around supporting their teammates will jump at the chance to assume that role. There will also be sources of light that can be set down and moved around so even fighters can make sure everyone sees, you'll just have to work towards getting one, or get lucky.
    I don't expect every random guy on the internet to respect Saga of Lucimia or even understand it or our design decisions, but every mechanic we have planned has a specific reason and a focus on making it engaging and of course FUN! If you have any questions please feel free to contact us on social media or reach out to me directly. Our team is also looking forward to Pantheon and have our fingers crossed for a successful Vanguard Emulator experience as well. We miss that game.
    Giovanni "Eldaran" Martello
    Co-Producer/ Founder / Designer
    Saga of Lucimia - Group Focused Multiplayer RPG Experience

    1. Well, let's see. Firstly, this is a personal blog, not any kind of news site. I neither promote the blog nor profit from it - it's effectively my personal diary of things that interest me about the MMO genre, which I compose and maintain for my own interest. Other than the normal legal strictures incumbent on anyone posting publicly, there's no obligation on me that I'm aware of to show any kind of balance or even to be rational or reasonable in how I choose to describe anything.

      That said, I don't consider the phrase "crazy game" to be pejorative or hostile, either in and of itself or in this specific context. Calling things "crazy" is as likely to be a tilted compliment as it is a negative criticism. There's nothing wrong with being a little crazy when it comes to entertaining and amusing people. Of course, I'm English - there may be cultural nuances between the English and American usages of "crazy" that I'm missing.

      As for the game, I know nothing about Lucimia other than a single video that I saw linked on Massively OP. Literally the only thing I remember about that video is that someone was given the job of holding a torch so other people in his group could see to fight things. It struck me as highly unusual at the time and, yes, rather "crazy". As I said, that's not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself.

      When I watched that part of the Pantheon stream, your video was the first thing that came to mind. You can consider that good marketing on your part if you like, although it might have been better had I been able to remember what the game was called...

      As for the remark being a "cheap shot" - it wasn't any kind of "shot", cheap or otherwise. It was a tiny aside in an obscure blog that was focused on something entirely different. Yes, it was there to get a laugh, or at least a wry smile. Mostly from me since I am this blog's target audience. I'm astounded anyone from the company making the game would notice, far less care, what some "random guy on the internet" mutters in passing about the game. Surely you can't take everyone who mentions Lucimia to task over their choice of adjectives?

      Anyway, your concern is duly noted. I think it's quite unlikely I'll need to mention Lucimia again but if I do I'll certainly bear it in mind.

  4. Good to hear the Vanguard EMU is trucking along well, I miss it.

    Pantheon looks slick enough, and plenty of overland exploring is great to hear, though like you I do hope there will be meaningfull content for people with awkward playing schedules, too. And of course a bevvy of non-Elf/Human Races, including Gnomes.

    Speaking of Gnomes (and re: Keen's), Gnome Hunters will be available in WoW with the Legion pre-patch/7.0 which should be due in July and is open to all including free 'Veteran' and Starter Accounts (max level 20).

    While some of the features of Legion will less good/bad for pre-Cata acocunts especially (contrary to what they announced at BlizzCon and how things worked in Alpha, the new Wardrobe feature in Beta/PTR is straddled with unexplained limitations that make it a buggy mess that apparently even wipes quest completion of now-removed content) Gnome Hunters may well be fun, even if it's a bit odd that the only way you'll get to a) use a gun (the main argument we now have this Class option, as +/- all NPC Gnomes use guns in combat) and b) have robot-pets if you Spec Beast Master, the least 'fitting' Gnomes (IMO).

    Torchbearers and Linkboys were about the only hirelings in AD&D we ever used a lot (our DM loved dungeon traps).

    1. Oh I didn't expect Gnome Hunters to be available on the free accounts. That's very interesting. I might play one there as soon as they appear.

      I hope they sort out the Wardrobe feature before Legion appears. It sounded like one of the best additions to WoW for a while but not if it doesn't work properly. Still, it's Blizzard - I assume it will be polished to a fine shine by the time it finally appears.


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