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Wakfu

Preview: E3 2011
"Wakfu's world is most definitely a unique one."

Although Ankama Games's strategy MMORPG Wakfu is still in closed beta, at E3 we got a chance to sit down with the developers and get another look at the game and the newest character class, as well as chat about the politics system.

After starting up the closed beta phase earlier this spring, French developer Ankama has been adding new classes and areas on occasion to Wakfu's world. Currently there are eight classes and two nations; by full launch they plan to make available fourteen classes and three nations in total. The most recent addition is the Sacrier class. This is a close-combat type who have an "anger" meter which increases as the Sacrier attacks or is attacked. Once this gauge is full, they can unleash special attacks and abilities.

Although Wakfu is generally a PvE (player vs. enemy) game, upon entering dungeons you can see which players from which nations are inside and fight them in a battle for that territory. You can keep up to six characters in your party, and even manage the battlefield - for example, strategically switching positions with an enemy can get you the upper hand.

If you already read Bob's preview of Wakfu, you'll know that the ecosystem is central to the game. Ankama had previously alluded to a politics system, and at E3 we had a chance to talk about this feature in greater detail. The player will be able to run for governor of your nation, and if you win, can choose up to eight players to form your cabinet. Just like a real government, each is in charge of a different area, such as ecosystem, defense, and so forth. In each area, the cabinet designs policies and passes laws which will give or take away citizenship points of those residing in the nation as they obey your laws (or not).

Wakfu's world is most definitely a unique one, as is its overall design and its approach to MMORPGs. The title, which is being published by Square Enix, will see a full release sometime this year for PC, Mac and Linux platforms.












Preview: March Closed Beta
"Much of Wakfu remains to either be implemented or found by the player base. For those who enjoy exploration and the discovery of secrets, this is a huge world waiting to be analyzed . . . "

French developer Ankama Studio began its closed beta phase of development for Wakfu last month, and they graciously invited RPGFan to take a look at their work-in-progress. When I heard that this was not just any MMORPG, but a MMOSRPG, I stopped walking in place and moved three squares toward Wakfu.

Although Wakfu boasts 14 unique classes to choose from, I've only had experience with four of them. Among these are the basics: warrior, archer, and healer, as well as a sort of plant summoner. The other classes remain shrouded in mystery, but if the plant summoner is any indication of Ankama's ingenuity, then the remaining characters will offer a novel experience.

After selecting a character, the obligatory customization screen greets players, allowing for minimal selection in skin color, hair style, and so on. Those partaking in Wakfu shouldn't fret too much over how their character looks, since equipment will often mask the details. However, the use of emoticons in-game may merit some consideration in choosing one's face, since expressions are often coupled with a giant head above a sprite.

Once your character hops off the conveyer belt, a brief introductory world awaits. Although the game doesn't do too much hand-holding, players will find the basics covered, and the rest remains to be discovered with little aid from NPCs. Through this initial playground, players learn how to hunt (battle) and gather (professions, such as skinning dead animals). Additionally, newly-created citizens can partake in a history lesson about the world, which can best be summarized as follows:

In the Dofus era, a namby-pamby crybaby named Ogrest gathered six Dofus eggs for someone he loved, but she just used him for the eggs, so he murdered her, because, well, isn't the reasonable response to someone using you to murder them? Predictably (given that he's already been identified as a crybaby), this gallant lover of fetch quests wept, sobbed, and pouted for a thousand years, inconsiderately committing mass manslaughter (read: accidental genocide) as he drowned almost every living thing. This brings us to the Wakfu era!

But what is Wakfu? Wakfu is the creation of life. In gameplay-speak, this means that every time a player plants a creature (yes, that's right) or tree, he or she gains Wakfu points. Conversely, destroying trees or animals grants Stasis points. These function in a continuum measured by percentages of Stasis vs. Wakfu points. Thus, players can change their alignment at any point, but committing themselves heavily to birth or destruction may place them in a pretty deep hole (or high mountain, as the case may be). Be cautious in claiming that these are good and evil, though, since the ecosystem aspect of Wakfu suggests that both are necessary, transcending the traditional views of morality. For instance, overpopulation (i.e. lots of Wakfu) may be hazardous and unwanted in a region.

Although Wakfu and Stasis points have little or no influence on the current version's gameplay, the Wakfu web site suggests that commitment in one of these two areas may result in unique opportunities for items or dungeons. In addition, players' impact on the ecosystem may also grant them combat/profession bonuses and Citizen points. For instance, the NPC ruling over a region may prefer that only 160 to 240 crops of wheat exist within his region. If this range is maintained, players receive a boon to their farming success rate. Otherwise, no bonus is granted. Those who endeavor to decrease or increase the number of crops appropriately receive Citizen points, which grant the ability to vote on governors or claim a national role, neither of which has been fully developed at this point. On the other hand, those who strive to warp the ecosystem will gain Outlaw points, which can land them in jail. I haven't heard of anyone being thrown in jail, but this sounds like a sort of time-out based on the gravity of the offense.

Much of Wakfu remains to either be implemented or found by the player base. For those who enjoy exploration and the discovery of secrets, this is a huge world waiting to be analyzed, poked, and prodded; those not so inclined toward figuring out the inner workings of the achievements may simply ask another player. Achievements, by the way, are probably the only direction players receive throughout the game – vague hints at what to accomplish next. Although this gorgeous game may appear Japanese or even Korean, remember that Wakfu is developed by Ankama Studio, a French developer. So, the open-ended nature of gameplay should come as no surprise to fans of Western RPGs.

At this point, traversing the world can be a little cumbersome. Players may simply hold left-click to walk or run to their destination, but getting from point A to B may take a few minutes unless one uses a catapult or teleporter, both of which cost money, which needs to be manufactured. Yes, money needs to be made by mining materials – killing enemies simply isn't enough. Of course, once the game's market system goes into full effect, selling manufactured materials may be an excellent means of garnering legal tender.

Fortunately, creatures, minerals, and trees line the path to one's destination, allowing for some action along the way. Consistent with most strategy RPGs, Wakfu's battle setting contains squares and a small grid of the ground in which the battle was started. With a minimum of six action points, players may combine various abilities to thwart their foes or aid allies. Novel abilities such as taming enemies, locking foes in position, or draining ability points allow for multiple possibilities in combat – hence the 14 character classes.

Those less inclined toward battle can focus on mercantilism, where skill levels depend on how much one has practiced a particular feat. Before players can mine salt, they need to reach the appropriate level in mining. In order to craft a necklace with 100% certainty, a predetermined level must be attained. Every player has access to all of the professions, but mastery in each would be quite an investment due to the time required to practice each trade and the sheer number of skills to hone. How does one practice a trade? Right-clicking anything opens a window to tear down a tree, catch a fish, or whatever the appropriate action is for the object in question. After this, a bar appears over the character that slowly fills up or empties. Bam. Done. Rinse and repeat.

The artwork and its direction are phenomenal, which includes some of the character abilities. If cartoony graphics and cuteness aren't your thing, steer clear, but a little time spent with Wakfu might temper even the most rugged individual. Additionally, the characters and their exaggerated actions flow smoothly. The music and sound effects are light, but appropriate.

Wakfu may fill the void for those craving a multiplayer strategy RPG experience that demands a little patience. Online strategy RPGs are a rare commodity – Wakfu has a huge market to which to appeal. Using its unique ecosystem mechanism and large cast of characters, it just might satiate the hardcore MMORPG crowd. Keep watching RPGFan for further coverage of this game as development progresses.


© 2011 Square Enix, Ankama Games. All rights reserved.




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