Rise and Shiny recap: Dofus

Years ago I had to find a job in my new home state of Texas. Luckily for me, my wife hooked me up with a friend who helped me get hired at Starbucks. At first, I hung my head in shame. Later, though, I enjoyed dealing with customers and the free coffee. I had a co-worker, a real chin-scratching, coffee house wanna-be intellectual who would often spend more time dreaming about some game than about getting people on their breaks. He even brought his Macbook to work to sneak in time in the game.

I glanced over his shoulder one day and was delighted to see an odd-looking, cartoony, turn-based game on his screen. It turned out that the game was Dofus. I tried it immediately and fell in love with it, but that was years ago. I still found time to revisit the game, but once I started working at Massively, most of my time became dedicated to every other game in the world.

Well, it's time to visit it again. During the first part of this week, though, I thought this was going to be a disaster. I stayed strong and battled my way through bot after bot, spam message after spam message, and eventually found the great game I remember. Click past the cut to see exactly what I found!

In case you haven't played Dofus yet, you should know that it was recommended as one of the must-have MMOs for your laptop or netbook. It runs in Flash, so barring the occasional lag that you get from Flash games, your machine can handle it. The world is filled with charming, hand-drawn environments and characters. Although the game has sparse non-combat animations like tree chopping or moving critters, the combat animations make up for it.

My first evening playing, though, made me feel as if I'd made a mistake recommending it to anyone. Not only were the map, quest log and NPC locations confusing and frustrating, but the world was filled with bots. How do I know they were bots? Simple: The community talked about the Rushu server I was on being filled with bots, and groups of 10 or 15 rainbow-colored characters, all with nonsense names, that move together in perfect sync are generally not legitimate. Later on, a volunteer mod from Ankama admitted that they were "bad."

Despite my frustrations, I still found a lot of joy during combat. If you have ever played any turn-based game or have ever enjoyed table-top gaming before (I've played Warhammer 40K since I was around 12), you will like Dofus' combat. You simply click on a mob or group of mobs and you are brought into an instanced battle screen. The layout is the same as the area you were in when you attacked the monster, so you can use the environment to plan before you actually attack. Once you decide which square to place your character on, battle begins.

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Basically, you have a time limit to pick your buffs, moves and attacks, all the while spending a number of movement and attack points. At first, battles seem pretty basic. In fact, you might breeze your way through many battles and start to wonder when exactly the good stuff starts. Once you begin to learn your abilities and start to add some real power to your arsenal, the real fun takes off. I found myself moving one step forward to bring mobs in line for a powerful shot, then I'd move myself out of the way. Later on, I would plan movement patterns that left me protected behind bits of landscape. It was simple, fun, and full of strategy -- but always accessible.

Grouping brought an entirely new level to combat. I stayed with one player for a while, and despite his lower level, we were able to survive by communicating and coordinating a lot of our attacks. He would heal me a bit, and I would keep enemies damaged from afar. It was actually pretty thrilling. Unfortunately, higher-level players can jump into your battle if you do not "lock" it fast enough, but even then I found experience to be fair and combat still fun. If anything, watching a higher-level player gave me a glimpse into cool spells that I had yet to acquire. In Dofus, spell effects are truly fun to watch.

The in-game community was generally nice, save for the standard kid standing around talking about how he "raped" another player. (I set him straight, of course.) I can tell you that the forum community was very inviting to me. Heck, some of the players were downright concerned about my issues and attempted to arrange an in-game meeting to answer my questions. At the beginning of each Rise and Shiny week, I usually announce who I am on the forums, but this time around I was basically just whining about how frustrated I was. The community stayed patient with me, and it made me feel better. That's the power of a good community. When I logged in last night, a friendly player even gave me a bunch of great starting gear -- for free! (Hi Gules!)

My forum outcry must have caught the attention of the moderator staff, because I soon found myself face-to-face in-game with one of them. He asked if I needed help with anything, so I told him to get rid of the spam and the bots. I could almost hear him sigh. The fact is that the bots are horrible -- even causing lag from their larger numbers. It is also a fact, however, that the problem is not that easy to fix. I imagine it takes sophisticated software to detect bot behavior, mainly because grinding humans act so much like bots. The last thing any developer wants to do is to mistakenly ban dedicated customers.

Of course, it is very simple to park a mod or GM in the game to watch for those spammers or bots. For all I know, that already happens. Once I got out away from the newer player city and starting area, the problem mostly disappeared. My visit with the mod also cleared up some confusion I had with locating NPCs or areas to visit for quests. I also found out other helpful tips from him, even though they had probably popped up on my screen sometime (c'mon -- none of us reads those!)

As usual, I decided to subscribe to the game to see what a player would get for his money. I got to choose from several cool pets, received some great fireworks and other things, and gained access to areas and quests that I would not normally have in the free mode. I always recommend subscribing for at least a month to any indie game, simply because you might get something out of it and it supports the developer.

In the end, Dofus is a very fun game to play. Don't let the static Flash images fool you; there is depth here, and the game does not hold your hand at all. Ask plenty of questions on the forums and get to know someone. You will find a ton of bots running around, at least on Rushu, but the devs have said that the problem is being worked on. Frankly, the sheer number of them should be an embarrassment to Ankama -- having them run around in the game in those numbers makes it seem as though the developers do not care one bit about their players.

The bots do clear up in the larger world, however, and there is never a shortage of mobs to battle. I had no problems finishing quests and finding my targets, and I met some very cool people. Dofus is also a great game for customization, gear and stat tweaking, crafting, gathering, and housing -- but it truly, truly shines in group battles. Trust me, you will forget that you are playing a Flash game on your notebook. Dofus gave me plenty of thrills once I got past the initial frustrations. My only regret is not returning to the game long, long ago. Go sign up now.

Since I will be putting together an indie edition of Choose My Adventure over the next several weeks, I decided to play something entirely different for the next issue of Rise and Shiny. I am going to play Star Trek Online! Yes, STO. I only played it in beta before, but I recently picked up a special edition for five bucks. This would be the perfect time to take a look back at it and to see how the newbie experience has improved (or not). If you want to play along, my name is Beau Hindman in the game. Also, be sure to read Ryan Greene's weekly STO column here. Maybe I can join him in a fleet battle?

Now, go log in!

Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. We meet each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. EST; the column runs the following Sunday. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email, or follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr!
This article was originally published on Massively.