The cold grip of death catches us all eventually. In Vanguard, it catches some faster than others. This weekend, "some" meant Bill "Tagad" Fisher
, who bravely held off Gwartak Ambushers and a horde of lesser kobolds long enough for his party to flee the dungeon. Part I
of this series talked about some of the content Sigil showed us at the demo; Part II
covered classes and combat. This part will start by discussing what happens when the content turns nasty and combat goes awry.
When you die in Vanguard, you, like Tagad, will leave a tombstone - a black obelisk that looked to be about the height of a barbarian or human. My guess is that you leave an obelisk and not a corpse to keep the poly count down. Some people have said this sounds cheesy, but it actually works out quite well. The tombstones are very ominous and forbidding, and convey to those who come across them a sense of "Ruh roh, something very bad happened here." And as a bonus, they're somewhat more conspicuous than a horizontal corpse, which, in a world as big as Telon, can be a very good thing.
Death comes with a cost, at least after level 5. Up until level 6, there is no death penalty - though the first few levels come very quickly (progression slows down quickly too, though, don't worry), so you don't have long to appreciate the painless deaths. After level 5, a debt system akin to CoH's comes into play. You build up an xp debt every time you die, but you progress at the same time you work off debt. You're always moving forward xp-wise - but debt can slow down your advancement. There was no word on whether the plan to switch debt to loss, with potential level loss, at the level cap was still in effect, though nothing was said to indicate that it has changed.
Of course you also drop all the gear you had on you when you died, and you have to go to your tombstone to recover it. Brad died at one poinnt when, I believe, he was overwhelmed while trying to solo a dungeon. He went back on a CR and managed to get and equip his sword; he either did not get the rest of his gear or did not have time to equip it before he drew aggro again. So we were treated to the sight of a barbarian in his underwear running around with a huge sword. The lowbie dungeons can make for some fairly challenging corpse recoveries even at the lowest levels, another good sign that the game is all about providing a serious challenge to players.
One new step on the road to death is being wounded. Wounds in Vanguard are not something to scoff at - in fact, I would not be surprised if healers were valued more for their ability to cure wounds than for their hit point healing. Wounds will kill you, but before they do they will subject you to different effects depending on where you are wounded. For example, a wound to the torso will apparently give you a 10% stamina reduction and take 5% of your health every three seconds. A leg wound will, among other things, take away your kick attacks. An arm wound will, among other things, reduce the efficiency of your melee attacks. You get the idea. Once the game goes live, I'm sure we'll all know way too much about the specifics of wound effects way too quickly. As soon as you sustain a wound, a paperdoll of your character appears on screen with the wounded area marked in yellow; if the wound is allowed to worsen, or if it is particularly severe, it will appear as red. Not all wounds can be cured in combat, either, meaning there may be times you really need to finish the fight quickly if you want to survive.
The UI will allow for multiple hotkey bars, essential given the wide range of abilities in the game. At level 6 my cleric's hotkey bar was already full, with some abilities not even on it. One nice thing about Vanguard is that you can queue up a move - just one - so you don't need to worry about split-second timing to maximize your efficiency, so long as you're willing to potentially forego a reaction in order to set up a combo or otherwise use two moves in a row.
The current UI, like the game in general, is quite complex (I should caution that the UI is still in its rough shape and so what I say here may be completely irrelevant). There are multiple methods of accessing information. The basic way seems to be through a start menu similar to the Windows start menu and, like that menu, located by default in the lower left corner of the screen. If I recall correctly, the menu was in places hierarchical, with some options branching to other options. And most of the windows you opened had submenus - for example, the character sheet had an adventure screen, a harvesting screen, and a bunch more - I think there must have been at least a dozen options just from the character sheet window. It also appeared that you could make shortcuts to certain UI windows and set them up in bars along the bottom of the screen, or at least some such shortcuts were preset. So you could open your inventory from a button on your screen, or of course by pressing "I" in accordance with longstanding RPG tradition, without having to navigate through the menu. The travel journal, which I discussed in part I of this series of reports, is one of the options from the start menu.
I also noticed the game running in windowed mode for a short time on one of the demo machines; the graphics looked fine and the game ran smoothly.
Jeff Butler also talked a little about fellowships, the persistent experience-sharing system whereby friends can ensure they progress evenly. A fellowship is a player association sort of like a cross between a guild and a group - like a guild, a player is in it until he opts to leave, but like a group it's small and involves sharing experience. In fact, Jeff said fellowships would probably be capped at group size. Every member of the fellowship will split xp, so if you have a six-man fellowship and one person is online leveling up he's getting 1/6th the xp from his kills, and all of his fellowship members are getting the same. Fellowships will help groups of friends, presumably especially real-life friends, stick together through the game. Because being separated too far in level will lead to being separated geographically, it's important for people who want to see each other in game to stay near each other in level.
Jeff also said that he believed if you left a fellowship, or if you wanted to join one, you could only do so when every member of the fellowship was online. Now before you go shouting about how this is a goldmine for the farmers, Jeff indicated that level issues were still being worked out. And I'm not sure being powerleveled is going to be all that helpful, anyway - the game is heavily skill-oriented, and skilling up will take quite awhile at higher levels. Plus many abilities are learned through the course of adventuring, rather than simply being picked up from trainers. I would not freak out about this just yet, as Sigil is aware of the possibilities for abuse and is no doubt designing the system with the intent of curbing such abuses.
On to Part IV