The unfortunately-named Dofus is the biggest MMO you've (probably) never heard of, and Wakfu is the highly-anticipated sequel you've (probably) never heard of. Why haven't you heard of it? Because it exists in a meta-universe made of pure psychic energy that only the next evolution of humankind can even sense the existence of. Also, because it's French. Wakfu's English version also launched a few days ago - I know that because I've just been playing it for a few hours. Here's what I discovered.
POINT THE FIRST: It's a real-time overworld with turn-based fights, in the Final Fantasy Tactics vein. It's not exactly X-COM (the battles I've been in so far have been non-taxing, bloodless affairs) but there is a degree of tactical thinking, in terms of combining abilities and planning for what you can actually achieve in a given turn, as opposed to the traditional MMO button-spamming. My character, who looks like a cute version of Swamp Thing, can summon plant-based Dolls to fight for him, and has the option to spend his points on attacking enemies directly or growing different types of seeds. It's thoughtful rather than manic, though, that said, even though I already have more abilities than can fit onto a single toolbar, it already feels highly repetitive.
POINT THE SECOND: It looks lovely. Really lovely. Between this and Rayman: Origins, France seems to be the go-to place for mad 2D art in games at the moment. It inclines towards the cheesy-kiddy-cute end of the spectrum and that is a turn off at times, but it's certainly not languishing in the blandly toonish styles of, say, Free Realms. It's got a look of its own, vaguely anime esque but with a distinctly Gallic oddness mixed in. When it's showing a custom scene, as opposed to the standard 'lots of people and respawning mini-monsters running around', it's almost indistinguishable from a cartoon. See:
Once you're out of the tutorial zone, you even get to pick what world you want to continue your adventures in. There's gloomy underground, coastal, medieval and rural to choose from, and while those are relatively tropetastic that choice is a neat way to further tailor your experience to your own preferences.
POINT THE THIRD: It's surprisingly elaborate for a game that seems, from afar, to be aimed at nippers. Biffing monsters (well, I say monsters, but so far it's mostly been cats, sheep and rabbits. I feel a bit guilty about that) is just a part of it. There's also an Ecology system whereby you, in certain areas, need to refill areas you've coldly murdered the entire animal population of with new life for someone else to come along and coldly murder. Given this is a game that steers as well-clear as it possibly can of any adult content, there's no sheep-fluffing or enforced cat-breeding involved. Instead, every species can be harvested for 'seed.' Yes. They picked that word for it. Then you scatter your seed onto the ground and... Well, that particular and perhaps ill-considered metaphor tells itself.
Point is there are zone-wide bonuses for all players to be had from replenishing the ever-diminished mobs, which means there is scope to pursue a more pacifistic career (albeit alongside the beast-slaying necessary to level up) and to affect something larger than your own avatar-sized corner of the world. There's also a raft of crafting in there, though I haven't look at that side of things yet, and everyone gets a transparent goo-pet which follow them around, and whose appearance can be tailored as you pick up various items for it. Mine has three eyes, just like my cat. Point being, while the combat is what I would describe as 'tactical grind' and does get a bit tiresome, there seems to be plenty to see and do as a break from it.
POINT THE FOURTH: Spells level up as you use them, like in Dungeon Siege, and unlock more powerful spells as they do. So, to some extent, you build your own skillset, though ultimately you will be aiming to unlock everything. Especially as an elemental combat system (i.e. fire is good against water creatures, water is lousy against water creatures) means you'd probably be an idiothole to entirely ignore certain spell-trees.
POINT THE FIFTH: It's [edit - semi-]free to play, and without microtransactions [edit - in what I'd seen so far; apparently they do show up later]. What witchcraft is this? What it does is provide you with the basic structure of the game, but lock off certain stuff such as item trading and grouping [edit - and higher level content] until you subscribe. It seems perfectly plausible to experience much of the game without doing this, though I got the impression I'd hit a brick wall in terms of picking up new and better gear before too long. The pestering so far is minimal, only arising when you try to do something that's ringfenced into the pay version.
POINT THE SIXTH: It's intermittently funny, in a semi-lost in translation sort of way. It's not taking things seriously, despite a faintly bewildering backstory built up across years of Dofus and its spin-off cartoons and comics, and emits a palpable cheeriness.
POINT THE SEVENTH: I'm not sure I'd go back to it, primarily due to the grindy combat, but based on what I've experienced so far I'd rather play this than SWTOR. It's a happy, surprising place to wander around.