Wednesday, March 11

Comparing VG to AoC, just to be unfair

Geekz0r's problems accessing the game of Vanguard last night prompted me to think about comparing Age of Conan and Vanguard in a post instead, to keep him motivated to try it out or at least give him an idea of what he's missing out of.
Here goes:

In general gameplay terms, both games follow the guidelines laid down by DikiMud loyally.
There's tanks, Damage Dealers and Healers which form an unHoly trinity, gear is important and there's raiding in groups of 24. The symbols floating above NPCs' heads look somewhat different, but the system's intimately recognizable to anyone playing MMO's of the post 2003 era. Age of Conan has the combat combo's. Vanguard has too many attack types to mention. Age of Conan has lush instanced areas cordoned off by inaccessible mountains. Vanguard allows you to anywhere, except that flying into floating castles that they only want you to enter through a quest chain results in your flying mount despawning and you plummeting to your death. Both games have death penalties in the form of having to retrieve your tombstone with gear.

Vanguard is definitely the more grindy sandboxy of the two, whereas Age of Conan is closer to the guided amusement park tour. Neither is an extreme example of the type and both have elements of the other side of the coin. What distincts the two to me is that Age of Conan's guided tour is that of the rollercoaster, with highs and lows. As I've said often before, the content is some of the best out there, it just needs to be three times as much as it has. Vanguard's ride is flatter.

Overall Graphics:
I would have to say that Age of Conan wins this one.
Both games have pretty high-end graphics but Age of Conan manages to do more with less due to instancing. As a result even Old Tarantia performs somewhat better than Khal on Qalia even though the latter is less complex. Of course, if Tarantia would be like Khal, you wouldn't have load screens between the harbor and Noble District, or at the entrance to Conan’s castle, or the sewers, you’d be able to jump of the bridge, walk on all the walls and roofs e.t.c. It'd also "pulse" every minute as tons of stuff gets updated server-side.

Mixed. Age of Conan wins on character skins, especially since VG's seem to have gotten a tone down character models to spare some resources and because its engine doesn't differentiate between the way light reflects of plastic and of hair. On the other hand Vanguard's textures for buildings e.t.c. are more detailed than anything I've seen in Age of Conan, but it comes at the cost of performance.
Both games use the trick of recoloring a given armor texture to denote it as different / of a higher tier. Vanguard does this somewhat better than Age of Conan though, since they don't simply darken the same brown burlap every tier but dare to use more colors of the rainbow. Having three (more actually) actual recognizable cultural styles to each armor class also adds to a more rich fashion experience. Both games have a small segment of non-standard armor skins scattered throughout. Gut feeling says Age of Conan might secretly be winning on that particular score, but this is mitigated by the fact that the burlap looks better and is more varied on Telon.

Again I'd have to say Age of Conan. Vanguard uses Bloom Effects, HDR and Tone Mapping. Age of Conan does the same, but without the bursts of Bright Light that Vanguard will occasionally present you with if both HDR and Tone Mapping are on. Rule of thumb, pick one of them, HDR in my case and stick with it. Tone Mapping is (normally) used mainly for water effects, that's where AoC uses it too. Vanguard uses it everywhere. So Telon armor is more sparkly than Hyborian equivalents. Specular Lighting is pretty similar in both games. Spell- and other effects are better in AoC as well, but that probably falls under the header of

This is an area where Vanguard performs mediocre at best while Age of Conan shines nearly as bright as the Champion of (character) Animations that is City of Heroes/Villains. Vanguard's development had its share of troubles, and that animation suffered some budget cuts is obvious. A very limited set of attack animations must serve, as there's only one animation frame, rig or skeleton (whatever the term used) is used for several distinct body types that's almost a must.
One of my pet peeves about Vanguard is the knockback animation, which looks like a chess-piece being moved rather than like someone being bowled over.

General atmosphere:
Both worlds are beautiful, Hyboria a bit more so. That engine wins on flora and fauna. Both have beautiful skies. Vanguard wins on a sense of wide open expanses, while Age of Conan wins the vibrant award.

