I am a big fan of independent game publishers and I wish for the success of all indie releases breaking new ground. They help save gamers from the monotony and swill that is drifting around like so much flotsam and jetsam in the gaming world. Outside of Nintendo, it is difficult to find mainstream publishers willing to take a chance on strange ideas or unusual variations on genres and it is necessary to look to independent publishers to find these titles. DOFUS offers gamers the interesting combination of a traditional MMORPG (with all the normal elements ie guilds, crafting, PvP) but with a novel and key feature addition: tactical combat. Imagine Final Fantasy Tactics crossbred with strange Japanese anime and a little bit of the Smurfs thrown in for color. This might be the best initial description.
I am an MMORPG veteran, logging more time than I care to share with you on such fine gaming staples as Final Fantasy XI, City of Heroes, and the World of Warcraft. Been there, understand the genre, got a good idea for what works and what doesn't. DOFUS shakes things up a bit, but not always in the way you might want it to. The leveling is there, some basic character customization, multiple classes, and a large world.
When I first started the game, it went full screen and into a really terrible resolution (granted my laptop is running WUXGA which is odd in any setting, but this was really bad). I ended up playing like this for a while as there are no traditional graphics settings located in an in-game menu. Everything was blurry and pixellated. This game is all Flash based (which in itself is a tremendous achievement) and eventually I figured out that when I right-clicked, I could deselect the Fullscreen option and change from 100% (which was forcing it to stay in a window-type mode) to Display All. This finally gave me nice scalable graphics which I could run in a window or at full screen resolution. Mystery solved!
Moving on, when you first start out (after logging in), you must pick your server. Currently there are only two choices and if you don't speak French, then your choice is made simple as one is a dedicated Francophone server. Do yourself a favor and pick the international server which is English.
Your next step is to pick your player class and gender, and here is where I have my first criticism of the game. There are 11 classes which is great. They all have wonderfully illustrated depictions for both male and female characters. Excellent artwork is a constant theme in the game. Each class is different and allows for various play styles; however, the class titles and descriptions are so vacuous and grounded into the story that it makes your decision very difficult if you aren't already familiar with the game's background and history.
Here are the class names:
- Sadida's Boots
- Osamodas' Whip
- Enutrof's Fingers
- Sram's Shadow
- Xelor's Sandglass
- Ecaflip's Coin
- Enirpisa's Hands
- Iop's Heart
- Cr?'s Range
- F?ca's Shield
- Sacrier's Blood
An example of a class description:The class of Sadida's Shoe is composed of curious creatures. They sleep 23 hours a day and are in complete harmony with nature. These creatures live from day to day in not precise and hospitable places.
While this is a nice bit of prose, it does not assist the player in deciding what the class does. If you look down at each class's spells, you might be able to figure out what the class does, but you won't know it from the class name or description. There are a few hints by looking at the second word in each title (whip, sandglass, range), but this is not as immediate as it could be. There needs to be a solid description of each class, its tactical role, and its important stats. If you are new to the game, you won't have any idea which class does what (with some obvious exceptions).
After selecting your class and gender, you can do a very basic customization of your character via color pallet that can effect three main color blocks (normally hair, chest/leg, and trim). There isn't a lot of customization, but you can create a look that is appealing to the eye and also differentiates you from everyone else. Next, select your name (as long as it isn't taken already, it is yours) and move on out.
When I first began playing DOFUS in October, there was a very brief tutorial that showed you how to move around, initiate combat, utilize spells, and level up. It lasted about 5 minutes and was extremely sparse. Since the game is simple at its most basic level, this wasn't too bad, but it did leave one desiring more. Every time you created a character, you had to go through this tutorial (they were the same for each class), although you could manually skip each segment. This is annoying as you can have up to 5 different characters. After completing the tutorial, you were on your own.
At the beginning of November a new beginning was added along with an entirely new n00b zone. There is now the option to take the same tutorial (which you should do the first time you play) or start out in the world. Each class now has its own starting quest which livens up the first few levels. There are even some World of Warcraft influences visible with some of the NPCs walking around with green "!" over their heads. Just use the compass to walk the correct way to find the proper NPC to talk to and then follow the directions of the first quest. It will net you a starting weapon.
