In late 2006, for the first time in almost 18 months, I looked around for other games again. WoW had enchanted me for longer than any other game, even more than Diablo II had done in its day. But the vanilla age slowly came to an end, and the resizing of raid forces led to an unsavory fallout in my first guild, which collapsed over the fights of whom to keep and whom to kick. An exceptionally long honeymoon was over.
It was in that situation that I came across a game which promised so many things and sounded like it could be all that WoW was to me, just better. Harder and more group content at all levels, huge continents to explore, no PvP (or none to speak of) to influence PvE balancing… and, what was that? A melee healer who healed through dealing damage? I was intrigued. Vanguard had caught my interest. Sure, I read how the game still had quite a few bugs and how you needed a high-end computer to run it well. But that didn’t worry me too much. My computer at that time was pretty decent, and bugs? Oh well, I had seen my share of bugs in WoW. It couldn’t be that bad, right?
I couldn’t get into the closed beta because I was too late for that, so I spent my time reading Silky Venom and some other community sites. The people were so excited! They couldn’t wait. And I couldn’t either. I decided that this game would be the next big thing. Maybe not as big as WoW; even back then, I didn’t trust the people who claimed it would be the legendary “WoW killer”. And why would it have to be? It would be for the “real MMO gamers”, like those that played Everquest back in the day, a game for people like the guys (and occasional girl) in my old guild who had told nostalgic stories of the good old days of MMO gaming. And after all, Vanguard was made by the same person who had designed Everquest! I preordered the collector’s edition.
Vanguard’s Collector’s Edition goodies: cloth map, sound track, art book, the whole lot. That box had been collecting dust on my shelf and not been opened for a couple of years by this point, I think.
Naturally, I was in for quite a shock. When I got my open beta access, I immediately rolled a Kurashasa disciple. But what was that? Instead of an open, free world, I was stuck in what looked like a gaudy space ship with faux gold applied everywhere! I mostly went through claustrophobic hallways and used teleporters to travel around. This was not what I had signed up for! From chat, I learned that this was just the starter zone, so I decided to ride it out. Sure enough, I eventually made it to the surface of Telon.
Wow! I was quite impressed by the scenery. It made me forget the weird equipment textures, where every piece of armor seemed to have been polished until it gleamed in the sun like a brass pitcher. Sadly, it didn’t make me forget the bugs. Oh, the bugs! Had I said earlier that WoW also had its share of them, so how bad could it be? Unplayable, that’s how bad it could be. The game crashed every hour or so. The camera angled around weirdly. NPCs were unreachable or completely missing.
I was a bit disappointed, I’ll admit. But I still thought all would be fine. Deadlines are for extending, not for keeping, right? They’d never release the game in that state, right?
So I abandoned the game. I went back to WoW and bought The Burning Crusade. A bunch of people from my former guild had reformed, and I joined them. We thought we could pick up enough people on our way to 70 to raid. In the end, that wasn’t happening, the guild bled players, and I decided to call it quits. Vanguard beckoned.
By then, it was late spring, and the game was running a lot better. It only crashed about once a night or so. I played my disciple (or did I reroll one? can’t remember) until around level 20 or so. But I couldn’t help but notice that something was amiss. The awesome group content? It was almost inaccessible if there were no groups to be found. And those people who had not left the game by then (which is most of the people who had bought it) were already too high level to be in my content bracket. I loved my disciple to death, and if I found groups, I found healing with him one of the most fun things ever. Juggling offensive and defensive target, HoTting, direct heals, wipe saves with feign death and evac… it felt awesome. But I was tired of sitting around evening after evening waiting for the occasional group, wasting my time killing turtles for two minutes of fighting and 0.1% experience a pop.
So I abandoned the game again. I went back to WoW again, and found an awesome guild who I’d play with until late WotLK. When that guild also succumbed to slow, but constant loss of players, it was Vanguard that I turned to first. I tried to like it. I still did. But the population situation had gone from bad to worse. It was even harder to find anybody to group with, and the game was plain painful going solo.
So I abandoned the game for a third time. I rerolled on a different WoW server (this time on the European side, so tabula rasa for me), found yet another guild, raided, had fun. Only I didn’t really. Just half a year later, I quit WoW for good (at least until now… never say never with MMOs). I started trying out lots of different MMOs and writing this blog.
Vanguard still beckoned, but this time, I remembered why I had left. I played other games. I told myself, “if only they could solve the population problems”. Game after game went F2P. Those events typically led to a huge influx of players into the game, though rarely for more than a short time. I realized, “hey, if they ever do that to Vanguard, you could go back and finally might be able to play the game you love the way it’s meant to be played!”. When they announced Vanguard’s move to F2P, I was looking forward to it.
Mea maxima culpa
The day came, the way went. I didn’t play Vanguard. I abandoned it again; this time, I didn’t even bother to try. Why? I think something newer and shinier caught my attention. In all fairness, TSW was an awesome game. It did a lot of stuff right, plus, at that time, I was just burned out on Fantasy MMOs.
Still, I feel like I let down the game that I had always been fascinated with. Maybe, the longer I didn’t play it, the more it became a canvas to project my ideas for a perfect game on. It’s probably the same with Vanguard as it is with EVE: it’s more fun to think or read about than to actually play. But I feel like I at least should have given it another chance back when it went F2P.
I’m not devastated, but I have this feeling in the back of my mind that a game that I loved is going to die, and I have to blame myself for that, because I never gave it the support it needed to survive. Maybe part of it is that, I just realized, this is the first MMO I played for more than a weekend that is going to shut down forever. Maybe that’s why I feel more strongly about it.
But I guess there always has to be a first time.