If ever there was a game that has been played to death, it has to be Everquest and its myriad of expansion. With a legion of passionate, nay obsessed followers (or should that be apostles), you could say that anticipation over Vanguard: Saga Of Heroes, the next project from the creative minds of EQ, is running high.
To bring you up to speed, Brad McQuaid and various EQ cohorts including Jeff Butler and Steve Clover formed Sigil Games Online back in 2002, and finally they have brought us the first details of their "next generation" massively multiplayer online role playing game, to be released on PC via the all consuming megabehemoth that is Microsoft, following the exclusive publishing tie-in the companies announced way back at E3 2002.
The All-Star Red Eye heroes
Heading up the company as president/CEO, McQuaid and fellow Sigil cohort Steve Clover were arguably the key creative forces behind EQ, having between them co-authored the original EQ design doc and led the design team. McQuaid was also producer on the revered title, Clover was lead programmer, while Sigil also has EQ expansion pack co-producer Jeff Butler working on the game. It's what you'd call an "all star" team, and Microsoft is feeling pretty pleased with itself.
As you might expect from a bunch of guys who've spent their life devoted to pointy hat pursuits, the press blurb asks us to "imagine a vast, detailed world of swords and sorcery, of dragons and knights, of fiery swords and chests overflowing with treasure..."
I'm sure we've been there once or twice. Ok, we're with them so far, and call me cynical, but that's possibly not the most revolutionary concept they could have come up with, but I guess it's often best to stick to what you know. Anyway, stay with us: these guys know what they're doing. It's "a world in which a myriad of sentient races and creatures, many of whom players will be able to base a character on, live and affect change. A place where players can follow very different paths of advancement, including assuming the roles of adventurers, crafters and merchants."
Making experts look like n00bs
Despite the overly familiar template and setting McQuaid insists that "Sigil's unparalleled expertise and experience in the field will bring groundbreaking advances to the genre," and emphasises that Sigil is most definitely not going to "water down" the gameplay merely to give it a broader appeal, unlike the "growing trend" to do so, he remarked. Now that makes a change.
"At Sigil, we're designing our game for the existing MMORPG gamer who is looking for both new challenges and new rewards. On one level, 'Vanguard' combines everything we've learned from MMORPGs: their strengths, their deficiencies and how to address them," asserts McQuaid.
"Even more important, we plan to introduce a whole new level of gameplay that represents, in our opinion, the logical evolution of the MMORPG genre," he added in today's triumphant sounding statement, without giving too much away about specifics.
Be a manipulative little sod
But the information released so far on the official website illustrates that characters are able to "not only own buildings and vehicles, but they will also whisper into the ears of kings, manipulate the hand of justice, and change the direction of history. They will make their mark on a world we initially create but they ultimately shape and form."
In what sounds like an impressively ambitious epic the official word is that "players will experience settings ranging from enjoying a drink in a tavern to walking through the streets of a bustling city. They will travel with trade caravans across deserts and they will fight pirates on the high seas. They will ascend the highest peak in the land and also explore the depths of eerie dungeons..."
The info triumphantly sums of Vanguard: Saga Of Heroes as "the premier third generation massively multiplayer RPG" with "a vast, seamless, immersive virtual world filled with elements of familiar High Fantasy, including traditional themes and more, all depicted using cutting-edge graphics technology". PR hyperbole or the game to take the genre into ambitious new territory? Well, they're obviously going to claim the latter, but its pedigree is undeniable.
But is it any good? They would say that wouldn't they?
"Sigil's expertise and experience in the field will bring groundbreaking static and dynamic content to the genre. Vanguard will build upon the successes and strengths of earlier MMOGs to improve popular game mechanics and features, but also address these pioneering games' mistakes and deficiencies. Vanguard will focus heavily on interdependence, challenge, and reward, while simultaneously addressing tedious and annoying issues, including camping, excessive downtime and more." If it's even a fraction as good as they obvious reckon it will be, the red eyes among you have lots to look forward to.
A massive FAQ has also been posted on the official Vanguard: Saga Of Heroes website, and reveals that the team has no intention of alienating those who have never played a MMORPG, as well as satisfying the veterans. The team plans to drawn in newbies in a "number of ways", promising expanded features, "better community support and interaction" as well as "better targeted marketing and PR" - always the bugbear of many great lost games down the years.
And as for the crucial issue over how they intend to deal with the day and night obsessives versus the casual player who just enjoys dipping their toe into the environment, Sigil says "They can definitely co-exist and even play together in an interdependent environment". And get called a stinking n00b every five minutes. [Stop extrapolating. -Tom]
"Vanguard's world will contain areas designed for casual, group, and raid experiences. Risk and reward will vary in these areas, as will the amount of playtime necessary to complete quests and other activities."
If only the days were longer...
"And these different areas aren't there just to appeal to people who always have more or less time. They are also there for the gamer who often does play longer hours but at times wants to log on and play a shorter session, or for the person with less time who wants to occasionally devote an entire Saturday to playing." For more details on Vanguard, check out the official website.