The MMORPG market is a contentious one, with a handful of extremely popular titles vying for player?s monthly subscription dollars– players that rarely have hours to dedicate to grinding out levels or to crafting rare in-game items. While World of Warcraft, Everquest, and Guild Wars are the Big Three of the genre, other titles have capitalized on their own niches, whether it’s Final Fantasy XI‘s popular franchise backdrop or City of Heroes’ unique superhero setting. (ed.- in all fairness, it must be noted that Guild Wars is an MMO that does not charge a monthly fee.)
Dofus is one of these niche titles, and is a black horse in the fight for monthly fees. The game has a number of unique tricks up its sleeve, though these are often hindrances as much as they are selling points, and in the end the experience appeals to only a specific subset of gamers — but it really appeals to them.
The big news about Dofus is the fact that they’ve eschewed the typical 3D, real time combat of the most popular MMORPG’s and instead use an instanced strategy battle formula. Up to eight players can initiate a fight with groups of up to eight monsters.. Combat takes place on a square grid just like popular strategy RPG’s. This blend of play styles will instantly hook fans of games like Final Fantasy Tactics and La Pucelle, especially those who want a more personal and community-based game.
It’s also worthwhile to note that Dofus plays entirely in Flash. While this does mean the graphics are somewhat simplistic, with the entire game being in 2D, it also means that it’s playable on practically any modern computer, PC and Mac. The final important difference between this and traditional MMORPG’s is Dofus? reliance on community throughout the game. While it’s possible to solo for periods of time, it’s almost always better to group with as many people as possible, and most objectives can only be completed with groups.
Those with a strong RPG background may find themselves a bit confused as they create a new character. There are no races to choose from. The classes are named things like “Osamodas’ Whip” and “Xelor’s Sandglass”, with nary a priest, wizard, or assassin in sight. In fact, most of the classes don’t even fall into traditional RPG roles; while there is a healing class, the others include a summoner, a treasure hunter, a “gambler”, and even a masochistic class that buffs itself by taking damage. It usually takes a few tries for a player to find a class that really fits with their style, but the good news is that each class is enjoyable and all eleven of them are completely distinct, with no real bleeding of skills or “jack of all trades” classes. Thankfully, up to five characters can be created on one account.
Progress in Dofus is fairly rapid, with a first time player easily reaching level ten in an hour or two (of a maximum of 200), and levels 30-40 attainable within a week. There is some level grinding, but because of the nature of the combat system you’ll generally fight fewer battles, and there’s no pounding on rats for hours just to level up. The monster selection and reliance on grouping with other players keeps things fresh.
Dofus also features a thriving economy including a job system. The two basic types of jobs, gathering and crafting, tend to complement each other — for example, a baker uses grain harvested by a farmer and a sword smith uses metals excavated by a miner — and the end products are actually useful. Most of the desirable, high-level equipment is crafted, so high level crafters are sought out and well rewarded. To buy and sell items, players can either set up their own personal merchants when they log off or they can use centrally located markets, and the economy is truly alive and capricious.
As players increase in level, they’ll discover the in-game guild system and alignment quests. The primary feature of the guilds is the ability to set perceptors on individual maps, where they collect tithes on monster drops, harvested resources, and even merchant activity. Because certain maps are prized for fighting or harvesting activity, there are healthy turf wars between rival gangs, who assault and defend perceptors to gain these advantages. If players choose one of the two alignments, they will find themselves with the ability to aggress members of the opposite alignment — and be aggressed themselves. There are also some areas of the world that can be captured and held by one alignment or the other.
While the entire game is in 2D, it’s extremely vibrant and the art style is unique and appealing. There’s a heavy anime influence, and plenty of visual humor scattered throughout the game (some of it decidedly adult in nature). And, while there tends to be lag when many players are on the same map, because of the timed turns of the tactical battles, even those with dial-up connections can safely play.
Dofus is not necessarily a haven for MMORPG fanatics, however. Players will have to be somewhat patient to really enjoy everything there is to offer; not because it takes time to progress, but because the entire package doesn’t quite feel complete yet. And truthfully, it isn’t; the French garage-programming team Ankama created Dofus, and problems of growth and translation are evident. Much of the text is riddled with errors or typos, and while most of this is benign there are some outright inaccuracies. The game and the world grows in fits and starts, with the recent addition of an entirely new area and the upcoming addition of a new alignment option being two examples. The upshot of all of this is that Ankama is extremely receptive to their fan base — the new area is one result of that — and since the game is constantly growing, there’s always something new to do.
The game?s meager $7 monthly fee and free client download make Dofus extremely attractive to the budget-minded MMORPG’er, but even better is the “unlimited” free trial that has no time limits but restricts players to one area of the world. Thus, if the game sounds interesting, there’s nothing to lose in downloading it and trying it out.
Dofus isn?t like all of the other MMORPG’s out there, and its differences give it a shot against the big boys. If you like to easily create uber-characters and enjoy killing clueless noobs, Dofus probably isn’t the game for you. But, if you want something that’s a little offbeat, with a heavy reliance on community and group goals, you can do a lot worse than spending $7 to see if you like it.