Developer: Ankama Games
Platform: Linux, Mac OS X, Windows
Release date: September 1, 2005
Genre: Fantasy Tactical MMORPG
Subscription: Free/Â£3.99 a month/Â£37 a year
Rating: PEGI – 12+
DOFUS, created by the Ankama Group, is the leading MMO in France, having won several awards, and has recently reached a landmark 10 million players since release, currently boasting 1.5 million subscribers. Whilst 70% of its players are French speaking, it is played in 150 different countries and will soon be available in 10 different languages. With the sequel, Wakfu, in the works, this seemed like as good a time as any to give the phenomena a try.
The story is based around six mysterious eggs named DOFUS, which were discovered centuries previously in the entrails of a slain dragon. The wise men of Amakna, the land in which the game takes place and Ankama’s name reversed, discovered that when united the eggs contained great but unstable power. And so it was decided they would be scattered. Now, in present day Amakna, the DOFUS have disappeared from their secret hiding places and strange creatures have appeared, enticing adventurers and treasure hunters alike to hunt for the famed eggs.
When I first approached this game for review, I cleared my mind of any preconceived notions I had of both this game, and of the MMORPG genre, as I knew this was going to be different from anything I’d played before. For starters, it’s a Flash game, with only 150mb installation size, and a minimum required RAM of 256. Having never come across DOFUS before, I was surprised at how small it was, but this is one of the appeals it has to many of its players. It can be played from most computers so it is a truly mobile game.
It would be silly of me to try and compare DOFUS to other MMORPGs, such as World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online, as they can hardly be classed in the same bracket. Yes, they are of the same genre but there are just too many differences between them. So, that is the last time I shall mention those games.
With the quick installation gone, it was time for me to register an account, which was, again, quick and simple. Then it was on to one of the aspects of MMOs I always enjoy; character creation. Having tackled this game as a complete beginner, with no prior knowledge, it was easy to get confused at first glance of the classes. Whilst Ankama are to be commended for their originality of archetypes, some players may find the unique class names off putting.
There are a total of 12 different classes to choose from, with names such as Iop, which was inspired by the milkshake Yop, and Osamodas. These do come with a short explanation as to what each class is and some example spells, so under further investigation I was able to decipher which ones were warriors, which were mages, and which were rogues. Disappointingly, character customisation is rather limited, restricting the player to choosing the colour of only three aspects of their chosen character. No changes in face, hairstyle or body type is offered, although gender is selectable.
When your character first steps into the game world, you are presented with 2D isometric graphics, an informative user interface, and some pop-up messages to help you on your way. The backgrounds are fairly vibrant and eye-catching, keeping the player interested but they can get pretty repetitive from scene to scene. Character movement is typically Flash-based and detail is limited due to the size of the models. The artwork is reminiscent of a cute manga style, which is one of the main draws of the game.
Another major draw of the game is its humour, which is evident as soon as you step into the world; with several quips from nearby NPCs. Character designs also portray this humour, although I prefer mine to be a bit subtler. Since the game was originally released in French, I was impressed with the quality of the translation, having experienced many poor attempts from mainly Japanese and Korean MMOs.
Once through the quick tutorial, your character is exposed to the general starting area, where all young Amaknans must begin their adventures. A green exclamation mark, the symbol of choice among MMORPG developers, above the head of two NPCs denotes your first quests. These are generic MMO fare, telling you to kill a certain beast or speak to another NPC. Taking the orders to heart, I embarked upon my first real battle against an unsuspecting mosquito.
The combat is fairly unique for this genre of game, using a tactical turn-based system, which piqued my interest. My character, an Iop – which is a melee class by default – is given the choice of several squares as her starting position, with her foe clearly visible. Depending on your Initiative, one of a character’s core statistics, you or your opponent will move and take actions first. With limited movement, in a square-by-square manner, battles aren’t always quick. Actions take up, you guessed it, action points and my Iop was only able to take one action per turn. I found the system to be a little clunky; with fights taking longer than necessary with the sheer amount of clicking you had to do to move on to the next turn. The potential for tactical play, especially within a group, are extremely good however, it is just a pity I wasn’t able to experience them in the time I played.
Another thing you come across when you enter the starting area is other players, who are fairly numerous, even on the UK server on which I played. There seemed to be a contingent of idle players merely standing around on nearly every scene I came across. Other players also have the ability to jump into your battles once you’ve initiated them, either aiding you or your enemy. I found, in my very first battle, that a level 41 player jumped in and started attacking me. I was a tad confused as to this tactic but merely got on with killing that poor mosquito and ignored his high-levelled rudeness. Thankfully, combat ended when the mosquito went to that little insect heaven in the sky.
Something I soon noticed in my travels around the starting area was the music, which was cheery but incredibly repetitive and it didn’t take me long to turn it off. The sound effects weren’t much better and they tended to annoy me rather than immerse me in the gameplay. It also seems that DOFUS hasn’t escaped the curse of MMOs that is the gold seller. Several chat channels were continually spammed by messages inviting players to buy their virtual currency but DOFUS does give you the option to leave these channels, much to my relief. From my conversations with players, I learned that the game does have quite a problem with bots; characters continually roaming maps and killing monsters to make that all-important money.
Another thing players complained of was the constant changes made to class dynamics with the intention of balancing them. Whilst this is a common complaint in MMORPGs, and I haven’t enough experience within the game to be able to tell for myself, enough people voiced their opinion on the matter to make me think Ankama have fallen into this trap as well.
DOFUS boasts several other features to keep players coming back for more, such as pets, guilds, PvP, and alignments. Among these are a variety of professions available for your character to learn. You are able to learn up to three professions after having levelled the previous one to 30. There is a wide range to choose from, such as farming, baking, armoursmithing, alchemy, carving, and much more. From my limited experience of the professions, I found the gathering of materials to be a slow, tedious slog and the crafting of items to be fairly hit-and-miss. For example, in the woodcutting profession, to make an ash plank it requires 20 pieces of ash wood. Each tree you chop down yields between one and three of the resource, with a gathering time of around 11 seconds. This seems rather unbalanced and levelling up each profession is very time-consuming.
I expect the professions aren’t the only time-consuming part of the game, as from the time spent playing, I foresee levelling to be just as bad, especially with the 200 level cap. Although levelling can be a pretty quick process in the beginning, the quests don’t seem to take up much of those levels, facilitating a grinding style of play. From what players have told me, it is estimated to take around two to three years to reach the maximum level. Add in the fact that certain monsters can be camped, especially the higher level ones in the starting area, grinding could become incredibly tedious. Personally, I don’t think the visuals are diverse enough to support such an approach.
DOFUS provides both limited free-to-play and pay-to-play options for gamers, with subscribed accounts enjoying such benefits as being able to challenge monsters over level 20, working on professions over level 30, and creating or joining guilds. On offer to subscribers is a rather novel idea – the heroic server. In this version of the game, you only live once. Character death means just that, you lose your character and any items you’d gained. As a benefit of this server, experience and item drops are increased.
Although I wouldn’t personally pay to play this game, I can see the attraction for a fair number of people. It’s not comparable to the big names in the genre but it is, indeed, a big name itself and I can’t think of a better example of a Flash game. It’s easy access and low specs somewhat balance the repetitive gameplay and I can only see its popularity growing.