After a considerable amount of beta testing, the MMO Wakfu is finally with us. Simply put, this is an incredibly bold project that deserves a chance.
While Wakfu is a product of French developer Ankama, it’s being brought to North America by Square Enix—and it’s undeniably Japanese in culture, drawing on the country’s anime traditions. The colors are bright, the dialogue always seems light and happy, and the game is built around an existing anime franchise. This might be off-putting to some MMO fans, but I found that it works well and doesn’t detract from the very deep experience that lurks just under the hood.
This is no World of Warcraft clone—and by that I don’t mean that the developers tweaked the formula a little bit; I mean that just about everything about this game is fresh and innovative. The most immediately noticeable difference is the combat, which is turn-based and takes place on a grid, much like how fighting works in Might & Magic or Dungeons & Dragons. You also get bonuses for playing quickly. This is a welcome change from the real-time combat that many MMOs use, and the simple menus are easy to navigate.
The class system is amazing as well, with a wide range of character types that have radically different abilities. There are twelve classes in total; some of the most interesting include Sacrier’s Blood, which become more powerful as they take damage, Cra’s Range, who are archers, and Osamodas’ Whip, who are summoners. I played as an Osamoda, and I was impressed by how it forced me to adapt tactics that suited my class—in most fights I had to position myself away from the enemy, summon an ally, send the ally against my foe, and hang back and attack with ranged spells. When players of different classes team up to take on quests, there’s no telling how many tricky decisions they’ll have to make.
When you strike out into the world, you’ll find that it’s managed a little differently than most MMO territories. Rather than spawning creatures endlessly, Wakfu asks its players to practice good stewardship over the natural world. This involves Stasis, killing animals to keep their population under control, and Wakfu, harvesting seeds from wildlife (even the animals have seeds in this world) and planting them to keep populations alive. Yes, this means that in Wakfu, it’s up to the players whether animals go extinct. The Clan Members of each territory will help players maintain a balance, and each creature only survives in certain areas (making invasive species a non-issue), but you’re free to kill or plant as many creatures as you want.
Your power to affect the world around you doesn’t end there. Once you get past the earliest sections of the game, you’ll choose a nation, and you’ll find that each area in Wakfu is run by a government. The government is made up of an elected Governor and up to seven other players he appoints to help run his administration. Before running for governor, you need to earn at least 1,000 Citizenship Points—these are awarded for following your chosen nation’s laws. The Governor can change laws and set taxes, and those who ignore the law can become Outlaws. Other players can attack Outlaws without breaking the law, and the developers say they’re considering adding some perks to Outlaw status as well.
One of the biggest problems I have with MMOs in general is that you rarely feel like you’re making a difference—you’re just playing through content made by game designers, the same as you would in an offline game. In Wakfu, the world is not only populated by other players, but in many ways it’s run by them. I’m not sure if this is more exciting or scary, but it’s certainly interesting.
Now to talk about subscriptions—I think the powers that be made a great decision on how to balance Wakfu’s free-to-play aspects with its subscriber-only content. Whereas most free games try to give the impression that you can truly play for free and then charge you for all sorts of little things to make their money, Wakfu treats free-to-play content more like a demo. If you boot up the game without playing, you’ll have access to the worlds of Incarnam and Astrub. These worlds should keep you occupied for a while, as they feature some dungeons and quests, and you’ll learn a few professions along the way. You can even engage in PvP duels and join guilds, though you won’t be able to affect the world’s ecosystem. At the very least, this content will give you a very good sense of whether you want to keep going.
But once that content runs out, you have to subscribe—which, in my view, is a fair system that keeps many of the advantages of free-to-play without bringing annoying microtransactions into the mix. Subscribers gain access to all of the game’s worlds and dungeons, as well as its fast-travel transportation system, full range of professions, and ecosystem. And at $6 a month, with discounts for longer subscriptions, Wakfu won’t exactly break the bank.
Perhaps the biggest problem with all this innovation is that it could prove remarkably difficult for the developers to control if players get out of hand. When the various classes are so dramatically different, it becomes likely they’ll become unbalanced as players learn all the tricks. (Hopefully the beta testing helped head off this problem.) Also, while the developers say they didn’t have many ecosystem issues during the beta—and while free players can’t change the balance of life—it’s only a matter of time before a few players decide to embark on an extinction campaign, or to create so many of one type of animal that the world is coated in them. The economy poses challenges as well; everyone can mint their own currency, raising the possibility of inflation. The true test of Wakfu (and Stasis!) will be whether the legitimate players and governments within the game can handle such a situation, and whether the developers step in to fix things if worst comes to worst.
But that’s a bridge we can cross when we come to it. For the time being, Wakfu holds great promise, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Fans of anime, MMOs, nature management, and even sociology will want to give Wakfu a try, if for no other reason than to see what happens when you let gamers run the world.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
This is not a technological marvel, but it looks great. 4.5 Control
Simple and effective. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music isn’t particularly remarkable, but it fits the feel of the world. 4.5 Play Value
There’s plenty of free content, a whole world full of adventure. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|