This week found me diving into the Isle of Dawn to check out the newer starting area in Vanguard. What I found there wasn't entirely surprising, since I had heard about the learning curve in the game, but it still managed to throw me enough curve balls to keep me on my toes. Between trying my hand at crafting, dabbling in diplomacy, and attempting to switch my brain from my normal stabby-rogue-self to playing a melee healbot for more than just myself, there was a lot to get my head around in Vanguard.

Curious as to how this first week of Choose My Adventure played out? Wondering what kinds of things I experienced during my travels? Well, join me behind the break as I take a look at my first steps in Telon!
Let me start out by saying that while I consider myself a fairly seasoned MMO player, having started with EverQuest and come up through several games from there, I was a bit surprised to find some of the mechanics in Vanguard that I did. Straight up, this is an MMO with some of the old-school mentality in mind. Sure, quest NPCs have clear markers over their heads, and yes, the quests are still a familiar flavor of Fed-Ex-ish kill-X-number-of-mobs, but the game contains several systems that set it apart from the everyday MMO fare.

Upon landing in the world of Telon, I stopped for a moment to watch the world around me and get a feel for what I was in for. Nearby, an Asian-looking man waved his hands, calling me over, and within a few minutes, I noticed a tree falling on a walkway near the village. Tree falling? Had I seen that correctly? Apparently so, as I learned later. Upon talking to the nearby NPCs, I found out that the Isle was under attack from a series of nasty critters that the villagers believed were fueled by some nearby hobgoblins. Since their warriors were all out fighting said hobgoblins, it fell to me to help cull the nearby nasties. No worries, I thought, and I headed off to start some slaying.

Initially, I found the disciple class fairly easy to pick up. Between a melee attack that gives me a force known as Jin (kind of like action points or "chi," depending on the game you're talking about), and a melee attack that does a certain amount of healing to whatever friendly target you have selected, I had no real issue zooming along with the initial quests. However, as the levels got higher and the quests became more arduous, I found that I was increasingly in over my head.

With that said, it probably would have been significantly easier had I popped back to the trainer at level 4 as opposed to seeing whether the game would send me there over the course of a story arc. Spells and attacks appear to come at every other level (2, 4, 6, etc.), and trust me when I say that even putting off picking up your new spells one level will hurt your ability to play effectively. Thankfully, other Vanguard vets popped by (Hi, Beau and Orin!) to give me pointers on gameplay and how to find different things and people in the world. Unfortunately, as they can also attest, I'm very much not used to watching anyone else's health bar while meleeing, so much hot death was dealt, despite my healin' feet being plainly present in the bar.

Having noted that, I'd be remiss to say it's simply a case of unfamiliar rotations. Part of the trick to playing a disciple in Vanguard is being able to micromanage your character well -- watching the active melee target, making sure you're on the active target, watching health bars, and ensuring that you have enough endurance, jin, and the like. From only a handful of levels, I can tell already that this is not a character class for the type of person who wants to show up, faceroll the keyboard, and sign off with bags full of raid loot. The disciple requires quite a bit of attention and, more importantly, finesse -- two things I certainly lacked this week. Thankfully, having done a bit more reading on the class than my initial skim and played with rotations a bit, I'm better equipped to tackle the challenge this upcoming week. Hopefully.

Aside from combat, which turned out to be more challenging than I had initially thought, I took some time to check out both crafting and diplomacy this week. To be honest, both of these systems are easily meaty enough to merit posts of their own (and I may well do that, to be honest), but I wanted to touch on some of the unique points of Vanguard I'm experiencing currently.

Adventuring armor, crafting gear, and diplomacy gear all have their own unique tabs in the interface. Unlike other MMOs in which you have to run to your bank to drag out gear, Vanguard allows you to carry all of it around with you. Switching your gear for a specialized function is as easy as going to that tab, clicking a check box, and hitting "OK." Really, it's that fast. What's even nicer is that for crafters, you have bags that can carry certain raw materials and your tools around, which is incredibly handy.

An interesting thing I found is that there are more raw materials, tools, and combinations thereof than you can shake a hobgoblin's severed limb at. At first, the sheer number of options will be daunting, between crafting with certain gear, refining elements, and more. That said, if you love crafting that involves incredible amounts of detail, this is absolutely the system for you. I spent at least three hours poking around with various crafting minutiae, and I know I barely scratched the surface of the overall system.

Sure, it is laid out to be fairly simplistic, despite the myriad ways you can change it, but don't let that fool you. The interface runs from left to right, and if you're performing a work order for an NPC, the basic materials are actually supplied for you. This makes getting your initial experience and levels in crafting quite easy, and it makes learning the basics of the system enjoyable since you're not running around trying to gather everything up. Trust me, you'll want to take those work orders if you're fresh into Telon -- it will really give you a much better idea of what you're dealing with than all the NPC explanations.

Diplomacy, meanwhile, offers players the option to learn more about the world of Telon by wheedling other information out of NPCs. On its surface, it seems like a way to "play" through additional dialogue, but there's more at work here. The entire system is based on playing a handful of diplomacy cards, which offer bonuses and negatives, depending on the cards in question. This is a system that definitely falls under the "easy to pick up but difficult to master" heading.

While I had initial successes against the training NPC, I quickly found myself getting scoffed at by other NPCs who let me know that I was indeed a wee babe in the ways of diplomacy on Telon. With a bit more trial and error invested, I managed to pull off a few successes. Now, as to why you might want to take up the challenge, aside from learning more about the lands of Vanguard, enough repeated successes in an area can actually grant a buff to players in the village that will stick with you when you're out running around.

Overall, though, Vanguard has surprised me thus far with its depth, and it is offering a challenge that I'm enjoying thus far. While I'm only in the initial learning stages, I can already tell that this is an MMO for anyone who has ever wanted something akin to the old-school, difficulty-curve MMOs that lacked modern-day hand-holding.

I appear to be on a fairly linear path while on the isle, so there is no vote for this week. However, as always, I welcome feedback, thoughts, suggestions, and tips -- especially in regard to anything covered here! I'll additionally be livestreaming on the Massively Livestream channel for the first hour on Sunday from 8 to 9 p.m. EDT, as well as from noon to 1 p.m. EDT on Monday, for those curious to watch, or offer comments in chat. For anyone who would like to run along (and doesn't mind me testing new attack rotations, mind you) I'll be playing from 8 to 11 p.m. EDT on Sunday and from noon to 4 p.m. EDT on Monday.

In the meantime, I'll be heading back into Telon and attempting to get the hang of these various systems. Something tells me I'm going to need it if I'm hoping to survive the challenges that lie ahead!

This article was originally published on Massively.
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