Sexiness /Toons:
That Age of Conan wins this is a given. Vanguard at launch could have been called Saga of Prudes if you like. The "grandma's curtain robes" were tied of at a very high neckline and reached to the ground. Telon grandma's having somewhat better taste when it comes to colors and patterns does mitigate things a bit, but can't compete to the bare breasted (female) glory of Funcom's creation. At some point during 2008 SOE decided to 'put the sexy back into Vanguard' as they put it. This resulted in a new set of strapless underwear to choose from and several robes were modified so that a strip of flesh and a belly button shows between hips and bust. Necklines are still at chin-height though. All in all it looks a bit ridiculous.
Both games have pretty extensive body customization options but Funcom steals the crown even without taking nipples into account by having more than 4 faces and hairdo's to pick from, not to mention having (slightly) animated hair. It's funny though that for all their customization options and high detail armor textures, neither game has you looking very unique or even distinctive unless you spend months on raiding and even then the choice is limited.

Combat & Classes:
While Age of Conan has the gimmick (Unique Selling Point in marketing speak) of using combo's for the melee end of the fight, Spell casting / Ranged combat is pretty much mundane. As a result Vanguard wins this on account of every class having very distinct play styles, what with Stances (think 60|40 or 40|60 ATK|DEF power configurations), Finishing moves (on a critical you get to use a special attack of your choice) , Reactions (think intercepting attacks or just special parry's and some other spur of the moment effects) and the sheer number of classes. Age of Conan doesn't perform poorly in this area either. There are some pretty distinct classes there, but Vanguard steals the crown by weight of numbers. Ironically both games have pretty much the same issue with Rogues (the Assassin in AoC).

Ok, this is mean. Age of Conan's Crafting simply looks and feels like an afterthought whereas Vanguard intended to have it be one third of the whole game from the get go. The three spheres of Adventuring, Crafting/Harvesting and Diplomacy were to be equal; it ended up being 50|30|20 due to the travails of making an MMO while living a Soap.
Vanguard uses a system where the outcome isn't purely decided by whether or not you have all the materials and are capable of dragging them, or clicking on them. You can even loose your ultra-rare materials in a screwed up attempt. Crafting an item has phases! During each phase you have a set nr of points to distribute in turns. Each action you take has the chance of going wrong and if it does, you have to compensate. Compensating for calamities means you aren't boosting the quality. There's a sleuth of tools and materials you need to use for this as well.
Vanguard Crafting is the most advanced / complex Crafting in any MMO out there at the moment. Second comes EverQuest II, which uses a kind of combat system.

Harvesting isn't that much different in either game. The difference being that in AoC foes will randomly appear while your hammering away at a piece of rock while in Vanguard you constantly have to keep an eye out to your surroundings lest an ambulant critter stumbles across your path. Both have their appeal to me. Vanguard's system is more "realistic", but you could end up running around in a hypnotic circle, dodging the mobs on auto-pilot. While Age of Conan has people materialize out of thin air to attack you, this at least has the effect of keeping you on your toes. Both are a nice downtime / waiting for a group activity.

Character advancement:
Vanguard has 50 levels, Age of Conan 80.
Vanguard has a more or less fixed progression, no alternative advancement, at first blush.
Age of Conan enforces, sometimes artificially, at least two different paths within each class.
Secretly, Vanguard allows you to specialize within a single class as well, but this often occurs later in your character's progression. Both have skill / attribute points that can be assigned. In Vanguard the stats even make sense. In the end it's a toss up which is more flexible. Both games depend heavily on gear though.

Ignoring fashion sense for the moment, gear is important to both games. Age of Conan suffers from a lack of clarity what all the stats mean. It was quaint and fun that you needed Excel skills to manage your Anarchy Online Character, but ten years later in Age of Conan it's a bit annoying that you're basically clueless about what stats should be buffed and which armor is "better". Both developers seem to take a distinct pleasure from putting the best stats on items with the least esthetic appeal. This doesn't mean Vanguard is without its own weirdness.
For instance there's Item Level and there's the Required Level, which is typically 10 levels lower for jewelry, and 5 for chest pieces. Why this is so and why there's two stats rather than just a single stat called Item level but portraying the Required Level, will make absolutely no sense to anyone unfamiliar with the game's history.
I.e. at launch worn gear had to abide by a 100% rule. You could stuff your character with gear each piece taking up a certain percentage. Chest pieces would typically cost 20% whereas shoulder kit cost 5-8% and jewelry 1-10%. You could put on an item a considerable amount of levels above you, the Item Level, but it would cost you about 90%, taking away from what you could put in other slots. The net result was that no-one wore jewelry and so it was abolished. The result was that everything got a Required Level stat. This is the stat at which you first can wear an item. The Item Level 15 is mainly there to prevent the feeling of letdown as you get a very cool RL10 quest reward for your exceptionally tough L14 Quest.

