DOFUS, the strategy-centric, highly-stylized MMORPG from French developer Ankama, has built up a surprisingly strong base in its home country and abroad. The game was certainly unique at the time of its launch, being fully coded in Flash (ActionScript 2) yet presenting an in-depth and balanced combat system with 12 unique classes.
However, since its creation, the 2D sprites and design of DOFUS have begun to show their age. And though Ankama has a dedicated playerbase (3.5 million paid-subscription users, 25 million registered accounts), they decided to start from scratch. The new game would be coded in ActionScript 3, be updated with better character and NPC designs, contain newly added and changed environments, and a whole host of improvements via DOFUS 2.0. This new product is currently running simultaneously with DOFUS 1.0. Account migration from 1.0 to 2.0 is not possible yet, but will be an option for players in the future.
The fine folks at Ankama asked us if we wanted to take a tour of their updated world. The concept art alone, a fusion of European comic art and Asian manga, had us sold; we wanted to see more, and find out if the gameplay could match the prowess of the concept art. So we took them up on the offer. Here's what we learned.
The install process for DOFUS 2.0 was mercifully short. I had the initial download and installation done in under five minutes. Patching only took about ten minutes (compare this to over an hour for most MMORPGs, including newly-released ones, and that's a welcome reprieve). Before starting the game, I had to create my account at Ankama's website. This too went painlessly, and before I knew it, I was on the international server creating my first character in DOFUS 2.0.
The characters are fully-animated and come in 24 forms. There are 12 classes and you can be male or female for each. The males and females look drastically different. For example, one class (which has an undead/necromancy emphasis to it) shows the male as a skeletal undead being, but the female still looks like a living human. Players can also customize the hair, skin, and clothing colors (3 colors on the clothing) with a full 256-color range to choose from. I wanted to stay in this opening screen for awhile and create a variety of characters (which anyone is free to do! More on that later). But I was rushed for time, so I made a female archer and was on my way.
Players just starting out in the world of DOFUS 2.0 can begin with a guided tutorial, or if you know what you're doing already, you can skip that altogether. The guided tutorial goes through basic input, inventory management, and combat structure. Here, I found that combat hadn't changed too much between DOFUS and DOFUS 2.0. It's still a turn-based, grid-based Strategy RPG at its core. Each character on the field is limited, per turn, by their AP (action points) and MP (movement points). AP and MP build, very slowly, via leveling and equipment. Of course, some classes have more AP or MP than others.
Them's Fightin' Words... Now Let's Be Friends!
After the tutorial, I had the chance to interact with normal players and the Ankama staff simultaneously. How did we do this? In combat, primarily. And while PVP is an option, our interactions took place in PVE. The entry into combat is, in and of itself, a great system. If you click on an enemy to attack them on the field, you will begin combat. However, instead of entering a new screen, you stay on the exact same field (everything is grid-based in DOFUS, despite the brilliant environments and varying terrain). However, all that appears at the start of combat are the possible starting positions for you and your enemy/enemies. During this wait time, you can choose to stay solo or wait to see if others will join you. And generally, if the battle is open and other people are around, they will tend to join your fight. Turn order is determined by certain stats, and each individual unit has a time limit per turn (the AI always acts instantly, so the big wait is on the players).
And here is where I really saw DOFUS 2.0 shine. The 2D graphics are already splendid, but I didn't know what to expect of the class system, as I never went deep into DOFUS 1.0. What I discovered here is that the 12 classes each fill a unique role. There are some classes that rely exclusively on summons or pets, some that heal, some that manipulate turn order and AP/MP refresh, and even some whose primary skills involve rearranging the positions of allies and enemies on the battlefield. And, of course, everyone can deal damage to some extent.
After fighting a few battles, I thought, "okay, I have the hang of this game. But the novelty has to wear quickly. How does this persistent world continue to attract players long-term?" The Ankama team answered my questions by transferring me to playing a high-level character. And then I saw how it all came together.
