previews\ Apr 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm



Wakfu is cute.

Wakfu is ridiculously, unapologetically cute. Wakfu is so cute, it could probably overdose you were it possible to do so via a computer screen. With its lush, watercolor visuals, Ankama's sophomore production looks more like the love child of Disney and Studio Ghibli than it does your average MMO. Filled with a menagerie of fluffy animals and a landscape that would fit right in a pop-up storybook, Wakfu could easily be mistaken for a children's game.

Granted, that impression will probably only last the first few minutes. With gelatinous blobs mentioning that a trip through a glowing portal could result in painless disintegration and equipment made out of artfully disemboweled rabbits at worst, Wakfu will soon have you questioning exactly what lies under the sugary-sweet surface.

And it looks like there's going to be a lot underneath. At least, that's what the developers told us. Based on what I learned at the Game Developers Conference 2011, Ankama is planning to engineer the most ambitious title that the genre has ever seen. Wakfu will have temperature, climate, governments, and a self-sustaining ecosystem that players can destroy at will. It also has plant-dolls that will grow up insane if you cultivate them wrongly, but we’ll get into that a little later.

One of the most intriguing anecdotes about Wakfu revolves around a willow tree. Apparently the people in closed beta had somehow exterminated the species. Of course, there are ways to repair this--a single sapling would be enough to begin the revitalization of the breed. Someone did step forth to offer the coveted prize, but only in exchange for what had to be a generous reward. While the denizens of Wakfu's closed beta pondered the exchange, a good samaritan crept out and sowed the world with willow seeds. Order was restored, the species came back, and Wakfu hopefully learned a lesson about deforestation.

I think that the moment the game enters public beta, human greed will turn Wakfu into a desolate, post-apocalyptic landscape bleached of all life--but that's just my cynicism talking. Regardless of what happens, it'll be interesting to see.

Under all that fluff and idealistic metagame, however, lies something more uncertain. The thought-provoking gameplay will either have you hankering for more or yawning out of boredom. Those accustomed to the standard MMO fare will probably find themselves slightly put off by Wakfu's more tactical approach. Turn-based in nature, the upcoming MMORPG gives each combatant thirty seconds to determine their respective moves. At first, it's going to seem like an absurd amount of time, but once you've factored in all the necessary variables, things can become significantly more hectic. For example, do you expend your precious action points on a powerful spell or stagger them for what might be a cumulatively more damaging affair? How exactly would you pilot your melee-based character when a party member is causing generic AOE damage?

Interestingly, all this strategy can be found within the first five levels of the game. I can only imagine how complicated things will get once a player has reached the higher levels or when all fourteen classes are introduced. From the time-bending Xelor to the shadowy Sram, the game has something to offer pretty much any taste. Of course, it looks like developer Ankama wasn't satisfied with leaving it at that. On top of everything else, there will be sixteen professions to choose. Unlike other MMOs, it seems as though players will be at liberty to pick up all sixteen professions and master them--assuming they're willing to let the game consume their every waking hour!

Then again, I imagine that was probably the plan. My first encounter with Wakfu had been somewhat lackluster: I had no clue as to what to do or who to talk to. My second time around, a chance meeting with two rather friendly players immediately elevated the experience. Wakfu is, at heart, all about people. Closer in disposition to EVE Online than World of Warcraft, Wakfu takes a slower approach to MMOs compared with most. In exchange, it offers creativity and depth, two buzzwords that see far too much use in in the industry, but ones that describe Wakfu very well.

To put it another way, this preview probably would have been completed sooner if there weren’t so many things to do. Right now, I’m engaged in a full-scale war against a battalion of black cats. They hit hard, but my teams has diversity on its side. More importantly, I'm still trying to decide which skills I want leveled (much like in real life, your abilities improve with use) and whether this fight will finally net me something more dignified than the decapitated rabbit head that I've been wearing for the last five levels.

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