The niche for MMORPGs that use makeshift turn-based tactical combat is currently quite thin and that gameplay style happens to be the hallmark of Square Enix’s upcoming MMO Wakfu. It presents persistent worlds where the character’s decisions can affect the ecology of areas, social dynamics that include citizenship of various towns and regions.
The first thing I noticed about the game is that everything is a little bit tiny. The characters look a lot like dolls, or miniatures, standing in a cartoonish Fantasy world that seems to be floating in space. The graphics are geared more towards the cute than the realistic with enemies like wabbits, gobbals, little plumed birds, etc. Heck, the first item I received from a fight happens to be a hat with ears on it.
The world is displayed in a 3/4ths view and mouse-guided, click-to-move and you progress square-to-square. This is because when combat is initiated and turn-based combat begins, the squares will become important as they’re featured in both determining how far you can move in a turn, line-of-sight for attacks, and positioning for enemies and allies.
Gameplay: Turn-based, tactical combat with an ecological social bent
The game starts with you saving a slime-like critter (or at least what looks like a plastic bag full of water) from a little black cat. The slime, named Gemlin, becomes your companion and guide through the game—although it has no combat capability from what I’ve seen so far. It’ll doubles as your help system, tossing out hints and information when you arrive in areas and telling you where to go and what to do when you get lost in the game’s maze of quests and social areas.
Combat is tactical and turn-based. That means that when two parties engage they first choose their positions on the battlefield, which chooses its map based on where the battle was triggered. Those involved in the combat then take turns moving and using their skills. Magic users sling spells, hitters bash things in, archers shoot arrows, etc. Combat continues until one side or the other is defeated. It’s pretty straightforward in that aspect.
Talents are bettered and learned by using them; the more a basic skill is used, the tougher it becomes and it also unlocks higher level skills as the player progresses. By the time the player reaches the higher levels, they’ll want to have done a lot of grinding even on their early talents (or their favorites) so that they inflict enough damage to matter.
Combat can be exciting, but generally it’s just move-shoot-go. And you’ll learn soon enough when not to engage an enemy (such as when it has 5 friends listed in its combat reticule.) As I discovered the first time I tried to take on a bird in the second meadow and six of its friends joined in and ruined my day. Death, fortunately, doesn’t really punish you that much—although your slime really mislikes it and will complain that it hurts.
One of the first things introduced to players is the concept of Wakfu, or the creative and generative life-force of the game universe. It stands in opposition to Stasis, or the destructive and chaotic life-force. Regions in the game have working ecologies that grow animals and plants that players can interact with. The skills and talents in the game allow players to grow and harvest plants and animals for materials used in the crafting system. While pants and animals may grow back certain types of materials (wool, milk, seeds, etc.) certain materials only come from killing them (meat, leaves, etc.) and when an animal or plant is destroyed it doesn’t just come back. Another player will have to come along and plant a new herb or grow a new animal.
And by grow, I really mean grow, even the sheep-like animals are grown from gooey-looking blobs that eventually hatch into sheep.
Social: The politics of politics and the mercantile business
This game plays a little bit of politics as well as putting people together for the purposes of selling items for the crafting system. The politics seems to be geared towards some sort of voting system that depends on nationality that I haven’t gotten much access to—your depth in the politics seems to be related to how much work you do on the balance of the ecology of the region.
If a region has too many of a particular critter and you kill one (hopefully harvesting it for its meat and goodies) you’ll receive a citizenship point for that nation; if, however, that region has too few of that animal and you kill one, you’ll lose a citizenship point. The number of citizenship points you have will determine how certain NPCs react to you and if you can involve yourself in the politics. Like voting.
Then there’s buying and selling, which seems to only take place between players.
Wakfu could really use a better interface here because at the moment the only way is to find a person’s Haven Bag in a town, enter it, and then buy from that. Fortunately, people get listings on the bulletin-boards in the town so it’s possible to determine who is selling what and where without having to check every single stall; but that can get pretty tedious. Also, if you want to sell something, currently you have to stay logged in for the duration. There’s no fire-and-forget when it comes to your stall.
Of course, you can close the window and walk away (and mute the sound.)
I guess this is just a hallmark of a lot of JMMOs out there currently.
Graphics: Like dolls, living in a doll world
As described above, the graphics for this game involve very detailed miniature-like artwork. The characters appear a lot like dolls against a miniature environment sectioned up into 3/4s view squares. Keep in mind, you can use the scroll wheel on your mouse to zoom in and zoom out; when I say “miniature” I refer to gaming mini models.
Animations are simple and smooth, probably containing at least ten intermediates. Just watching your character walk shows the detail that was put into making sure the animations appear lifelike and clean. There’s animations for emotes, for each of the skill usages, for when a player takes an action. Even some interactions can take place with the environment. All of it is done in a somewhat cartoon effect that’s pretty much well planned and works fairly cohesively with the rest of the game design.
The only complaint that I currently have about the graphics in relation to gameplay is that the fonts are absurdly small. There are options for upping the font size, but it doesn’t seem to have much effect at all. Perhaps it’s just the resolution that I’m running the game in, which for me is often quite high.
Sound: Cute and fitting with the graphical decisions
The game plays with constant music that changes only so subtly when you move area to area. It’s mostly stringed instrument ensembles that feature a mandolin-like harmony with some sort of violin. It’s strangely soothing and quite welcome.
In combat, special effects all get their own sounds. In fact, between different character types you’ll hear lots of different noises—and, of course, there’s a sound for when your turn has started, just in case you got distracted. Bows thwang, swords klank, and magic spells make glittering chimes as they fire off, burn enemies, or whatever else. The foley and sound synthesis designed into the game is somewhat cartoonish as well, but it doesn’t detract from the serious nature of combat. Granted, it makes beating up the cute animals in the beginning a little bit harder to do with them squeaking and wailing as they die.
Conclusion: It’s got a lot of potential to build on with a fairly solid seeming foundation
This first impressions article really only scrapes the very top of what this game has to offer. The ecological aspect tied to the citizenship and crafting system seems that it might become a driving force behind not just an economy but a concept of political balance in the game. Players are given a choice between developing their Wakfu or their Stasis, and I’m not sure how that affects gameplay yet.
The graphics engine and the interaction with the world are pretty solid. No problems at all there. The interface is fairly intuitive, after you get used to it.
The story underlying the world and why stuff is happening the way that it does doesn’t initially make that much sense, but there’s a bit of immersion for it. There’s a lot of names, places, things, and past events to get used to. Fortunately, the slime and NPCs will speak about them. As there’s also tapestries telling the rich history behind the game left in the game world as well.
It’s still in beta, and there’s already a thriving community in there, so I expect to see this bloom into a well developed game.