The grind arrives later, and a sometimes cruel difficulty curve makes it likely that few players will see it all the way through to level 200. But the other important elements - items and monsters - are there to step up and take the slack. Consistently pleasing designs, and enough tactical possibilities to provide the necessary depth, keep you clicking. From the temptingly edible Dofus eggs themselves, to the highly personable weapons - like the chunky shovels swung by the summoner-style treasure hunter Enutrof class - the sheer visual charm of Dofus' loot beckons you on to the next drop.
Monsters show the same inventiveness and eye for detail, whether it's the dirty Caspar-like puddle creatures the Mushd, or the padding, shock-maned Boowolves. Although 2D, and with limited animations, they bobble and skitter across the playing field with a real sense of life to them.
While quests and levelling work as expected, the combat provides a genuine surprise. Clicking on an enemy triggers the combat screen, in which the current map is overlaid with grid squares. Both enemy and player are given a choice of starting positions, before the turn-based battles commence. Those expecting an Advance Wars level of depth will be disappointed - the monster AI is tricksy, yet slightly shallow - but the system is still refined, with a good balancing of melee attacks and upgradeable spells, some of which might allow you to lay mines in monster's paths, while others summon beasts to fight alongside you.
A time counter works alongside the action and movement points to keep things ticking, and, although the fifth fight with the same monster can be slightly predictable - and there's no means of fiddling with your inventory mid-battle - there's still plenty of impetus to refine your technique. Tellingly, fresh combinations of old foes can be as tactically interesting as a new beast - a sure sign that Dofus' ecology is well-balanced.
Dungeons, scattered throughout the game, allow the combat to really shine, presenting the player with increasingly complex configurations of enemies, while also highlighting group play. Dofus' community is surprisingly friendly, willing to give advice, party up, and trade items at a moment's notice. Only very rarely do other players start spouting PayPal offers or attacking lower-level adventurers once a fight begins. It's not hard to find real people in Dofus' world, although the crowds do thin out a little the further you get from Incarnam.
The game does have its downsides, however. Its delicate art style is a little fiddly at times, making some of the smaller monsters hard to spot, and occasionally turning the search for the tile that will take you to the next screen into a Where's Wally endurance test. More importantly, character classes can seem unnecessarily mysterious to new players, with needlessly Delphic descriptions that don't always give you a full idea of what you're signing up for.
For example, while it's fairly clear that Srams are assassins, and therefore indirect combat is always going to be the order of the day, the vague text doesn't initially help you a great deal in telling the difference between the warrior Iops and the more berserker-like Sacriers. There's potentially too much nuance in any game where a ‘boozer' class sits alongside the healers and mages - Dofus's inherent quirkiness can very occasionally cross the line into confusion-inducing blockheadedness.
Equally, the profession system, although bountifully stocked with numerous specialisations divided loosely between resource harvesting and crafting, is more of a time-filler than a genuinely rewarding activity in the lower levels. Though it does have great benefits, they often lie out of sight beyond a fair amount of grinding. Far from broken, it still lacks the charm and allure that the rest of the game conjures so easily.
Despite its eccentricities, Dofus remains a solid and occasionally brilliant proposition for those looking for something different in an MMO. Anybody worried that Ankama's forthcoming title Wakfu may lead to Dofus' abandonment can take solace from the developers' continuing focus on the original, with recent tweaks involving an updating - and refining - of the consensual player-vs-player system. As is, Dofus cheerfully conforms to the Russian doll construction that the best games seem to have, with constant layers of fresh discovery available to those who seek them. And that discovery starts at the very beginning: beneath the ugly name lurks a game of surprising beauty; beneath that beauty lies an impressively creative intelligence.
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