|Pub: Square Enix|
|Release: February 29, 2012|
|Players: 1 (MMO)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Robert Verbruggen
Nowadays, many MMOs are content to steal a few features from World of Warcraft, add a fresh coat of paint, and call it a day. Not Wakfu. This bizarre European creation, a follow-up to the game Dofus that's coming to North America thanks to publisher Square Enix, offers a real alternative to MMO fans who want something different.
Like many European creations, Wakfu might come as a bit of a culture shock to Americans who haven't immersed themselves in the world of JRPGs and anime. Everything from the cutesy dialogue to the colorful art style might seem childish and silly at first, but just under the hood is a deep and rewarding experience that's being fine-tuned by developer Ankama.
The game is now in open beta, and when the final product comes out next month, it will be free to play, but with premium content available for $6 a month. The following impressions are derived from my experiences with the beta.
The most impressive thing about Wakfu is its combat system. Whereas most MMOs, including WoW, have you hammering buttons to deal out damage as quickly as possible, Wakfu takes a page from Dungeons and Dragons and Final Fantasy Tactics. The battles take place on a grid, and they're turn-based. Each turn, you can move a limited number of squares and perform a limited number of actions. This allows you to give some thought to your moves, but you can't take too long: You have a set amount of time to make each decision, and you receive bonuses for playing quickly. Of course, as you level up your character, you collect new gear, improve your statistics, and acquire new abilities. Most refreshingly, when you die, you respawn immediately at a checkpoint rather than being forced to wait.
Another highlight of the game is its focus on the natural world. MMOs are infamous for their reliance on "kill X number of enemy Y" quests, but here there's a fresh spin. Rather than spawning as many enemies as players need to kill, the Wakfu world has a living, breathing ecosystem. By taking on various professions, you can harvest seeds from the plants and animals around you, and plant more. (You read that right: The animals have seeds.) Each area of the game has a delicate balance—the NPC "Clan Member" in charge of it will tell you what that is—and players will need to practice careful stewardship to keep their homeland thriving as they progress through the game. You'll need to master two sides of the same coin: Wakfu, the art of creating new life, and Stasis, the art of killing plants and animals to harvest their resources and keep their populations under control. If players fail in this task, they could end up driving species out of existence entirely.
Also, Wakfu encourages you to create multiple characters and experience the game in different ways. There are a total of fourteen different classes based on different gods from the game's mythology, a truly impressive number. I chose to play as a Sadida, a nature-loving race that can spawn dolls to help during fights. Other classes excel at other tasks, such as healing, archery, and melee combat. In the early hours of the game, you also choose from among five factions, a decision that sticks with your character permanently and affects the quests you have access to. Guilds and dungeons are available as well. True diehards will, of course, want to try all the different areas with new characters.
The game's story is set in the same world as Dofus, but about 1,000 years later. The World of Twelve has been torn apart by natural disasters and evil, and the heroes of each territory have to rebuild the world, establishing a new political order and creating a sustainable ecosystem. To make matters worse, the world is divided into factions, not all of which are on good terms.
There's also an interesting political system. Each territory has a "governor" who's elected by the citizens every two weeks—you need to achieve the rank of Simple Citizen to vote and the rank of Involved Citizen to run for office. The winner of each election gets to set some rules, including taxes; those who don't obey the rules are open to attack by other players. They also manage international relations, which can even involve declaring war on other nations, and they can choose other citizens to help with various tasks.
Like any beta, Wakfu has its share of wrinkles that hopefully will be ironed out by the time the game launches for real. I experienced a movement glitch that kept resetting my character when I tried to make her walk, and my game froze once (restarting the game fixed these issues). I also found myself underleveled fairly quickly after choosing my faction, and I had to run back to an earlier area to grind for a while. Also, at this point, the game just feels very small—all of North America is on a single server, and one of the governors I encountered had been elected without facing an opponent, and with a grand total of eight votes. MMOs die quickly if they can't establish a player base, so hopefully more people will log on soon.
Still, the game is coming along marvelously for a beta. Fans of Dofus should find Wakfu to be a suitable follow-up, and newcomers will be impressed by all of the new elements it brings to the world of MMOs. Not only does the combat system introduce a level of tactics that most games don't have, but Wakfu has a unique aesthetic and an amazing ecosystem that responds to the behavior of human players. This is an ambitious project, and I can't wait to see where it goes.
Date: January 10, 2012