Monday, November 05, 2007

Fury Review

Fury, developed by Auran and published by Gamecock Media Group.
The Good: Fast paced action-oriented gameplay, balancing spells and items is interesting, generally easy to find matches, good loot system, optional monthly fee
The Not So Good: NPCs are not readily accessible, abrupt tutorial, long load times, can have unbalanced games, repetitive and frustrating hyperactive combat
What say you? A first person shooter disguised as a role-playing game: 5/8

With the ever-increasing battle for gamers’ wallets, developers have been coming up with title that put new users quickly into the action, eliminating a lot of the time-consuming minutiae. We’ve seen this done well in World in Conflict, which removed base building and resource collection to produce a faster-paced real time strategy game. Another notoriously drawn-out genre is the role-playing game, typically featuring lots of grinding against low-level foes to increase your level so you can grind against high-level foes and increase your level. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Well, Fury is an action-focused RPG, taking more of a first person shooter approach to the action and removing all those monsters with pure person vs. person combat. Will this streamlining produce a better game?

Fury is one of those Unreal engine games, and the graphics look generally decent for a role-playing game. Fury doesn’t have an extensive world, since most of the game occurs in a handful of maps and the common areas, but these locations do look good with some decent detail, from the overall architecture to texturing. The game comes with “high level” and “low level” rendering options, which basically turn down the pixel shaders for older video cards. The characters models are decent, and the spell effects are what you would expect for a role-playing game. The mouse-driven interface is typical; it can be difficult to select enemy units sometimes and health bars are not present to determine who the best target is. Also, load times for Fury are very long, even for recently-visited or small arenas, and the audio stutters a lot during and just after loading. Still, the graphics of Fury fall right in line with what you would expect for a modern third-person RPG and the game maintains a good level of quality. The audio is also very representative of a role-playing game: spell effects, voice acting, and background music are all generic though well-done. Nobody will be disappointed with the presentation of Fury, as the game exhibits the level of quality you would expect in a game such as this.

Fury is an online-only, person vs. person (or, as the cool kids say, PvP) role-playing game. Once you purchase the game you can play for free, although you can choose to play an extra $10 a month (cheaper if you pay for more time at once) to enjoy some extras. What are those extras, you say? “Immortal” players get faster transportation, a better chance of getting loot, priority queuing for matches, ladder events, and beta access. If you play the game a lot, I could see this being almost worth it, but the advantages are not overpowering so non-subscription players will not be at a great difficulty. Fury features a short tutorial that teaches the basics of the interface, but you really need to read the manual to understand everything as the game leaves a lot unexplained. When you start, you can choose from one of eight archetypes (classes). They are not as varied as you would think: there is a ranged spell-caster (called “spiritual”) and a close-combat specialist (“physical”) in each of the four schools of magic (life, death, growth, and decay). The spells obviously change between each of the schools, so there is some change in whether someone is offensive or defensive. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t make this terribly clear until after you’ve chosen your archetype, but you can change it later if you’ve made a wrong choice.

After you are finished with the tutorial, you’ll start out in the neutral sanctuary, populated with hordes of non-playable characters (or, as the cool kids say, NPCs). The sanctuary is generally divided up into each school and NPCs serve as quest givers, traders, and faction leaders that can unlock special items if you bribe them enough. The quests in Fury (called “trials”) are actually stat goals you must reach through combat to unlock more spells. You proceed down the line, talking to more NPCs and getting more and more advanced tools to kill things. Other NPCs offer weapons, spells, or random crafted objects. You can spend a nominal fee to have someone create an item for you; generally, it’s better to make it a low-level item since it’s cheaper, uses less inventory room, and you’ll generally get the same random stats anyway. The NPCs are needlessly spread out, wasting a lot of time walking around instead of fighting (isn’t that what the box advertises the game avoids?). You could have accomplished the same thing in a menu system. Also, having trials for an archetype split over many, many NPCs is silly; why can’t the same guy give me missions no matter what level I am on? Now I have to remember which person I am “on” in order to advance. For a game that supposedly streamlines the gameplay and throws you right into the action, the unnecessarily high NPC population and the requirement of long walking distances are strange design choices.

There are three game types in Fury: deathmatch (called “bloodbath”), capture the flag (“vortex”), and last man standing (“elimination”). All of these modes have been present in first person shooters for quite a while, but they may be new for the role-playing genre. Really, Fury plays a lot like a first person shooter, except guns have been replaced with spells. Joining a match is straightforward: find one of the seemingly hundreds of NPCs for the match type you’d like, and you are placed in a queue, given teammates and similarly-skilled opponents, and off you go. I’ve found that it generally takes less than two minutes to join a match, during which time you can tweak your inventory or run around like an idiot. Bloodbaths are organized on-the-hour only (to maximize the number of players), so there is some waiting involved if you prefer free-for-all action. Since there aren’t a high number of players yet, you can run into terribly imbalanced matches where veteran, high-level players have been put into the match to fill out the contest. These obviously aren’t as fun; although high-level players aren’t at a great advantage in terms of equipment, coordinated high-level players can wipe the floor with you. As you can imagine, this is not very fun and it will probably turn away some new players. Hopefully a steady stream of new players will keep low-level contests more balanced. You can coordinate with your group using VoIP, an increasingly common feature in team-based games. You are placed in groups so you can play with the same people for multiple games in a row. While this is a nice feature, it does tend to lead to some really organized players dominating matches and the games can be less fun for more casual participants.

