In a sautrated market, the sheer number of free to play games could boggle the mind of any experienced MMO game player, so what exactly makes one stand out among the others? This was the biggest question I had loading up Ankama's Dofus (pronounced DOH-fus) released in 2005 and reported to have 3 million players. Other games may have attempted to duplicate success but with four years of experience, there is clearly and advantage here. Can this unusual game compete with the mob of products from companies like Nexon and IGG? The answers to this and other questions were just an installation away.
Dofus provides one of the most painless installations I've ever come across, with a meager download well under 200MB. After only a few minutes of additional patching, this flash based game was ready to go into action. A brief story tells of magical dragon eggs which are called Dofus, and how their power controls the entire universe. You know, that old chestnut. Ankama also receives major bonus points for using the phrase "a jolly massacre" which entertained me to no end.
A typical building
Character creation provided a little more versatility than I expected in a free to play game. While the make of the body was going to look similar, you were able to adjust every color on the avatar. These unfortunate freedoms mean we're going to see a neon pink crusader at some point, but it's nice to see heavy customization possible. There are 12 classes you may choose from which include the following: Cra's Ranger, Ecaflip Coin, Eniripsa's Hand, Enutrof's Fingers, Feca's Shield, Iop's Heart, Osamoda's Whip, Sacrier's Blood, Sadida Shoe, Sram's Shadow, Xelor's Sandglass, and Pandawa's Pint. I selected the one which looked like a muppet with hair covering his face but did not notice which class it was.
The movement is point and click with a double click to run, and this seemed simple enough. The areas also seemed to be very small with zone teleporters at the edges of each screen. While this may appear odd, considering this is flash based, I'm sure this was a way to keep resource usage low. It did take a little while to break myself of the habit that going to the edge of the screen was going to take me elsewhere. After an hour or two, you aren't thinking about it, so it's not worth getting hung up on but considerably frustrating to an old school gamer for a few minutes.
If the movement wasn't unusual enough, then the combat is sure to catch your eye. Dofus is a mixture of Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy Tactics with a turn based system. There is a timer with roughly 30 seconds on it allowing you to move and attack, then it's the creature or other party members turn. This means there is an element of strategy involved that you don't see in real time games. There is no button mashing here, but at my low level it's hard to speculate exactly how deep the system goes. I only had three available abilities (four if you count melee attack), but considering the level cap is 1000, there is no telling what you would have by then.
This is an entire city
As you begin your journey you'll run into some odd named folks who will help you along the way. One will have you attack an innocent scarecrow, another send you into town, and by the time you finish a dozen quests you'll have a decent handle on the game mechanics. Although plentiful, some quests didn't seem quite specific enough to help me ascertain what it wanted. For example, the quest The First Weapon said to kill a x1 encounter. Assuming that meant level 1, I went to the next area and did so, but no update. What it failed to mention was, it wanted the kill in that specific zone. Fortunately, the other quests weren't as problematic and fit into the normal "Kill ten of this" and "go deliver that" variety.
Finally, I wanted to look at the subscription model which is always the hook in a free to play game. This isn't the "purchase our cash" model I was used to, and adhered to a more try before you buy method. What does a subscription get you? Monsters above level 20, the ability to level over 30, more classes, more zones, and a long list of fluff anyone would appreciate. It sounded pretty straight forward and 20 levels should be enough for most players to decide whether they'll stick around or not.
It's fairly obvious (to me anyway) that Dofus has some redeeming qualities that could appeal to a large audience. It may not have the flash of some larger games, but low system requirements and simplicity means if internet is available, you can probably play this game. I guess the only remaining question for me, is how long does it take for someone to get to level 1000?
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