Well, I finally had a chance to get into Vanguard (took almost a full 24 hours to download and update… whew!)  It’s an interesting game, hopefully I’ll get a chance to play more… but while I’m taking a break, thought I’d post comments on what little I’ve seen of the diplomacy subgame so far.

At first glance, it definitely has some potential to be interesting.  There is enough complexity and sufficient options should be possible, to make for interesting choices.  Additionally, it does appear to tie in to other aspects of the game in some respects, even early on, with the ability to have an equipment “template” for diplomacy, as opposed to combat or crafting.  I’m sure the quest model builds off it as well… I simply haven’t gotten all that far in the game yet, so I haven’t seen much of that yet.

For a first attempt at something like this, some definite kudos are in order.  But of course, it’s hardly what I would consider perfect (it is a first attempt, after all).

The biggest disappointment, IMO…. as typically occurs with crafting interfaces as well, the interface elements are highly intrusive, even disruptive, generally filling the majority of the screen with the sub-game interface.  For diplomacy, you have your selection tray of cards, the gameplay screen showing your influences and progress, and a dialogue box (not sure if that was solely a function of the newbie training/introductory quest, or if it ubiquitous throughout all levels of play).  In other words, the interface itself largely takes you out of the world in order to play the sub-game. 

Would anyone implement physical combat that way, at least in a top-shelf 3-D title?  Have a large option tray cover a fourth of the screen, a status window pop-up and cover another third or half, to the point where you couldn’t really see your opponent or much of the surrounding environment?  Of course not.

It could have been implemented (and there may actually be an option to allow this in Vanguard, I’ll need to check) with many of the same type of interface elements and indicators that are used in physical combat.  A small scale across the center of the screen indicating the current diplomacy position, maybe with the point values on each end.  The four influences as rows of dots beneath the floating name and on the basic corner status displays.  The various diplomatic actions (currently “cards”) as simple options/icons on the activity bar, just like spells, combat attacks, and so on.  Facial expressions and various emote animations could be used to indicate activity and give a sense of progress, just like the actions and indicators of physical combat.

The second disappointment is that this is obviously intended as just a sub-game, period.  Physical combat is quite obviously still far and away the expected primary activity for everyone.  (On the plus side, at least in the area I started in, I have yet to fight anything even remotely resembling a large rodent… there were some large lizard-like things I potentially could have pummelled, however.)  Perhaps it is possible later in the game to move away from slaughtering everything that moves in order to explore the world and advance the character, but at the start, at least, it’s pretty much “same-old, same-old” on that score.

It is nice that everyone gets to participate in this activity, however, as opposed to having a designated “Diplomat” class or similar limiting factor.  (My preference for skill systems is showing, isn’t it…)

I haven’t explored it enough to really figure out if the specific elements of the diplomatic subgame are logical in terms of their effects.  At first glance, there was nothing that stood out and shouted “I was selected as a vaguely plausible name, but actually stand for something completely unrelated to what I do!”  In the final analysis, that’s probably good enough, regardless.

Anyway, an interesting new idea with some neat twists, and something I’m definitely going to look at more closely…