I'm going to come clean with this from the get-go: I love Wakfu. Everything from the stylized art and animations to the turn-based combat and layered game systems speak to my gamer sensibilities. I like the game so much, in fact, that after our preview with Ankama Games / Square Enix at GDC this past week, I promptly went home, downloaded the client and started playing. Call it my newfound affinity for French anime, or love for cooky turn-based strategy games like Disgaea, but what I've seen and played of Wakfu so far has been pure fun.
If you're unfamiliar with Ankama Games / Square Enix's game, Wakfu is a tactical turn-based sandbox MMORPG. It's based on the French anime of the same name, and has a distinctive art style that is shaped by anime artists from the original series that are on the dev team. The game has 12 classes so far, with 2 more on the way, and is comprised of the three main pillars of combat, politics, and ecology, each of which I was briefed on in the preview.
Combat is a faster version of the traditional turn-based strategy model, as you have 30 seconds to choose your action based on the phase that you're in. You start in the placement phase, during which you have half a minute to tactically place yourself on the battlefield grid, and then move to the actual combat, in which you again have 30 seconds to choose your action or spell. Movement and actions require movement points and action points, astonishingly, which regenerate each round, and you get combat bonuses for completing your turn quickly. You can also use Wakfu points, which regenerate between combats, to cast higher-powered spells. Your class and the way you choose to progress in it will likely affect your tactics in combat, and each class has 25 unique spells.
As a sandbox game, Wakfu encourages you to explore its five continents and experiment with the game's 16 professions, which range from trapping and fishing to weapon and armor crafting. In fact, players craft all of the in-game currency, which is sure to have an effect on the game's economy and trade. Each area of the map can support hundreds of players at a time, although having so many players on a game grid might get quite crowded.
What use is wandering the wide world, however, if you don't swear fealty to a nation to call your home? Wakfu's political system is centered around voting other players as the governor of one of four nations, outside of the starting hub of Astrub. The governors, smug in their in-game crowns, can then bring in their own cabinet to help run the nation, making changes to the continent's laws and regulations. If, for example, you're looking for some open-world PvP and you're in a territory that has been declared peaceful, you can stir up some trouble by ganking some hapless newbie, and being greeted with the game's outlaw system.
Each nation also has its own ecosystem, which is centered on an NPC that demands certain elements to be kept in balance. Any of the nation's constituents can help to even out these elements, by harvesting seeds from mobs to plant trees if that's what's needed, or kill spiders if that'll help. Increasing the ecosystem's balance gives different buffs to the nation, and the game will even give you a weather forecast based on the nation's ecology!
Your actions in Wakfu are important to the larger game dynamics, as you can earn or lose citizenship points, which are required to vote in the gubernatorial elections, and can affect the larger ecological and economical systems. Plants and animals can actually go extinct in the game world, affecting the nations' ecosystems and economy. If you're the entrepreneurial type, you could also try cornering the market, becoming a privateer, or otherwise monopolize certain professions or resources.
Wakfu is a free-to-play game, and you can play through the entire Astrub starting hub with all of the classes and even a few professions without spending a dime. A $6/month subscription will get you everything else, including access to the four other continents and all professions, as well as cosmetic items, non-standard emotes and convenience time-savers. I was assured in our preview that none of the purchasable items are overpowered or will lead to disrupting the game's balance.
Although Wakfu was launched as a sandbox game, the developers felt that they wanted to give the game world a sense of direction for players who wanted it, and have recently added story elements to the beginning areas. There are solo and party chapters in the story content, with a potential for guild chapters in the future. Chapter 1 of the "Mt. Zinit" story content is free to all players.
All players can earn an interdimensional "haven bag" which acts as player housing, where you can perform some in-game tasks, like putting items up on the auction house. Free-to-play characters get a small haven bag and can decorate it, but you'll need to subscribe to expand it and customize it further.
If this sounds like a lot of content and mechanics for a cute free-to-play game, then you can guess my reaction after previewing all of Wakfu's different game systems and spending some time playing the game myself. I'm interested to see how the core gameplay holds up throughout extended play periods and how the political and ecological systems are balanced, but I've liked what I've experienced so far.
Wakfu released in February and the game world already has its first governors. The game is understandably only on PC, although its gameplay would clearly be well suited to other platforms like Xbox Live (apart from the related downloadable game, Islands of Wakfu), PSN, Vita, and mobile devices. The developers are currently working on fleshing out more of the high-level content and adding more of the game's contested islands, which grant bonuses and resources. They are actively encouraging player feedback, as evidenced by their work on expanding the game's resources for outlaws, which have been on high demand from the player base.
Also, in doing the research for this preview, I discovered that the franchise has comics and a trading card game in addition to the TV series, and I must now buy everything.
Are you playing Wakfu? Let us know in the comments below!