The in-game navigation system is great as it constantly tells you which way to head. Navigation is simple in DOFUS. Point and click to a spot and your character will run or walk to it depending on the distance. Zones are really an accumulation of individual scenes with 1-4 exits available. Exits are marked by a symbol that is unique to its function. Sometimes they are hard to see, but if you look long enough you can find them. Your current coordinates are superimposed on the upper left of the screen and are on a X/Y, -X/-Y grid. However, if you are in the middle of a quest and have to log out, when you log in again, your quest location or NPC will disappear (which was the anchor for your navigation) and you will find yourself unable to decide where to go. This is a big problem.
Combat is simple to enter and easy to play out. You can click on monsters that you want to fight and then you will enter combat mode. This is all there is to it. If you have played FF: Tactics you will immediately understand how it all works. You pick a spot for your character to be placed on (there are numerous red squares along the grid and you can place your toon on any one). The monster you are fighting is on a blue square, and depending on your class you can place yourself as close to or as far away from the monster as needed. Turns are time based and it is obvious how much time you have left thanks to the large circular timer at the bottom of the screen. Each turn is comprised of an action and a movement. You can do both or neither. Abilities (which you will learn as you level), are based on action points (AP) and each ability uses a different amount. After you win a fight, you are awarded experience and, if the monster has any, money and items.
When you receive enough experience, you will gain a level. You will have 5 points to then disperse amongst your stats. Each class depends on different stats, so spend them carefully. Which stats does your class depend on? A good question and you probably won't have any idea unless you a) find your class temple, b) talk to someone in game, or c) find a website that lists this information. Good luck finding your class temple as they aren't labeled on the world map (other than some ambiguous iconography) nor are there any signs on the buildings. This is another problem. While there is text that will pop up if you hover over a stat and explain to you what it does, there is no hint as to which class is dependent on the stat. If you don't check this information out early, you will waste these points!
You will also receive points with which to boost your spells/abilities. All of these start out at level 1 and to boost each, you need so many points. To boost from 1 to 2, you need 1 point, from 2-3 2 points and so forth. Each spell is described in your spell book with various information (which type of damage it is, etc.). Again, you do not want to waste these points! Look on site to see which of your abilities are worth leveling and which aren't.
The world of DOFUS is beautifully realized. There are stunning background images, simple and elegant monsters and cute sound effects. It is a cartoonish world that never takes itself too seriously. It is also a highly populated world. Ankama Studio states that there are over 250,000 subscribers now. These are excellent numbers for an independent game. The population is also readily visible. You will notice lots of characters standing around throughout the world with little bags in front of them. If you click them, you can purchase items from their personal stores. These are basically mule characters. I ended up purchasing quite a few items, but I couldn't tell you if I got a good price on them. The economy in DOFUS is not very transparent so I could have been gouged unwittingly.
Grouping is not too difficult and many battles are impossible to complete outside of a group. As someone who enjoys grouping, but spends most of his time soloing, this can sometimes be frustrating. Further compounding this frustration is the fact that some items only drop when you are fighting in a group. On one hand, this does encourage group play and therefore comradery. On the other hand, it makes it more difficult to get anywhere in game alone.
DOFUS was developed as a French speaking game first and it shows. There are innumerable typos, bizarre English phrases, and just plain confusing sentences throughout the world. If Ankama is planning on attracting a more international audience and keep them, they should polish up this element of the game.
I really want to like DOFUS: it has flair, charm, originality, a sense of humor, and vision. However, there is a certain element lacking that, while difficult to explain, permeates and flavors the entire experience. It's analogous to walking into a room packed with close friends who are all in on a joke that you are just learning about. There is a very lively community who is there, actively enjoying the game and playing intensely. However, to break into this level of participation, you must grind through some excruciatingly tedious levels alone which lacks any sort of story cohesion. Ankama Studio needs to address this issue and they have recently with the addition of the newest patch. They are active in changing the game and keeping it fresh. I believe that it is a successful experiment in the overly crowded MMORPG market and offers a refreshing change for those who do not want to be involved with the 800 lb. gorilla sitting in the room (also known as the World of Warcraft). It has an amazing variety of payment plans, ranging from 1 month subscriptions ($6.90) to 1 year ($65.00) with each possible monthly plan between.
This rating of DOFUS isn't reflective of poor quality or lack of interesting content, but rather a comment on its current deficiencies and need for improvement. I have seen the newest patch and believe that Ankama Studio will continue to actively improve this game as long as the population remains. If you enjoy tactical gameplay and MMORPG social interaction, then this game is definitely for you. I look forward to seeing its continued evolution and improvement.