I'm not a raider, so I can't really tell anything about that, but based upon my findings in general, I'd have to say Vanguard wins this round.

Starting areas:
Age of Conan must surely win this one. The Tortuage starting 'campaign' is a heady Wagnerian Ride of the Protagonist where everything revolves around you, the promised one, the messiah!
It's a lovely part of the game, everything clicks into place, more quests than you could hope to do during your progression and it's a delight to replay it with a toon from another class-group and see how you can play different parts of the main story that way. The downside is of course that once you're off the boat and land in Tarantia, the roller coaster stops. The whole world doesn't revolve about You anymore. That proofs to be a rather big letdown for many.
Vanguard's development cycle consisted of 3.5 years mucking about and then hammering out a game in 1.5 years. As a result some starting areas were rushed. Didn't get the loving attention of others, but there are some pearls in there nonetheless. My personal favorite will always remain starting the game as a Goblin. Especially when you throw yourself at every Sphere the game offers, most starting area's provide you with a rich experience.

Lore and factions:
Age of Conan has a lot more lore to start with. The world of Telon has its share of lore, but a lot of it was tied up within the Spheres or just not brought out to the fore. I.e. if you were only adventuring, you'd end up not knowing why you were fighting those giants or where the undead come from because that information would largely be locked behind several Diplomacy discussions, most of the local background for instance is hidden behind Civic Diplomacy.
While Age of Conan has more of an overall story-arc with your character and Toth Ammon at the center, both worlds miss a sense of cohesion, how the lands fit in together. In fact, Vanguard probably does better since there's no real distinction between the three cultures in Hyboria except for the occasional colored dialogue option and skin tone.
In Vanguard nations, and factions matter. It doesn't matter whether you're in the crowds of Ahgram, all alone on some mountain peak (with your victim) or deep in some jungle, the auditors register your every kill and measure it versus a large number of factions who will like you more, or less as a result of that action. Sadly it doesn't grow beyond becoming Kill on Sight for killing too many people of one faction, or redeeming yourself by killing enough people of another faction that the former decides. But sometimes you need a certain amount of faction with a certain nation in order to be allowed to craft there, learn new recipes e.t.c. Faction also plays a role within the Diplomacy Sphere. The higher your standing, the stronger your Diplomacy efforts.

Quests and stories:
As already mentioned, a lot of the stories in Vanguard are tied up in the Diplomacy and even Crafting Spheres. In fact, most adventuring quests outside of the starting areas (which tend to be full of prepositioning) have a rather impersonal nature. They deal with factions, invasions incursions and sometimes serve just as a general pointer saying "there's a dungeon with critters there, go explore and bring me back some hides!" Which is in sharp contrast to many of the quests in Age of Conan. In Hyboria the quests are often rather personal. There's quite a bit of "go kill x amount of critters to heal my aging heart" but it's to deal with personal grief or some other emotional aspect. That's something a bit lacking in Vanguard sometimes. The dialogue mode of AoC and the voiceovers where available strengthen this effect. So Age of Conan wins here.

Incomparable Diplomacy:
It's impossible to compare the two games on this aspect, since Vanguard is unique in providing this kind of gameplay. In short it's a card game you can play with various NPC opponents throughout the world. They're tied in with conversations. In the Quests it's mostly these blurbs that you unlock, although you get rewards too. In the case of Civic Diplomacy, it's talking over and over again to people until you 'won' x amounts of times and throw a lever that grants certain bonuses to anyone in the area (this is part of what causes the pulses around big cities). It's also a collector's game. Collecting cards, but also Status granting clothes which you need in order to be even given the light of day by members of certain walks of life.

The grind in Vanguard isn't as well hidden, but I think that in a way, this makes it more durable. AoC gives you a few nasty shocks. Leaving Tortuage you learn it isn't all about you anymore. At around level 50 you learn that 90% of the content consists out of repeatable bounties of 20-30 bandits henceforth. Vanguard has fewer highs and lows but a steadier mid level enjoyment.

I think Vanguard forces people to play together more as well. Not in the "This is Solo Content and this is Full Group Content" but more in a "Hey you want to try this alone, it's your funeral. Maybe join up with that other player there" sense. Lots of mobs are too much for one player to deal with, but manageable for a small one. That's a good thing I think. It induces small groups, and if you don't want to, just grind yourself up on lower mobs and when the time comes you can deal with these ones on your own. Oh, did I mention that in Vanguard a level 30 Player can be ganked by a horde of level 15-20 critters if he isn't careful?
All in all I think both games are worth playing. Age of Conan is more fun in several ways, but it gets old sooner. Age of Conan has more Bling, Vanguard has more sustainability. And both have great Potential.


  1. I wish I could add pictures to enrich my walls of text a bit, but while I have the time in between activities to write lengthy blog posts here at work, I don't have access to any picture storage sites without use of a proxy.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. For the most part I agree, but it is all a bit too Lani for me. Let me Phe-efy it a bit.

    Both games are beautiful looking Fantasy games. And although they have their own specialities, general gameplay to both games will come natural to anybody ever played an MMO for more than an hour.

    Overall Graphics, Textures, Effects:
    AOC is just brilliant at this. I once wrote a whole story how AOC has spoiled me. No game compares to its beauty. But VG is not bad looking at all. And no MMO can sustain on looks alone.

    AOC does this pretty good. It is the only game you can actually give somebody a bear hug. And swinging in the air does not do damage. VG can do some improving here, but apart from the knockback chess move I think it looks all pretty good. It has some really nice looking attack moves, and I love the /bye /cheer /clap etc. emote graphics.

    General Atmosphere:
    A bit the same for both games. You can get really emerged into their worlds. Both did a nice job of landscapes and music.

    Sexiness / Toons:
    The AOC characters look a bit sexier until they have to wear their uniform drab. Neither game are winners here although the monotone look of my AOC character really got to me. VG has more variety.

    Combat & Classes:
    A bit of my personal problem with AOC is that I think it has very limited class and race options. I don't like healers and pet classes. So I got limited to a tank (in three rather identical flavours) and several DPS classes. I didn't really feel like I had much choice doing something really new with a new character. VG has a much wider range of toons. And equally important, a much wider range of starting points. (see below)

    I love crafting. And I really enjoyed it in VG. I had even bigger dreams (as did the VG dev team), but it is still loads of fun. Crafting in AOC seemed rather meaningless, and it requires joining a big guild to make it all the way. In AOC it is a tiny sidegame, in VG it was the main business for one of my toons.

    Since crafting has little impact, so does harvesting in AOC. In VG I have spend hours teamed up with friends harvesting and chatting away. As a added benefit it can actually be worthwhile moneywise to sell off your harvest loot.

    Character Advancement:
    Both games have a rather strict advancing scheme. Reaching a new level is nothing too much to look forward to in either game. At least not like it does in COH.

    I am not so big on gear wisdom, but what I really liked in VG is that I could craft gear that was as good or better than rare loot. Only ultra rare raid gear could beat it. Which makes sense to me.

    Starting Areas:
    Tortage is indeed brilliant! It was great the first time, the second time, the third time. Even on the fourth time through I got to see and do things I had not done before. But after that it got a bit boring. In VG each of the 20 races have their own starting quests and area. Even Raki and Woodelf that start at the same place have completely separate stories. Creating a new character for just the first 15 or so levels is very rewarding.

    Lore and Factions:
    Both games start loosing that a bit after the initial starting areas. In AOC you are really stuck doing the same content. In VG you have more options and the change to discover new things on new toons. It is also more flexible in creating your own background. In AOC you are not really roleplaying, you are being roleplayed.

    Quests and stories:
    AOC quests and stories are well written and drive your actions very well. The AOC stories are better than the VG stories. But I feel I am forced too much into their storytelling. It does not motivate to redo them or revisit old locations.

    Incomparable Diplomacy:
    Yep. Incomparable. Still not sure if I am a bg fan of it, but it does make VG special. Diplomacy is definitely something worth to try out for any player.

    Both are great games. Stop reading and start playing. Now! Both of them. Just not at the same time.

  4. OMG Post deleted by author....
    That's like tickling my every compulsive obsessive nerve endings.
    And all my nerves are compulsive obsessive...

    I would've added all that if I'd not been writing that post in between "emergencies" :-)
    Seriously it's like reading a "you forgot these details" list :-)

  5. The original post was the same as the second one, but only with even more spelling errors and missing words. It is a pity there is no edit option. I even had to redo all the html bold tags around the headers. (talking about compulsiv ;>)

    I didn't mean my comments at all as "slacker Lani is missing the point". Although we often agree we do have different view on things too, and I just wanted to add my view on it. Sorry I gave that impression.

    And I forgot to add one chapter. You mentioned it already, but somehow it got lost in my translation. So I'll add it here.

    Most of the AOC content is designed for solo play. Except the dungeons which you must taggle with a balanced full size group. There is no in between. This makes it a very duo/trio unfriendly. VG defintely wins here. And this might actually be the main reason I am playing VG now and not AOC.

  6. No no no no.
    I didn't mean the 'list' thing to say I took that as a rebuke. Quite the opposite. I felt it was a delightful addition to what I'd put down so far. Sorry if my reply came across as defensive, that wasn't what I was feeling at all.

  7. It's such a shame that I can't yet get vanguard stable, note the yet - I haven't given up trying. The crafting aspect of Vanguard sounds really appealing as does it's non reliance on balanced groups of a set amount, diplomacy looks 'interesting' but as my first encounter with this side of the game left me clueless, cardless and was interrupted by the inevitable crash...I have no idea how it works or if it's something I would enjoy.

    I'm surprised that Lani thought AoC was gear reliant, as it stands I would say that until T2 raiding, in PvE at least, gear really doesn't matter much, the present stat system is probably deliberately 'muddy' for that reason, looking deeper wouldnt benefit any real advantage.

    AoC does intend to change both the 'muddy' nature of stats and the stat 'value' of gear along with a host of RPG changes in the next major patch. The last game director letter gave a useful insight into how much more meaningful stats will become. It's all not so minor detail that should have been in from the start but as an MMO player in a flame free mood I can forgive them that :)

    Crafting in AoC should be like Vanguards, crafted gear should be better than 95% of drops otherwise where is the incentive? AoC certainly does suck big time with it's poor quality end items, I know thats something else being address with the next big patch but I doubt that it will rival what Vanguard seems to have.

    It's been great reading both of your comparisons on the two games, hopefully I will get Vanguard to work and be able to comment myself properly :)

  8. On reflection, I don't know why I said that either :-) AoC isn't that gear dependent really.

    Before Phè went for dinner last night we'd agreed to leave the temple which is the final, grouped challenge of the Isle of Dawn until we can play together again on Saturday, so I went back to do some crafting tutorials for an hour or three. The end result is that Twanni is now a level 6 Outfitter and well on her way becoming a skinner and reaper.

    Phe's going for Blacksmith which menas weapons and metal (ship)building parts and I think heavy armor. I'll be going for Outfitter which means cloth and leather products like clothes and sails and pillows and rugs. The third category is Artificier, which means jewelry, building blocks and ship-lumber e.t.c. So...

    The Harvest system works so that you can start to harvest nodes of only 2 types, your primary and secondary choices.

    So as I'd gone for the two skills most suited for my crafting career, it'd be optimal if Phè already picked Lumberjacking and Mining 9metals), which'd leave Quarrying plus a random second (more Lumberjacking I think) as a double for a certain third friendly crafter as they'd be able to be near autonomous as a trio, sharing mats and required parts between them. *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*

    I tried the Diplomacy tutorial on Isle of the Dawn and I must say that it was confusing for someone like me who has a toon with the ultimate Diplomacy Title, Exemplar of Telon, rewarded for countless hours of diplomacing. If you want to get into Diplomacy, I recommend you wait till you're convinced and got a subscription, then roll a toon in one of the classic starting areas. The halflings, Orc/Goblins and Dark Elves have pretty good starting stories and better exposition e.t.c. I could help you through the start of it, but I'm using the CoreUI mod which has moddified the Diplomacy UI quite a bit, so that might just add to the confusion.
    The empty cards bit is explained (by the classic starting area trainers) by the fact you need to add them from your abilities window, diplomacy tab.