Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

When I heard Vanguard: Saga of Heroes (V:SOH) went free to play, I mentally added it to my list of games to check out. The only things I heard about this game brought to mind various disasters. Since it is on Steam, free to play, and runs fine on Windows 8, I decided to try it out.

The character creation screen contains a button for each race on the left, a button for each class on the right, and a simple naming dialog in the middle. There is hover text as well, listing various racial benefits. I was excited to see that “Monk” was a class, since my favorite DDO class is the monk. Unarmored (I hope) kung-fu combat, woot!

But as I looked at the various character options, I noticed something. Perhaps you will see it too.

This is a typical screen for a male character:

Male character creation
Male character creation

This is a typical screen for a female character:

Female character creation
Female character creation

In case you didn’t notice, the striking difference is the male humanoid characters are dressed, while the female humanoid characters are sporting bare midriffs and large racks. Nice! Oh wait… REALLY? Come on!

Anyway, I opted for a female Varanjar Monk, typed in a name, and clicked next. The next screen asked what city I wanted to start in, either Isle of Dawn or my hometown. Not sure if it matters, but given the text (Isle of Dawn – help people, nothing for hometown) I am guessing the Isle of Dawn is the tutorial area, so I should do that. Click Isle of Dawn.

Then I was asked what server: Telon or Halgar. Halgar was marked EU so I went with Telon. Click Next.

Then I got an error, “That first name is already taken”.

WTF?! How about reordering the creation sequence so I pick my name last, and don’t have to cancel and redo a bunch of clicks. Basically I had to click through a bunch of screens to do a name check. That is kind of frustrating.

Anyway, I tried “Aurora Tian” – error, first name is taken.
I tried “AuroraTian” and no last name – error invalid characters in name.
I tried “AutumnTian” and no last name – error invalid characters in name.
I tried “AuroraTian Tian” – error invalid characters in name.

For the love of all that is sane, these people need to borrow ArenaNet’s system where it tells you as you type, whether or not the name is at least legal. Whether it is taken or not is another matter. Looking back, I think the issue was the 2nd capital letter in the first name. Argh!

After finally finding a name that was OK (“Melancthe”) I advanced to the char designer, where I picked the hair color and other cosmetic stuff. I just took what was there, not really caring too much.

Then I found myself standing in the game! Check it out:

New Arrival
New Arrival

I got the typical intro quest to find somebody else, and they had me find someone else, who gave me a “kill 5 rats gataro podlings” and “collect 10 flowers” kind of quest. Along the way I leveled up. That got me a quest to see my class trainer and pick up a new skill (“Crescent Kick”) and then return to find out the gataro podling infestation was more serious than previously thought. Maybe I can help…

First combat quest
First combat quest
Picking Seeds
Picking Seeds. They don’t glow like gather items do in LoTRO.

But first, I tried another class, the sorcerer. Soon, I was needing to kill 5 gataro podlings again. I looked over the skills on my hotbar, and I had 3: Auto-attack, Force Barrier 1, and Arcane Balance. Force Barrier was a defensive skill, Arcane Balance was a racial skill that distributes energy among a group, and… Auto-Attack with my staff. I’m a sorcerer and I don’t start off with a way to fight with magic?

I attacked, but with my staff damage being terrible, and having no way to heal, I was killed. This can’t be right, so I dug around in various dialogs and discovered I did have an offensive spell: Taqmir’s Bolts 1. It’s just that it wasn’t placed on my skillbar so I didn’t know it existed until I went looking. Grrrr.

Taqmir's Bolts I
Taqmir’s Bolts 1 – my hidden combat skill

This time, using Taqmir’s Bolts 1, I crush the gataro podlings and finish picking seeds. After meeting my trainer, my new skill is “Frostbite 1”.

It was late and I decided to call it a night, taking one scenic screenshot from across a bridge, looking back at the starting village. In addition, I finally figured out how to hide the UI.

Village
Village

So the big question is, will I keep playing. Honestly, probably not, and I feel bad only trying it for about 90 minutes total. It just didn’t grab me right off the bat, and I don’t want to invest too much time into leveling up (to get a few more skills) and seeing if the game grows on me. I’ve got a bunch of other games I’d like to try out so I think I’ll just set this one aside for a bit. I would at least like to finish the starter area, and then finish the Diplomacy quest sequence, since one thing I did hear about Vanguard was how great the Diplomacy system (mini-game?) is.

The graphics and animations do look dated, especially compared to Vanguard’s modern competition. It should be the gameplay that matters the most, and with only a bit of time invested, it didn’t seem that different from the usual formula. The game released in Jan 2007 so if you consider the bulk of the graphics assets and animations were done a year or two before that… yeah the game does stretch back quite a ways! It’ll be six years old in two more months.

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Windows 8

Something as terrifying as the Eye of Sauron was released recently… duh duh duhnnn… Windows 8!

