Australian-Rules MMOPvP, at long last!
By Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle
October 17th, 2007 – I return to the Sanctuary from the last round of Bloodbath for the evening – make that morning… it's 5AM as I write this – and swig the last of my fifth bottle of orange Mountain Dew (the label said "Gamer Fuel" so I had to try – is this what tachycardia feels like?). I've been in blissful gaming nirvana, going through round after round like Fury warzone sessions were potato chips, and only occasionally remembering to alt-tab out to write something half coherent this two-part article since about 5pm yesterday.
Despite some typical launch day hiccups, it's been a blast. I'm glad I'm not writing the review of the game quite yet – I'm way too excited to be believable. Instead, rather than jump the gun and attempt a full-blown review when Fury was officially launched less than 24 hours ago, we're delivering our first impressions of the game. No scores, no good and bad bullet points, just our candid take on playing Fury during the first day of its revenue-earning existence.
Pricing and Value
Though everyone pays for the box ($49.95 USD at this time, direct download available from Auran Store), Fury offers the most interesting payment scheme to-date. Everyone gets 30 days of "Immortal" status (detailed here), which thereafter costs $9.99 / month to keep. Or just keep playing for free, i.e. "Hero" status, and enjoy the same character development potential minus a few nice perks like VoIP.
That's the subscription side of the business model. Also for sale: abilities (i.e. spells and combat moves) that players would normally unlock in the course of the game. This UAA ("Unlock All Abilities") system allows players with more money than time to have all possible combinations of abilities at their fingertips, though note that every player (UAA, Immortal, Hero, etc.) is limited to a certain number of points total. Folks purchasing the UAA may have more options, but aren't necessarily more powerful than non-UAA players. Abilities for the different archetype trees in the game are also for sale at about $8 a pop.
Auran's looking to deflate the secondary market by selling its own virtual currency in various denominations, too. Five dollars will net you enough to decently kit out one of your archetypes, while $20 should easily gear up all 8 of your incarnations through artificing. And, in case you're wondering, it'd take about $60-$70 to deck out one of your players in the top gear available from NPC vendors.
While it remains to be seen how the ability to purchase currency or purchase your way through the character development tree will affect Fury (especially when it comes to events and ladder rankings), it's nice to see developer getting a percentage for a change. Let's just hope the matchmaking system keeps the moneyed twinks separate from the purist gamer grunts.
In probably a dozen separate play sessions, I logged out abnormally three times. Once was due to an "Out of RAM" error, probably caused by excessive alt-tabbing with settings jacked way high rather than a memory leak, since it was far from my longest playsession. The other two times were server disconnects likely due to inactivity timeouts while my character was standing in the heavily trafficked Sanctuary. In short, no bluescreens or other hideous errors I've experienced on launch day in certain other top tier games that will remain unmentioned.
While many complained of stodgy performance during open beta and the Fury Challenge, Auran seems to have come a long way in the last few weeks. On my high-end machine (DX10 compatible and then some), I experienced framerates in excess of 80 frames per second with all video settings maxed out, bottoming out at a more than satisfactory 52 frames when 5+ players were casting and fighting in the frame. Framerates only became insufferable in the congested Sanctuary area at the pinnacle of the tower, and Auran might do well to return players to the sanctuary after their battles at multiple points.
Even my aging low-to-mid spec machine gave me framerates well above any perceptible flickering in the heat of battle. The reason behind Fury's versatile performance has everything to do with smart design. In an effort to make the game enjoyable for anyone with a reasonably modern rig (and to nullify on the weighty advantage the technologically superior usually have in fast-paced online PvP combat), Fury makes use of a novel two-tier rendering system. Anyone with a nVidia 7800 graphics card or better (or the ATI equivalent) defaults to the Unreal 3 engine, while those with lesser loadouts use Auran's proprietary Taurus low-spec renderer. The sacrifice in quality is negligible in light of how performance is sustained.
But high performance at all levels doesn't come without a cost. While static elements of the Fury landscape.look stunning – the rendering distance and sheer beauty in the no-combat "lobby area" (i.e. Sanctuary) will leave you slackjawed – at the start, the character models are ridiculously low-poly cardboard cutouts with an underwhelming character creation interface. If you want to find just that perfect shade of red for your hair, for example, you'll have to serially poke through each hair color rather than selecting it from a swatch palette. However, if you can get past the first impression of your character, I'm happy to report that after choosing your starting archetype, you visual appeal increases significantly and increases with better armor and weapons.
Animations are smooth and expressive enough, and the myriad of spell effects serve the purpose quite well without tying up system resources constantly needed elsewhere. Almost as important, those spell effects aren't overbearing, so that the incessant rapid fire barrage of spells your character will unleash never grow visually wearisome.