Fury’s interface takes some getting used to, although this may be due to the fact that I don’t play very many third-person role-playing games (or many RPGs period). Movement is done with our good friend WASD, and the spells can be activated by clicking on their icon or pressing the appropriate numbered key (the specific key can be set by the user). Camera movement and character movement can be independent of each other; this can get confusing but it allows you to look around without actually turning around. All of your spells are part of one of four elements: fire, water, nature, and air. Each time you use a basic spell, it produces “charges” that can be used to fuel a more powerful spell of the same element. However, fire and water (and nature and air) are opposed, so you want to use either all fire or all water spells to maximize your offense. The effects can range from a general decrease in health to long-term benefits or detriments like damage absorption, immunity, and disarmament. There are a lot of interesting choices to be made during battle regarding which spells to use and when to use them to maximize their effectiveness. The gameplay is very fast paced and there is a lot going on with protection spells and curses and whatnot. It’s a lot to keep track of and the first couple of matches will be quite chaotic. Maps can include power-ups like health, buffs, and speed, so further enhance (or complicate, depending on how good you are) the gameplay. Fury does not have a death penalty, and since you will die often, this is a good thing. In general, the game centers on targeting foes susceptible to your spell elements and using low-level spells to allow for large attacks. As with most team-based games, teams that work together, pairing healers, support, and assault characters, will win. Like in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, it's more fun to be on a coordinated team. Clans should have a whale of a time with Fury because of this. Of course, playing pure deathmatch removes the team element so you can enjoy the game without being part of an organized clan.

The gameplay of Fury has a lot of similarities with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, as both feature fast-paced team-oriented gameplay. The options for beginners are obviously limited, since you don’t have access to very many spells, so combat for new players is a bit boring because you will spam the same spell over and over. However, the strategies increase dramatically as you level up, and you have to do some balancing thanks to the equipment limit. While there are a lot of spells to choose from during your ascent in the game world, most of them offer insiginificant bonuses so most everyone of the same class will use the same spells. More balancing of the spell system would have resulted in much more interesting gameplay. Every player, regardless of rank, is restricted to 1,000 equipment points. Every item and spell costs a different amount of equipment points, depending on how good it is. This means you must decide which spells and items are most important and useful for your next battle. The equipment limit also means that veteran players won’t be at a severe advantage since they have the same limits you do, although their spells will likely offer more bang for the buck. The games themselves are very, very fast, and probably too fast for most people (especially new players). It’s really hard to keep track of what is going on: most of the time you're just pressing TAB to select a semi-random enemy and clicking on spells until you die. Maybe this is because I’m not that good at this type of game, but it should be more intuitive and less of a contest of who can press buttons more quickly. After each battle, you are allowed to bid (using dice rolls) on a list of items depending on your performance. Earned goods are delivered to a mailbox after a period of time; you need to search for one periodically in order to receive your goods (another tedious and unnecessary task). Over time, you will gain rank and earn points to complete the quests to unlock better spells. People who haven’t played for a while aren’t at a great disadvantage, as Fury offers a cash bonus for rested avatars.

Fury takes a unique stance in the role-playing genre, and the idea would work well in theory. The basic gameplay has a fast pace and the exclusive PvP action reduces a lot of the grinding present in other RPGs. Joining matches is pretty easy and the game attempts to match people of equal skill levels, although you might encounter unbalanced matches if the server is unpopulated. There is a ton of stuff to earn with a large range of attributes that allows users to tailor their characters to specialize in different areas, and the equipment limit brings about some tough decisions on what to take into battle. The trials give you short term goals to achieve and advance in rank. The games themselves can be enjoyable if you are part of an organized team. However, the time between battles is spent walking around talking to NPCs that are too far away. Sure, it’s realistic, but I would much rather interact with merchants in a drop-down menu than spend my time walking instead of fighting. It’s annoying to have to waste precious smashing time searching for a belt crafter. If Fury would have incorporated the system present in Space Trader, where you can access everybody from one screen, then trading would be much more streamlined and ultimately enjoyable. Still, not much time is spent outside of battles so the level of annoyance isn’t as bad as it could be. The battles can be a bit messy for new players and I felt like I was simply pressing buttons most of the game as enemies flew around the screen, but I think more time spent with the product would reduce this level of helplessness somewhat. If you’re looking for an action-packed RPG and you can ignore some questionable design decisions, then Fury might be right for you: it is easy to get in to, provides speedy gameplay, and incorporates a large array of available strategies.