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Massively's first impressions of Wakfu


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If you are a fan of Dofus, you might be familiar with my current mania. I was asked to take an early look at Wakfu, the game that could be called "Dofus 2.0," and I was given permission to talk about it. That's right, if it were a horrible menace to my free time, I would be able to tell you. If it didn't run, or if it were nothing but a mess of bugs, I could tell you that as well. Of course, I wasn't forbidden from telling you how much I might have liked it or how confident I was that the game truly felt like a "2.0," so I might just do some of that.

Remember, this is a closed beta I am about to talk about. Let's keep that in mind. OK, OK, I just have to say that -- sort of like an article disclaimer to do away with any responsibility I might have for my opinion. Now, I don't want to give you any spoilers, and I want you to promise to read to the end of the article, but let's just say that, closed beta or not, this game is really tight.

But let's go ahead and click past the cut, mkay? I want to tell you more.

Gallery: Wakfu beta screens | 43 Photos

I think I would like to go down a list of improvements that Wakfu has made over Dofus... at least the obvious ones. See, I never rose that high in the ranks of Dofus, so I cannot tell you every nook and cranny of the systems or lore. All I know is that Wakfu simply feels much more detailed, more improved upon, and more smooth than Dofus.

For example, moving from one part of the map to another is no longer achieved by your clicking on an arrow on the side of the screen and then pausing while the next area loads. Instead, the map and landscape rolls along as in any other "normal" MMO. As soon as you see this happen in the game, you know you are light years away from Dofus. The movements, animations, and emotes seem better, as well, but I think new spell effects and idle animations in the landscapes are mostly responsible. Even though your character is largely static, the world feels so much more alive and... well, like a "normal" MMO.

"I never understood the point of literally forcing players to stumble around the world for the first 10 hours of play, so seeing some of the improvements made in the newbie area of Wakfu was great."

You can even smoothly zoom in (using the scroll wheel) for a closer look at the world, a feature missing from Dofus. Granted, when you take a close look, you will find some rough edges and blocky textures, but it's still very nice to get a better look during combat or when chatting with someone. I especially liked watching all of the combat animations -- some of them are downright beautiful.

Dofus is notoriously unfriendly to new players. I never understood the point of literally forcing players to stumble around the world for the first 10 hours of play, so seeing some of the improvements made in the newbie area of Wakfu was great. It's not perfect by any means, but the newbie experience is much better and easier to follow than Dofus. There are new systems to learn, too, and the game does a good job helping you figure them out. On one hand, I wish Ankama would explain those systems even more, but on the other, I appreciate the mystery. Gamers can be intelligent people who love a good mystery. Luckily, Wakfu feels balanced between spelled-out hand-holding and vague information.

Some of the systems in the game are, quite honestly, some of the smartest and best-designed I have seen in any MMO. While smart design has much to do with it, I think that it's also a case of the developer being brave enough to do something different. I can only think of a handful of MMOs that can boast weather systems and environmental impact systems like Wakfu's. Wakfu can now join the ranks of Ryzom, Mabinogi, and a few others.

For example, if you want to chop down a tree, you learn how and obtain the appropriate tool. Once you chop it down, you will find a piece of lumber in your inventory. Of course, the tree is gone afterward. If you chop down all the trees, there will be no trees left in the area. If you are a responsible woodsman, you take cuttings as you go along. Cuttings can be planted in place of the tree you just murdered, so the cycle of life continues. (You can even stomp on a seedling, but I could not force my character do it.) As you become better at chopping and planting, you gain the ability to chop and plant better trees. The materials you get can be sold to other players for use in crafting.

You can also become a baker or go around gathering from animals. If skinning is not your thing, you can extract "seeds" from the animals and "plant" new ones, continuing to do your part for the environment. In a charming (if not gory) area of the newbie tutorial, a giant wolf creature walks around and eats any "extra" creatures. As players learn how to replenish creatures, the giant wolf makes sure to keep populations in check. It was almost startling to see such a system function in real-time. It was remarkably simple and worked well. I'm a bit confused as to where and how different ecosystems are replenished (if at all). Some areas warned that mobs and plants would not replenish inside their boundaries, so could players over-populate or wipe-out entire forests or populations? I was intrigued.

Combat is almost identical to that of Dofus but with enough subtle improvements that it almost felt like a completely new system. You can automatically lock fights so other players cannot jump in without permission. It's easy enough to become a spectator in someone's battle, so I spent a good amount of time just watching players fight.

When you start a battle, you place your character on the map and hit begin. Although each turn is timed, it's long enough to allow you to make good decisions. Bonuses are applied if you make decisions quickly. After remapping some of my keys, I could move and fight very quickly -- first hitting my ability, choosing the target, and firing away. Sometimes I might lay down a trap or try to flank my enemy. There was a good amount of strategy in the fights even at low levels. Combat, overall, is smooth and really fun to watch. If you are a turn-based fan, you'll love it.

"The system of raising levels in specific abilities is fantastic, but I could already see players grinding out an ability over and over."

Unfortunately, I can already see how some of the game could become a very long grind. The system of raising levels in specific abilities is fantastic, but I could already see players grinding out an ability over and over. I preferred to try a little bit of everything. It would be easy to make the exact character you want, even while locked into a specific class, but prepare for a lot of fighting or gathering to raise those levels. Grinding will turn me off to a game more quickly than anything, but fortunately Wakfu seems to back it all up with a variety of activities and interlocking systems that keep the game feeling fresh.

The economy is completely player-driven. Since I was playing in an early stage of the game, it was very hard to make any money. I tried to sell some of the boards I made, but I had nothing to base my prices on. There is a central bulletin board in major cities that tells, I believe, average prices for goods, but again the newness of the community meant that prices were hard to nail down. It's great to see a game that forces players to work with or against each other in order to trade goods, so here's hoping that the system does not bite everyone on the butt later. If trading becomes a real career, though, I will be the first to travel great distances to sell my items. Real trade is something that you just don't find in many MMOs.

One of the most interesting systems (that some claim is unfair at best) is the "outlaw" system. Essentially, if you kill too many creatures, plant too many trees, or gather too much and go against the wishes of the local area's clan leader, you lose citizen points. Drop below zero and you become an outlaw, able to be hunted and killed by other players. It is a very daring system, to say the least, but it feels like an appropriate punishment for players who unbalance the ecosystem.

I feel as if I have barely covered all of what I've seen, even in my short time with the game. There are political systems that players can participate in, advanced weather systems and effects that affect trade and farming, player housing that is more like a portable trading stall, mysterious lore that is hard to explain (and understand), and fantastic animations and environmental interactions that seem so much more advanced than anything in Dofus. Sometimes, the game is damn funny as well.

I can't wait for Wakfu's official release. It will surely pull in fans from Dofus, but other players should check it out as well. Often games that look like Wakfu are shrugged off by many MMO fans, but from what I can tell so far, the game is something we've never seen before. The crew from Ankama and Square-Enix has made something wonderful.

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