I knew it was happening, but it still managed to silently creep up behind me and wander past in the night, board the last ship at the dock, and sail off into the sunset for the distant shore where MMOs reside when the servers are shut down.
I always counted Vanguard as one of my personal top 10 MMOs. It filled the niche that was left with the closing of Star War Galaxies, with it’s non-instanced housing and in-depth crafting. The diplomacy system was unique and never replicated in another MMO, but which was treated as a first class citizen alongside the RPG staple of combat. The world was beautiful, with realistic weather that you could see coming from a mile away.
Yes, it was always troubled. I played the game in beta, and it was damn near impossible to do anything. Aside from the bugs, the game was just a total pig, even on high end systems, and it never ran smoothly. It earned a bad reputation as a broken piece of junk, and although it improved mightily over the years, it never reached it’s full potential.
It was that never reaching it’s potential which was it’s most damning sin, though. I believe that this game broke Brad McQuaid, forcing him underground for many, many years. His exuberance about the potential of Vanguard was contagious, but problems with the business side of Sigil, and the technology of the times, meant that the game would never realize the promises and promotions that preceded it.
I’ve played a lot of MMOs, some of which I recall, but most of which I’ve long since forgotten. Vanguard has the distinction of being one of the few online games that has provided me with tangible memories, and has helped to change the way I play MMOs. A long time soloist, it wasn’t until Vanguard that I decided to join a guild not of my own retinue. Ascension claimed — as many guilds do — to be a “family”. Most guilds fail horribly at living up to that claim, but Ascension nailed it. From the initial in-character interview, to the group harvesting nights, to the time the guild leaders entrusted me with their phone numbers and log-in information to reclaim housing plots while they were on vacation, the guild changed my perspective on how MMOs could be played, with the right people. Sadly, Ascension disbanded slowly as the principles fell away due to real-life issues, and I was the only one left who logged in regularly, until I stopped.
MMOs are unique in that they keep going and going and we complain about their mechanics and their patches and ongoing design decisions. We argue about play styles and philosophies. We create and consume guides and videos to help us get the most from the game. We do all of this around the game, like the game itself is some kind of fixture that can withstand the elements from now until the sun burns out. We forget — or conveniently ignore — that these are services run by corporations, and even the most successful MMOs have a lifespan, and will some day go dark. Vanguard was a minor player in the MMO revue, but it had gravitas and meaning that’s missing from a lot of cookie-cutter games that get to live on.
Shortly after the announcement that Vanguard would be shutting down, I found that Amazon had copies of the collector’s edition for sale. It sits on my shelf with my other CE’s, front and center, where it should be, among the other games that I’ve played. I’ll probably steal more glances towards it now that the game has been shut down.