Thursday, October 11, 2007
Most of my reporting regards the kind of MMORPGs you can buy in a box at your local PC games shop. But there is a huge world of download-only MMORPGs out there, by necessity less graphical intensive, but not necessarily less good games. And more often than not you can at least play part of the game for free. One of the more successful of these games is Dofus from Ankama Games. It's free-to-play part has over 3 million players, and 225,000 of these chose to pay a $7 monthly subscription fee to get access to the rest of the game.
When you visit the Dofus website and look at the game description and screenshots, you might mistake Dofus for a Korean game. But in fact Ankama Games is a French company. So while the graphics are 2D, very colorful, and look like manga, the gameplay is much improved over that of the often grindy Asian games. The most brilliant feature of Dofus is its tactical, instanced combat. Whenever you start a combat, you (or your group) and all the mobs of the enemy group are placed on an instanced copy of the zone you were in. The map has a square grid, and combat happens turn-by-turn, although there is a timer that prevents you from taking forever for your turn. You have 3 movement points and 6 action points per turn, thus you can move up to 3 squares and use any combination of spells and abilities as long as they don't cost more than 6 AP together. While this makes combat obviously slower than in other games, it also makes it a lot more tactical, especially if more than one player and one mob is involved.
There are a dozen different classes, all of them unusual. Of course the basic functions of warrior, healer, and damage dealer exist (how would you make a game without them?), but there are also gamblers, treasure hunters, or mages that control the flow of time by manipulating AP in combat. By combat you gain xp, which makes you go up in level. At certain levels you get new spells or abilities. But in all levels you get points to distribute among your stats, and also points to increase the level of your spells. Besides doing quests and combat, you can also learn up to three tradeskills. Gathered resources, crafted goods, or loot, can be traded in two different ways. You can either set up your character as a merchant, sitting somewhere in the city while you are offline, selling the goods from your inventory you flagged as being for sale. This is a classic feature of Asian games, although I never understood why, it is very hard to find anything specific like that. But Dofus offers a second method, specialized auction houses. For every type of good, like gathered resources, scrolls, tailored items, smithed items, etc., there is an auction house where only this type of good can be bought and sold.
I tested the free-to-play side of the game and liked it so much that I wanted to subscribe. Unfortunately that turned out to be not as easy as I would have thought. Ankama Games is accepting any obscure payment method known to man, except the most common ones for MMORPGs: credit cards or Paypal. You can send them money stuffed in an envelope, do an international bank transfer, pay via your mobile phone in some countries, or use some of the more obscure internet payment systems. But you can't pay with a credit card, and on the "suggest different payment method" page is a sign saying that Ankama decided not to use Paypal. I think this is hurting them, because me for example I found all my payment options too complicated, and ended up not subscribing.
But Dofus is really a nice game, and at least worth trying it out for free. As the game is 2D and Flash based, the download is small, around 100 MB. And if colorful manga games are not your style, maybe your kids like it. According to Ankama Games, two-thirds of their players are 18 or under, which is typical for free-to-play games. Meanwhile Ankama Games is working on a new and improved game called Wakfu, which should be out end of this year or early 2008.