As an MMORPG, DOFUS seems like a standard affair. There are community events, and there are crafting systems, and the world functions very well. But as a Strategy RPG, the game excels where others have failed. The variety of skills offered allows any one person of a class to play differently than another person using that same class. The current level cap is 200, most endgame events are set for 100+ characters, and leveling 1 to 100 takes about 300 hours for a focused and/or veteran player. And with each level, you are given points to increase base stats, and a separate set of points to level abilities (which aren't in a skill tree, but are unlocked in linear fashion as you gain levels). The important thing here is that each class has skills with different ranges, status effects, areas of effect, elemental affinities, and other specialties. But to strengthen them, you have to take them well beyond their base level. Skills cap at level 6, and if you want your skills to be of any use in endgame, they really should be leveled to at least 3 or 4. Each player will have to choose 3 or 4 skills with their class that they want to be strong in, and make friends with other players who can balance the "holes" or "weaknesses" left open. Though one can do solo work to level throughout the game, it's not recommended, and most of the game's worthwhile events require partnership (up to 8 players can join a battlefield, so that means a group of 8 super-reliable friends could really get a lot out of DOFUS).
As for me? My "friends" were GMs and community managers at Ankama in France. They gave me free reign to assign skill and stat points as I saw fit for my endgame character. As I went through, I asked questions and I learned a lot. For example, the archer has one skill that doesn't require line of sight (that is, allied units or physical barriers don't present a problem in hitting a faraway enemy). However, the skill had generally low attack power, so I'd have to cap its skill to make it of any use. Furthermore, the skill was inherently wind elemental, so it wouldn't be good to use against an enemy with strong wind resistance (all resistance stats for enemies are shown via mouse-over).
No Microtransactions? Classy!
The only MMORPG I've played for more than 20 hours is Final Fantasy XI (currently logged about 3000 hours... yikes!). I'm used to the functionality of FFXI, and one thing that comes with that was a single character with a malleable job system. However, in DOFUS, your class is fixed. So if you want to experience another class in DOFUS, you create a new account. After my tour with Ankama, I fiddled with this a bit. I checked out the time mage class, Xelor (that's "Rolex" backwards – many important names in DOFUS are something common from modern/pop culture spelled backwards). The skills offered to this class looked very interesting, but I also suspected that this was a class one couldn't easily level solo, whereas a tank or fighter class may be able to do just that.
Ankama brings in their profits for DOFUS via subscription fees. This isn't a free-to-play, "we make money via selling you items" kind of MMORPG. However, you can play as a free player or a subscription player. While a free player can go most anywhere, most of the zones will "lock out" a non-subscription player who tries to initiate combat or partake in quests in higher-level zones. The Ankama staff told me that, generally, you can be a free-to-play gamer up to level 40. After that, you have to pay about $7 a month (depending on how much you pay in advance, you can make that as low as $5 a month). This gives you full access to the game and allows you to experience the endgame content. That's a fairly low subscription fee, yet between DOFUS 1.0 and DOFUS 2.0 they have 3.5 million subscription-based players, 60% of whom live in France, and the rest scattered pretty evenly across Europe and the Americas. An Asian-language DOFUS is still in the works.
So if you want to experience or learn about each of the twelve classes, it won't cost you a cent. You can go through their early levels and learn their play style without problem. You can even begin to extrapolate where you want to take that class. For example, some archers may want to focus on strength and level up "passive trait" skills, whereas others will focus on intelligence and learn "spell-based" arrow attacks. And you can begin to figure this all out for yourself without committing a dime to the company. Personally, I'm a pretty big fan of this pay structure.
The time I spent with DOFUS 2.0 only had me grazing the surface of its depth, yet I already caught a glimpse of what a great experience this game could be for a group of dedicated friends. And I know this article only touches the surface of the game, too. If what you've read here piques your interest, be sure to head to dofus.com and get a taste for yourself. And, unless you have an extraordinarily old computer, give DOFUS 2.0 a try! It's the wave of the future!