Norrathian Notebook: Saying goodbye to EQ 2.5 aka Vanguard

Norrathian Notebook:  Saying goodbye to EQ 2.5 aka Vanguard
No, your eyes are not deceiving you: The title and picture do both say Vanguard. Although I had other thoughts poised on the end of my pen for today, they've all been scattered to the winds by the unexpected announcement of the closing of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. In fact, I really can't seem to think of anything else right now, so I am giving up trying and giving in to my Telon thoughts. Besides, ruminating on this topic in Norrathian Notebook is not as far-fetched as you might think. Vanguard's world may be Telon instead of Norrath, but there is a special connection between the realms; there are those who have called Vanguard the true successor to the original EverQuest game. And it is from that vantage that I take this time to look back on what was, enjoy what is (while I can), and mourn for what could have been.

If you haven't yet heard, SOE popped a surprise closure announcement just last night, lining up four different games on the chopping block. Some of us had to look at that announcement twice, thrice, and maybe more to make sure we were reading it right. Vanguard, really? I mean, didn't they just barely add new content? Yup. Cave of Wonders, the game's first (and now last?) 24-man raid, launched literally less than a fortnight ago. And that announcement was just for the first wing of the dungeon, insinuating more were on the way! And it was only a year ago that City of Brass -- the first real content update for Vanguard since... well, launch basically -- was introduced to the faithful fans. And who can ignore the enthusiasm with which the development team looked to the future (as I saw personally at both SOE Live 2012 and 2013)? It was palpable.

Add to that those die-hard fans who stayed through the game (and all its bugs) even when there was no dev attention for years and the excitement from players who were looking forward to diving into the game thanks to the recently proposed subscription changes, and you can understand why this sunsetting news was actually a shocker to many.

What it was

In the very beginnings of Vanguard's life, there were some not-too-subtle rumblings that the game could be an EQ killer. Why? Because the game was going back to the original feel of EQ -- a feeling that was slowing drained away from that title and some believed to be missing in its sequel, EverQuest II. That inkling didn't last long, but the feeling that Vanguard was the spiritual successor of EQ grew. While the other games were trending towards getting easier, Vanguard retained its subsist-by-the-sweat-of-your-brow gameplay. Getting social was a matter of survival; the game catered to group content, with many quests and dungeons needing larger parties in order to complete. Dungeons in Vanguard were neither instanced nor quick affairs. If you wanted to complete a run, you'd better be prepared for the long haul! There are no easy modes for dungeons or secret tricks for power-leveling quickly (if you know of any, share -- I'd love to get to 55!). Ahh the good old days, eh?

Dungeons weren't the only area where you had to put your shoulder to the wheel if you wanted to reap the rewards. Housing and crafting both took effort. And what about diplomacy? You had to not only get the hang of the system but build yourself a spiffy diplomacy deck! If you wanted to get somewhere, you walked. And walked. And walked. And hopefully didn't die too many times! Death was meaningful, with hits on gear, lost XP, and even lost items if you didn't go after your tombstone. Trust me, when you completed something, even sometimes just surviving, you felt as if you'd really accomplished something. I remember saving up and working hard to get the materials and cash to build our first house for the guild, and harvesting my heart out in order to have a ship made.

For these reasons, Vanguard was regarded by some as the spiritual successor of EQ. Fans may not have flocked to the game, but there was still a devout following who stuck by it. Some had even speculated that SOE bought Vanguard just to squash it like a bug because it was a threat to its darling EverQuest franchise. (Personally, I don't buy that, and developer commentary doesn't back it up, either.)

SOE has kept the game running for a long time. True, it seemed odd to have the company snap up yet another fantasy MMO when it already had its own, but did people ever think that maybe it was either that or just let Vanguard disappear into oblivion? Do folks think there were other companies by the wayside waiting with their cash in hand to give Vanguard the life it deserved? I think SOE saw a promising game and didn't want to see it go poof, so it stepped in. Did the game get all the money and attention it deserved? Well, who can say? It was a bit of a wreck (understatement) at launch, but that wasn't SOE's fault. SOE was brought in to co-publish the game only half a year before its launch and officially bought the game four months after launch. The studio picked up the pieces, but the launch damage was already done.

