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Dofus

Score: 95%
ESRB: Not Rated
Publisher: Ankama Studio
Developer: Ankama Studio
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 to MMO
Genre: MMORPG/ Online/ RPG


Graphics & Sound:

These days, with new consoles on the way, the talk is all about photorealism, processing power and online gaming. Playing Dofus is almost an act of defiance, since it only subscribes to the last item on the list, and disregards the others. The result is beautiful. Gamers who prize substance over style will be thrilled to find a Massively Multiplayer Online RPG (MMORPG) that combines both. The art is a throwback, almost. Against the race to depict realistic humans and versions of whole cities in games, the developers of Dofus decided to offer a game that depicts fantastic characters and locations. The heritage of Dofus is every 2D RPG that was either truly old-school or just recalling those glory days of RPG history. The character classes are somewhat derivative, but the overall design of the game and the extent to which you can customize a character tends to erase any sense of deja vu. Clothing you buy and equip actually changes the appearance of the character, and the hats are especially hilarious.

Music and sound effects always have been a staple of the "classic" RPG. Dofus has some very catchy theme music, and there are different songs that cycle through as you explore the world and battle. The sound effects are great, including an acrobatic attack from one character that releases farting sounds with each jump. I was ROTFL for real the first time I saw this. Lots of little surprises during battle, including the effects of spell casting, bring delights both visual and aural. Exploring and battling are sometimes tedious or frustrating in other games, especially because battling to level up is such a frequent event. Dofus is big enough and diverse enough that if you get bored, you have nobody to blame but yourself.


Gameplay:

My experience with MMORPGs in the past was that I respected the concept of multiplayer online gaming more than I enjoyed the experience. Too much player vs. player fighting, or graphics that didn't match my system config, or upgrades. Also, the fact that players were so quickly broken into some caste system that I couldn't penetrate. I always felt like I couldn't make up the distance between me and higher level players enough to really get into the game.

Dofus uses a turn-based strategy style of fighting to greatly smooth the learning and involvement curve. Where most games have retained a hack-n-slash battle style, or at least a real-time battle mode, engagements in Dofus are played on a grid that represents the map where you encounter a monster. Being able to fight this way means that strategic players will always get better results than hack-n-slashers. The play style is similar to offline games like Fire Emblem.

The story behind Dofus is that the land Amakna (most of the names in the game are mixed-up versions of other words...Amakna and Ankama) was host to a great battle that released six objects of power. These colored eggs called Dofus were hidden, and explorers have gathered to uncover the powerful items. Monsters have also been seen in greater numbers throughout the land... On the heels of this story, it is easy to see how a MMORPG could be played out, but it's important to stress the importance of teamwork in Dofus. Solo play has its place, for leveling up or completing quests, but teamplay is the key to really opening up the game's secrets. Probably, there is no way to actually "win" Dofus without the cooperation of a large number of players. Not that winning is the point...

Solo quests are a lot of fun, and there are many of them throughout the game. Rewards vary, from experience to money to special items. Some quests can be completed more easily with a few other players, and at least one puzzle I completed required at least nine players to solve. The spirit of online gaming is community. Dofus encourages teamwork to such a great degree that it would be hard to put in much time without finding yourself at least in a fight against monsters with other players. A solo activity like picking a job ultimately has community value, since you can often sell the fruits of your labor to other players. In fact, since you can have up to five user accounts that share a bank account, gathering items can ultimately give you your own little cottage industry in producing rare items. All the items in the game can be created by players, which makes Dofus as much about craft as it is about killing. Some might find the jobs boring, but there is leveling to each job, just like the traditional leveling achieved through fighting monsters, so you do get better over time.


Difficulty:

How difficult the game is depends on your character choice and your participation. Around the town Astrub, where the game starts, you'll find some pretty puny monsters. About as puny as you. After playing for about a week, you'll marvel at how you ever thought a Level 1 anything was challenging, but that's just because you've leveled up. When I started leveling up a new character, I realized I had forgotten how hard it was to get even the weakest monsters down on the mat. Monsters will throw physical and magic attacks at you, and some groups of monsters will combine attacks that steal your ability to move, or hit with physical attacks that steal your health points. You can buy items or use magic to restore some health, but one thing I found lacking in Dofus was the equivalent of the "cheap heal-potion." Buying bread or other food will. in fact, restore some HP, but fighting monsters doesn't yield enough money to get rich and stock up on bread, at first. So, the first 10 levels are pretty challenging for just about any character, and some characters are more challenging depending on how their characteristics are distributed.

Again, everything in Dofus leads you toward teaming up with other stronger players or even just with a group of your peers to gang up on monsters. Once you do, the travails of solo play largely disappear.


Game Mechanics:

Trying to succinctly outline the mechanics of a large RPG is difficult enough, but add in the online component of Dofus, and there's almost no chance for success. The highlights of the Dofus control scheme include a "toolbar" or "dock" that appears during battle to control attacks and spells. Keyboard shortcuts are available during regular play and battle to make for somewhat less back and forth on the mouse.

I found that chat sometimes got in the way of the keyboard shortcuts, but generally everything worked fine. Using chat in the game has many uses. Strategy in battle and talking to players about quests or puzzles is one. Dofus allows you to join or create a group of players who have the advantage of private chat and easier ways to find other members of the group on the map. Groups are not the same as guilds. Guilds are a rather arcane construction in Dofus, and either you need to find a rare item and start your own guild or join an already created guild. Guild mechanics are somewhat like those of a group, but with more benefits in terms of leveling and gaining items. You can even get married to another character, granting a few special priveleges.

One annoying piece of the game, maybe the only thing that kept coming back to me, is the amount of bruised English in the way Dofus was translated from French. Now, don't get me wrong, I think it was a major feat to have translated the whole game at all. But, especially in how quests are communicated or how the documentation online reads, I sometimes felt like I was reading Stereo Manualese rather than English. The online community site for Dofus includes a bulletin board to report errors in the game, so I expect most of the major issues will be resolved through player feedback. Another thing that any online gamer or netizen experiences at some time is rude behavior. I did come across this, and used the Dofus support line to lodge a complaint. The response was quick and my concern was taken seriously, so my sense is that Ankama won't fool around with Griefers or rude players.

The final thing worth noting is how easy it is to start playing Dofus. Dofus plays across all platforms, since it is Flash based. On PC, I downloaded the package, which was zipped. I ran the .exe file mostly, but it is possible to play through a browser as well. There is no real installation, other than unpacking the components of Dofus, and upgrading to the new release was a matter of drag-and-drop. Create a login and password, create a character, and you're playing. The free account is limited to a small area of the total game world, but free players aren't crippled in any meaningful way other than being cut off from exploring the entire world. Paying the monthly fee, which at this review was about $6-$7 per month, is a worthwhile investment in my book. For the price of a latte and a muffin, you have 30 days worth of MMORPG action.

Dofus is incredibly well executed, and any fan of turn-based, strategy RPGs offline should take a look. The game is as deep as any MMO world, but has a unique look and feel that will attract many new MMO gamers. As Ankama continues to roll out new areas of the world and expands the game through special events, the player experience will be better and better. With as much fun as I've had playing for the last few weeks, I can't imagine it getting much better.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Minimum System Requirements:



You must have Macromedia Flash installed on your system.
 

Test System:



Windows XP, 1.80 GHz, 1.5GB RAM

Macintosh Dofus Sony PlayStation 2 Eye Toy Kinetic

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated