Doubtless because few were willing to pay monthly fees, fantasy multiplayer online game Vanguard: Saga of Heroes will go free-to-play sometime this summer.
Vanguard was developed by many of the same people who designed EverQuest. For those that never had the privilege, EverQuest was a hard-core game, where severe death penalties (experience point loss!) and long down time was standard and a request to change skills or abilities was met only with polite laughter. The effort to achieve maximum level was roughly comparable to getting a Ph.D. in astrophysics, and more time consuming. It influenced other games at the time, which similarly were challenging, such as Asheron’s Call, where you could easily and permanently screw up your character with a single button press–and the designers liked it that way.
Then World of WarCraft came out, with a super-user friendly design, death a mere inconvenience, the ability to completely change around your character’s skills, and experience point gushing to the point where maximum level could be achieved in less time than moving a lawn (a big lawn, anyway). The masses had spoken, and EQ began its long trek to the dustbin of internet history. The many attempts to copy WoW likewise focused on ease of play, with ever decreasing penalties for bad play, and ever more generous loot and experience awards.
Vanguard is something of a protest game, a throwback to the design sensibilities of EQ. The focus is on challenge and this is probably the last game made where death means you need to run your naked butt back to your corpse if you don’t want to lose your entire inventory… yeah, it’s that serious. There are also some unique ideas here that never caught on, such as a diplomacy game with a strong collectible card game aspect to it (again, influenced by another top game of the day, Magic: The Gathering).
Sensing that this game might not have a broad user appeal at launch, Sony did all they could in terms of public relations, even flying out reviewers and editors (including me) to California for a few days, just to make us sit down and play the eight or so hours necessary to really get into such a hardcore game. Granted, I wasn’t willing to pay for it, but for free? Sure, might be worth a second look.