Add to that the recent attention and resources the game has gotten, and I can't think it was maliciously squelched. We don't know all the insider info on why the closure came, and we aren't privy to all the financials, so speculating is just that -- speculating. And I personally prefer to give the benefit of the doubt, not jump in with pitchfork raised at the first opportunity.

What it is

Currently, Vanguard is still the game with the best crafting, the funnest harvesting (teamwork FTW!), and the most original side game in diplomacy -- at least in my opinion. There is a close-knit community that's stood by the game through thick and thin, and I've seen a definite increase in population of late.

Vanguard continues to be the go-to game for folks wanting to face a real EverQuest-style challenge in their gaming. Nothing is handed to players on a silver platter. Not everyone likes the work-hard-for-your-money mantra, but for those who do, the earn-it-yourself progression of Vanguard is not really found many places. And the crafting and diplomacy systems definitely aren't found elsewhere! If you want to see a crafting system that is the antithesis of clicking a single button, you have to come try Vanguard's.

Now let's talk about the classes. This game has some of the most interesting classes I have ever come across. They were unique and broke out of the typical trinity molds. And to this date, the Shaman and the Disciple rank at the top of my all-time favorite classes to play.

What it could have been (and what should be)

When I first came to Vanguard, my friends were hoping it would be our permanent home -- a place to settle and game our time away. That didn't come to pass for various reasons, part of which includes the loss of so many friends due to unrealized potential. It can't be said that Vanguard didn't have potential. It really did. I'd say it still does, except for that death sentence hanging over its head. Telon is very much an expansive world that made you feel immersed, and very few worlds offer that now. I have to say that Vanguard is worth getting to know, even if it is only these short six months before we lose it. Everyone should experience this game before its gone.

So what is Vanguard going to do during its last days? I am hoping that as in Star Wars Galaxies before it, devs finish up and push out any content that is nearly done so players can enjoy it. Perhaps we can experience the remaining wings of Cave of Wonders. Oh, wait -- you aren't high enough in level? Well, how about making players max level characters for the final month of July? What would be the harm in that? It will give the most players the chance to experience and enjoy the hard work and creativity of the devs who have put so much effort into building this world.

In the last month, I'd also like to see all cash shop items be reduced to the cost of zero Station Cash. We have no reason to buy anything really (since it will all be disappearing), so items should be free so we can enjoy them while they are there. Would there really be much chance of lost revenue? Who plans on blowing a wad of cash on something that we'll shortly lose?

Before that, I'd like to see every player be granted a flying mount. Even if it is nothing more than a sparkle-shooting Randolf the Red-nosed Reindeer, give everyone the opportunity to travel and behold the beauty of Telon. Let players collect screenshots from everywhere so they can remember a place they held so dear.

Sadly, the closing of Vanguard is apparently a done deal, so the best we can hope for is an enjoyable experience with our remaining time. And I will be doing just that. I will personally be continuing my Dungeon Tours adventures, even though I know I cannot finish them all. (Hopefully the team will boost characters to max so I can get into more at least!) I will also meander through the housing developments, sail my boat, and get in as much diplomacy and crafting as I can. But I can tell you one thing I won't be doing: I won't be wasting my time harping on SOE for its decision. I'll mourn for this illegitimate sibling of EQ whose life is being cut too short, but I'll also store up more memories to treasure. I'll have a final meaningful fling with this love before it's gone. And I will be grateful that it was a part of my life.

The EverQuest realm is so big that sometimes MJ Guthrie gets lost in it all! Join her as she explores the franchise's nooks and crannies from the Overrealm to Timorous Deep. Running every Saturday, the Norrathian Notebook is your resource for all things EverQuest Next and EverQuest II -- and catch MJ every 'EverQuest Two-sday' on Massively TV!
This article was originally published on Massively.