Okay, maybe that is a little dramatic. A few weeks ago I decided to make some minor upgrades to my gaming notebook. I bought a 256 GB SSD, and Windows 8. They arrived and I did the SSD swap, and then plunged ahead and installed Windows 8. I like some of the enhancements (mostly under the hood improvements to the system) especially the newer file copy dialog and task manager. However, my gaming notebook isn’t touch-screen so I lose about half of the design benefit. That’s OK because I spend 99% in desktop mode where it is pretty much like Windows 7, just with a very different Start Menu.

The first thing I installed was Google Chrome. Next was Steam, and I started the download of LoTRO. Then I installed Guild Wars 2 and started it downloading. I took an overnight of downloading to get the bare minimum games from my Steam Library installed. Other than a handful of games, that’s gonna be it except for (maybe) Virtual Box. I’m going to be crazy fascist about keeping this system “clean”, to the point of setting up a VM to contain other stuff, like Adobe Reader, Flash, java anything, compilers/debuggers and so on. This is my gaming system!

After LoTRO installed, I fired it up and it ran just fine. WHEW! I was worried about that actually. Some other games I wanted to try (after all, this blog is MMO Juggler, whereby I dabble amongst the many MMOs) didn’t fare so well.

Vindictus locked up big time, and even after I managed to terminate the process, it left a thread in the System process pounding my disk at 100%. Yes I have an SSD now, but 100% disk activity still drags the system down. Since this system has none of my usual triage tools, such as the SysInterals suite, or a debugger of any kind, I couldn’t see what was going on. Not that it would have told me much anyway, other than “yep, busted on Windows 8”. I had to restart my notebook so for now, bye bye Vindictus.

Vindictus Lock Up
Vindictus Lock Up

I also tried cranking up Everquest II. Back in the day, when the “big three” were UO, EQ, and AC, I played Asheron’s Call. I never did play EQ so when I saw that EQ2 went free-to-play I thought, hey I’ll check it out. Unfortunately, EQ2 did not start either. More specifically, it never exited the first time install “setting up DirectX” portion after launching from Steam. It just sat there, claiming to be installing DX9. I guess the detection method is confused on Windows 8. I’m not sure if this is a Steam thing or a app thing – LoTRO popped up the same “installing DX9” dialog, but it moved on. Another uninstall. Sorry but I’m a little tighter on disk space now (currently ~90 GB free) and I’m not going to have an MMO that doesn’t even run sucking up disk space.

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes had no problems – it installed, launched, and popped up the Login screen. I don’t have an account, so I just exited and will make one later.

Star Trek Online hasn’t completed the download yet.

Other MMOs I have also run fine: Guild Wars 2, DDO, and Fallen Earth. I logged into both and played a little bit of each. I also fired up other games I enjoy (Defense Grid: The Awakening, Skyrim, SpaceChem, a few others) just to see if they ran on Windows 8, and they also had no problems. Overall Windows 8 works for the games most important to me. I gave most games a cursory play, but I’ve played LoTRO several hours on Windows 8 at this point and it is fine. If LoTRO didn’t work, that’s a 100% deal breaker and I would have wiped the disk, dug out my Windows 7 DVD, and installed that instead.

One odd thing with GW2 – I linked my account with the mobile authenticator, an app from Google that implements two-factor authentication. I’m not asked for the authentication code when I log in, but still have it enabled according to my account profile. Not sure what is going on there, maybe I need to unlink/relink to get that working again (due to my reinstall)?

In conclusion, most my games are working fine under Windows 8. I’m sure the issues that prevent EQ2 and Vindictus from running are straightfoward, so if those are your top games, don’t worry just be patient. Besides, only crazy people jump on an OS upgrade so soon after release. 😉

EDIT (Mon Nov 12):

STO finally downloaded (I guess the servers were busy) and I went to install it. It hit the same “Installing DirectX” dialog that EQ2 appeared hung at, but I decided to let to go because I had some other minor errands I could finish up. About 10-15 minutes later (seriously, it was about that long), it finally continued on and I got the splash screen.

Now I couldn’t actually start the game, due to an issue obtaining an account. That’s just the usual “create an account vs send me password reminder” thing so I anticipate having that squared away soon.

Since EQ2 looked stuck at the same point, I thought I would give it another chance too. I gave up after about 5 minutes the previous time, maybe there is some quirk that makes it take so long. So I re-downloaded EQ2, went to run it… and boom it zipped through the dialog in seconds. I already have a SOE account, and EQ2 launched just fine.

Since letting the DirectX setup take its own sweet time for STO somehow corrected the issue for EQ2, I think the most likely explanation is that DirectX version check isn’t matching what Steam or the game expects, so it goes to download it. The download is the unusually long delay.

I ran EQ2 long enough to create two characters and do the combat training, so it seems to work under Windows 8 as well. As soon as I get my account info straightened out for STO I’ll try there as well.