One of the great benefits of this job comes from revisiting worlds that have gone unchecked for a while. These are games that I already know I enjoy but want to check back on in an "official" manner, every year at least. Honestly I visit many of them several times a year, but not in the same way I would if I were working. Wakfu is on the same list as Ryzom, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, Champions Online and many, many others.
This time around I wanted to get out more and explore the surrounding areas, and I found that Ankama has made many improvements to the game that help make exploration possible. Granted, the changes that I noticed were not significant but notable, and overall the game appeared to be just as smooth, interesting, and original as before. The only problem is that many of the same issues I had with the game are still there, and I doubt they'll disappear any time soon.
Wakfu is a wonderful game for those who like turn-based combat, but it's also great for those players who love to slowly craft a standout character, one that can borrow from different skillsets to come out more powerful or -- as in my case -- hopefully a bit more unique. Don't get me wrong, I know that most players even in sandbox titles look for the most efficient way to get something done, whether it is killing monsters or building a home. This drive for efficiency is nothing new among gamers but almost always leads to guides and established "rules" to playing. In other words, sandboxes are wonderful but most of the sandbox players I meet are hardly more than guided heroes. You'll find guides and will receive plenty of gameplay advice within a sandbox.
My main character is called a Foggernaut. He's a sort of steam-powered robot thing and utilizes stasis fields, rails, and turrets to cause damage to enemies. I went without a lot of the more complicated skills and fell in love with only a few abilities. One in particular, called Steampalm, shoots a fireball into the sky, only to rain down on enemies a moment later. It's a great ability that has some range but not too much range. Combat happens on a square-floored battlefield, and players or enemies take turns moving a few squares, firing or casting spells, and completing their turns. Luckily the game has options to turn off objects or to show characters passing behind them. There must have been an update to the game while I was away, because I was even able to turn off all environmental art to show a flat battlefield that was much less distracting.
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As I used my favorite abilities I gained experience for my character's overall level as well as the level for the specific abilities that I used. The better I got at an ability, the more potent it became. I wanted to raise my Steampalm so that I could continue to play as I do now. I moved some, fired off the ability, and moved some more. The key with my character is to keep moving and to stay out of range of the other characters on the screen. Once they get close enough or get next to me I can even be locked next to them, unable to move away. If I attempt to move and become locked in melee range I can even lose my turn! Wakfu is unforgiving in a lot of ways.
So, the combat is great. In fact the combat makes the game what it is, but the environment gives it all a unique spin. Players can learn gathering abilities and can go out into the world and chop down trees, for example. They can also gather seeds from the trees (as well as animals!) and "plant" them, creating new ones. Why would a player want to create or destroy animals and plants from the world? Well, if a player finds herself in a certain area of the world, she can open up a guide that will show her roughly the current numbers of plants and animals. Clan members who rule each zone will have certain criteria to make them happy. Some prefer more plants than animals, and bonuses are gained when the balance is struck. If you kill too many animals or plant too many plants you might lose citizenship points.
If you gain enough citizenship points you might be able to vote for the next governor. If you gain more of those points you can actually run for the position of governor and use that power to change the laws of the land. If you lose enough points you might become an outlaw, inviting other players to attack you in the hopes of sending you to jail.
This is all great stuff, but most of the higher level effects were out of my reach. I spent my time this week revisiting combat and having a blast, exploring the lands thanks to the game's newer map interface, and hanging out with other players. One particular player took me to a troll carnival that was complete with rides, scare houses (filled with very scary enemies), and a duck pond that might reward you with a tiny rubber duck pet!
Many of the same complaints about the game remain. First, it's a difficult game to understand. These days, there's really no excuse for hosting a game that requires players to go to outside websites in order to understand basics. Yes, there are players who are great for information, but the point is that not only are players not always around but those same players do not always understand all aspects of the game. I met a veteran, level 100-plus player who had no idea where I would find certain answers.
Second, the in-game map is improved but still rough. From what I can tell there is no mini-map as well, and in a game that has wonderful environments but a zoomed-in, forced perspective, a good map is a must-have. Of course as players level they don't need a map as much, but it is much-needed at earlier levels.
Third, the game is a bit too grindy. There are quests but they can be very hard to follow, so most players I have met end up grinding on monsters in order to level. I refuse to grind most of the time, so I find myself logging out before I am forced to do so. Dungeons and group play makes grinding much more fulfilling, but again the problem is that other players are not always available.
Wakfu still deserves great praise. It's unique, mostly fun, and deep. It's a bit of an ugly duckling and will probably never gain the success it deserves, but with a few changes that make the game friendlier to new players it could eventually become a giant.
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!