E3 06: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes Updated Impressions

Sony Online Entertainment is now publishing this upcoming massively multiplayer game--which is being developed by the company's first alumni. We take a look at E3.

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LOS ANGELES--If you're Sigil cofounders Brad McQuaid and Jeff Butler, you probably consider this E3 to be pretty important, since it marked the announcement that Sigil Games' upcoming massively multiplayer game Vanguard: Saga of Heroes will be published by Sony Online Entertainment, not the company's longtime publishing partner Microsoft. If you don't happen to be one of those two men, you may still be interested in hearing the latest details on the game and its status.

According to McQuaid, the studio decided to sign on with Sony Online and bid Microsoft farewell because "over time, it became clear that [Microsoft wasn't] the right partner," even though the decision ended with "a very amicable departure." McQuaid and Butler were both quick to point out that the split also gave Sigil the opportunity to buy back Vanguard's publishing and intellectual property rights, which will "let Sigil focus on making the best game possible." The two principals also explained that although the change in publisher may have seemed like a sudden move, it's something that Sigil has known about for some time, and has prepared itself for amply--the game's billing and online patching systems, for instance, should be easy to transfer over to Sony Online's servers.

We also had a chance to take an updated look at the game itself, which is currently in an early beta state. Apparently, Sigil is in the process of reevaluating the content on the game's first two continents to make sure there's a good amount of content balanced against Vanguard's vast overland areas. The development team has evidently been working on some pretty environmental effects, such as a new reflective water effect that causes sunlight to sparkle on the surface, and enhanced weather effects, such as moving storm fronts (which apparently have an active bearing on gameplay, since some character classes will possess special powers to manipulate the weather, while other character classes will possess abilities that will wax and wane with certain climates).

Much more development time has apparently been invested into developing player housing and character customization. According to Butler, the beta version of the game already contains more housing-related content and options than Star Wars Galaxies, including a total of more than 8,000 different craftable items, which can all be placed in a player-owned house with an easy-to-use mouse-driven interface that lets players quickly place objects on tables, on walls, or on the floor. Housing will also have a highly customizable permissions system for entry, so you'll be able to, for instance, turn your home into a public shop that's open during certain hours of the day, then automatically converts to a private dwelling in off-hours.

During our demonstration, we also had a chance to visit two different dungeon areas, which were vaguely reminiscent of the classic EverQuest dungeons Crushbone (a mostly outdoor dungeon inhabited by surface-dwelling monsters) and Unrest (an ancient mansion haunted by undead creatures), respectively. However, these new dungeons were many times larger than their EverQuest predecessors and were inhabited by much larger, meaner critters, such as hulking rock monsters, misshapen zombies, and, of course, scantily clad vampire ladies. To navigate the game's huge world, Sigil still plans to implement affordable mounts (such as cheap horses) and affordable boats, though the game will also offer pricier modes of transportation with much better benefits. Flying mounts, such as the winged dragon we saw in action, will help cut down further on travel times and will also let players access remote areas at high altitudes. Flying mounts will, according to Butler, "definitely be in the game at launch," though Sigil also hopes to implement mounted combat and naval combat in additional updates postlaunch.

Vanguard appears to offer both great depth and great breadth, especially for experienced players who are looking for a more in-depth and potentially more challenging online role-playing experience. The team is pushing hard to release the game "this winter," according to McQuaid.

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