The Think Tank: Saying farewell to Vanguard

Vanguard is being retired forever next week, and this time there won't be a studio waiting in the wings to rescue it from doom. Today, Massively's staff hopes to give it a fond farewell. Join us in sharing our thoughts about the world of Telon.

Bree Royce, Editor-in-Chief
@nbrianna: I don't like to see any game shut down, even if I'm not its biggest fan. If you care at all about the genre, you should care about sunsets. In Vanguard's case, I think we're losing an important game in spite of its small size and controversial history. Its contributions to creative non-combat MMO gameplay, particularly in the form of its elaborate diplomacy and housing systems, cannot be praised enough. It also represents a lesson for the MMO genre about studio and publisher mismanagement, the dangers of making games more retro than the audience is willing to tolerate, and the difficulties niche MMOs have faced in a WoW-dominated decade. Thanks for keeping it going as long as you did, SOE.

Justin Olivetti, Contributing Editor
@Sypster: Vanguard has always been a game that I've respected even if it's always intimidated me somewhat. From its expansive world to its gorgeous music to the deserves-to-be-copied diplomacy system, Vanguard championed the notion that an MMO could be big, involving, and complex. I wish I had had more time to get to know it and doubly wish that SOE had committed to keeping it alive, although I can't fault the studio for its attempt to draw in a bigger audience by pumping in more development and converting its business model these last few years.

MJ Guthrie, Contributing Editor
@MJ_Guthrie: Wow, how do I not wax on for a few thousand words here? Vanguard was definitely an overlooked gem. Although it didn't quite live up to its promise and become my home-away-from-home game, it was still a treasure that I think anyone who plays MMOs should have experienced. It was one of the last of the games that thumbed its nose at the instant gratification crowd. When you accomplished something in Vanguard, from crafting to dungeons to traveling across the continents (pre-riftways, of course), you really felt that accomplishment.

I have some specific epic memories that I will cherish all my gaming days, even though my words can't do them justice. The first is from the very beginning, when my partner had to travel across Thestra in order to begin the game with my Shaman. Even though I wasn't the one running the land, I was right there with him and felt the adrenaline rushes of the close calls when coming face-to-face with new dangers, the disappointment when the close call didn't end in his favor, and the achievement when he finally made it. It took hours! Throughout the game there were other epic journeys like that, including the quest to obtain the unicorn mount. And each time, you knew you earned the reward through effort, skill, and sometimes even perseverance.

Another is when our little guild banded together to build our first guild tavern. Not only were we group harvesting to get extra materials, but we had to decide who wanted which crafting profession and throw ourselves into the crafting in order to cover getting all the housing pieces made. On top of that, we had to do whatever we could to earn enough gold to buy the plot. Hey, back then 10 gold was a fortune! Our combined efforts finally got us that little one-room house on Kojan where we threw parties. I even created a special in-game dice game for gambling nights! I still remember the heartbreak that happened when our server merged and someone beat my login by seconds to claim our specially chosen plot.

There are certainly others, like actually besting a difficult mob I thought I'd surely die to, the narrow escapes from danger, seeing beautiful new places for the first time, speaking a magical password to gain entrance to a lair, helping to build my first ship and sailing it around, and getting lost in caves and dungeons -- just to name a few!

I completely understand that Vanguard could not continue on, given the tangled mess that the coding is, but my heart still grieves to see it go. There are three things in particular that I truly hope that other games will sincerely emulate. One is the amazing crafting system. At a time when the genre was shifting to offering simple click-and-go-AFK systems, Vanguard needed your undivided attention. Not only were there still necessary subcomponents, but there were various tools and counter agents involved in the process. You had to use forethought and plan your crafting session to get the best outcome as well as be an active participant in it. When you made high-quality items, it was because you spent the time and effort earning it. Another thing other games should implement is the diplomacy system. Not only could players earn special rewards and have special outfits for showing their diplomatic prowess, but other players visiting the area got buffs that diplomats earned through their actions. More games need these involved non-combat systems with rewards! The third is the way the dungeons and caves worked in Vanguard. You could be exploring the land and wander into a small dark entrance to see a little cubby or you could end up lost in a deep labyrinth -- and you never knew until you ventured in! The vast open world was just begging to be explored, and you were rewarded when you did.

Vanguard certainly had its faults, but it was a deep world. And it will definitely be missed.

What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the most caring of the carebears, so expect more than a little disagreement! Join Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce and the team for a new edition right here every Thursday.

This article was originally published on Massively.