Getting all wet and having fun with a snake

Don’t read anything into that title.

Yesterday, near a sort of stronghold, which is near Themnwar’s Shield, which is near Three Rivers, I met a bunch of quest NPCs. And since I haven’t been able to invest too much time into organizing any nice newbie groups recently, I thought I’d go spend some time on solo quests. That led me to this lake, with a fallen star of some sort embedded in it:

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The scene’s quite pretty when you see it in motion, I assure you. This is where the snakes come in: I had to dive into that lake and kill a bunch of snakes for an NPC. Also, note the dead big-ass ant there. I will write more about those a bit later. But first, I have to vent my frustration with underwater combat. Look at this:

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Floating freely in a tornado of sand and dust, and there’s a fish minding its own business hovering over a tree. Must be a glitch, right? Wrong, that’s actually swimming in Vanguard! Check out some more footage:

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Ouch, looks like someone blinded you with a laser, and now you’re sitting in the ophthalmologist’s waiting room, staring at the  at brown wallpaper waiting for the afterglow to go away.  But the truth is, that’s Vanguard’s underwater combat, at least in its worst possible moments.

This is my first true frustration with Vanguard. Fighting underwater feels like a mess. Swimming is bad enough, with your character not able to catch its breath unless you wiggle your mouse in a way that also moves your camera position over the water. The weird shader effects make it look like the water isn’t there at all, like you’re floating in nothing, unless there’s a huge reflection of sunlight in it like in the screenshot. And when you change your camera perspective, you’re never sure where the air ends and the water starts until the full-screen grey shader effect kicks in.

Targetting mobs with the mouse is sometimes impossible as well, it feels like the water surface absorbs some clicks while not absorbing others. It all combines to situations where fighting a single level 11 mob with a level 14 caster becomes really dangerous.

Guild Wars 2, by contrast, does an amazing job with underwater combat. Movement feels natural (not an easy thing to accomplish in a third-person game), weapons automatically switch to underwater equivalents, the targetting is just as reliable as on land and the shaders and effects usually enhance the atmosphere but don’t obstruct your view. Whether you enjoy GW2’s combat mechanics is not important here, but in terms of applying those mechanics to the underwater surroundings, GW2 has the upper hand.

The old man in me remembers a time when things were even less polished and more frustrating than in Vanguard, and unfortunately, part of the Sigil team were involved with that title as well: EverQuest. I spent a whole night (real time) trying to defeat Phinigel Autropos and his stupid mermaids in the underwater dungeon of Kedge Keep. It was the first time I had ever encountered underwater combat in a game, and that probably made me tolerate it, because the idea was awesome. Also, I pissed my pants at every corner. Fearing that my character run out of air by accident to leave an ugly corpse down in the depths made my teeth chatter with suspense.

But that was 13 years ago. Wrestling with an unnatural, unwieldy, confusing and glitchy underwater combat system is no fun today. My older me is balder, older, fatter and less tolerant of broken gameplay mechanics.

In fact, if I were anyone with anything to say about Vanguard’s mechanics, I’d decide to either fix this or remove it from the game. Remove all the underwater mobs, relocate them to swamps and springs, disable the ability to dive in most waters and mark this as a failure.

On a happier note, I died three times:

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See those ants? “Hah, the idiot is attacking three mobs at the same time, of course he’ll die, what a stupid fool,” you say. But those ants weren’t even aggroing at first! It turns out that ants in Vanguard are somewhat social animals and will jump you in hordes if you attack a single one of them, even when the others would not normally aggro you. Back in Dark Age of Camelot, we called that BaF (Bring a Friend).

I just wanted to let you know about that. This has nothing to do with either the snakes, or the title.

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