NYCC 11: Hands-On with Wakfu, Square Enix's Latest and Prettiest MMORPG
At New York Comic Con this weekend, the lovely people over at Square Enix granted me play time with their new MMORPG Wakfu, which is currently in beta testing. Wakfu, the term for the nourishing life energy players seek to collect, is a tactical game in which players must aid their community in maintaining the ecosystems and government on a string of island nations. The turn-based battle system is reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics, but smoother and less complicated without limiting the player’s choice of action.
I was immediately struck by the game’s beauty; the environments are populated by skittering creatures and snoring beasts, all moving through lush terrain carpeted in vibrant green grass or shimmering gray stone. The color and attention to detail are striking, and as I roamed the island the demo had placed me in I found myself transfixed. There is always something happening on screen, whether your character is walking along peacefully or fluffy sheep-like creatures are bouncing across your path.
There are fourteen unique job classes in Wakfu, and they all stray from the typical black mage/white mage/warrior/e.t.c. classifications. These include Rogues (bomb-throwing bandits), Ecaflips (gamblers with money-based attacks), Xelors (time mages that look a little like robots), and my favorite — the class I chose to play as, see the image above — the Pandawas, the drunken masters with alcohol-themed attacks. One of my Pandawa’s special abilities was to place a barrel of booze near herself (I was a girl Pandawa) and throughout battles drink from it to boost her strength. Her other attacks included “Flaming Burp” and “Milky Breath,” in which she would breathe on enemies and knock them out. I was also told that characters could mate and reproduce, and that there even was a “silly animation” for it. These are just two examples of the cheeky creativity in the world of Wakfu, and it is an overwhelming understatement when I say that I fell in love with it while playing the demo.
While those of you who ragequit Final Fantasy Tactics are already gnashing your teeth when I compare the battle system to Wakfu, let me assure that it is both like and unlike the Tactics system in that it operates on the same principles but presents a more intuitive and fluid command style. The system is refined and concise without being confining, offering players twenty-five magic spells (almost all of them available at the very beginning) for each different character class. Players can maneuver their avatars around enemies and barrage them with spells — or they can simply ignore them and walk by.
Once I had gotten the hang of initiating combat and attacking — and it takes no time at all to fall into the rhythm — I was flying through the first area taking on everything in sight, from snoring wolves to innocent little bunnies. It was breezy, fun, and full of variety, eliminating the fatigue and boredom that sometimes crops up in turn-based systems. I wanted to fight everything. So I did. And then I died. When characters die, a transparent image of their body floats up into the sky and a tombstone comes crashing down to mark the final resting place. Upon this defeat, players are sent to the beginning of their current area, or “reincarnated.”
If you’re not an overzealous gambler like me, you’ll be more careful in picking your battles and earning skill points. Skill points can be distributed over a wide range of attributes, bolstering your character’s health, wisdom, and attack and magic power, among other characteristics. The point distribution system is fantastic; players have complete control over the growth of their character, choosing the direction and rate at which he or she matures, strengthens, and affects the community at large. This was something I really loved while playing the demo. Customization on this level of detail is astounding and pretty exciting.
The term “wakfu” is the game’s word for life energy. Players collect Wakfu Points as they get involved in their community and connect with their environment. These activities include hunting for seeds, planting, and maintaining their growth. The same goes for the fauna of the Wakfu world; population control can either lead to ecosystem growth or complete extinction of a species, depending on the player’s actions. One thing that intrigued me is that players can trample the plants of other players, effectively destroying them. The freedom of choice in this case really makes you think. Are you protecting your own interests, your own crops, your own animals? Or are you dedicated to contributing to the greater good, to become a proactive member of your national deeply involved in community welfare? Are you a loner or a team player?
If you choose to be a loner, or rather, if you wipe out or overpopulate a species, you’ll rack up Stasis points. Stasis is the opposite of wakfu — no growth, no budding successful community. It brings the world’s development to a grinding halt and the actions of one player can affect the in-game lives of many more. It’s a basic decision between playing nice or being a manical crazy person bent on destroying the environment, which while remaining a loaded question provides limitless freedom of choice to players.
By far the most intriguing part of the game for me was the system of government. Players are all involved in the politics of the realm, whether they choose to run for office or not. That’s right — players of this MMO can run for governor of their island nation. If they win, they not only get a sweet crown for their avatar, but are allowed to choose their own cabinet members, assigning their own Vice-Governor, Head Guard, Treasurer, and Ecologist among other positions. Terms last two weeks, and if your community doesn’t particularly like you they can band together and petition to have you impeached. Once you are impeached, you and your cabinet are dismissed and a new election begins. This all sounds pretty intense, but in the grand scheme of the game it’s an excellent edition, another factor in the great balancing act of Wakfu.
I am amazingly impressed with Wakfu. The art, the colors, the unique classes, the politics, the environment… There is something for everyone here, and there is always something happening. Players can move at their own pace, making the gameplay their own as they assist their friends in preserving the world’s delicate balance. It’s a learning experience and an entertaining one at that, quite unlike the tactical MMOs currently on the market. I highly recommend playing with the beta, should you get the chance.
Wakfu does not have a solid release date as of now, and will be published for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux.