Between mouthfuls of turkey, gulps of eggnog, and rounds of chocolate treats, I think of my Wurm Online avatar. He is spending Christmas in a snowy, fenced enclosure. A forge for an oven. A pile of tools for comfort. A big haunch of Lava Spider meat for Holiday Season cheer. I should be relaxed, joyous, and celebrating the birth of a small, and soon-to-be bearded Israelite. I can't. My mind's eye wanders back to my small patch of reclaimed land. That hole in the ancient wall. The never-ending supply of hungry mature bears. The half-finished practice doll. If anybody ever needed a Christmas miracle, it was that little virtual fellow.
In last week's review in progress, we covered a few of the basics. Wurm Online is a sandbox MMORPG, with an eye for survival, and a penchant for sadism. There aren't levels, battlegrounds, and there isn't even a sniff of goblin genocide in the air - just good old-fashioned endurance: the type our Grandpappy told us about.
My adventures left off with my untimely demise. A was savaged by nature, and forced back to the entry point of the Epic Server. Starting a new, freshened up, and wide eyed, I set off once again into the wild.
Like any kind of urban sprawl, the strongbox in Wurm Online acts as the epicentre for all civilization in-game. Players build and mould around it, forcing those new comers to search out newer climes, whilst in the process taking everything that isn't nailed down. Encumbered with a shockingly placed anvil and a handful of nails, I giggled my way into the trees.
Exploration and travel will form a large part of any Wurm player's experience. The map seems to stretch onwards for an eternity, with an overarching stamina gauge meaning that you will always be keeping a close eye on your own ability to trudge up hills and through water.
Looking for a place to settle can be slog, with players seemingly spread randomly and on every patch of desirable land. Following the river, I see marvellous statues created by players, huge mountains, and more than a couple of angry critters attempting to ensnare wayward newbies like myself. I walk on, my heart in my mouth every time I brush past the vicinity of a troll.
While I enjoy the scenery and exploration elements of my journey to find my own land, stamina and nutrition starts to waylay the entertainment. Stopping every few minutes or so, or after a steep hill, fills me mildly with annoyance. My avatar seems less fit than myself, stumbling and almost collapsing to his knees on a steep incline. I'm surprised to see he hasn't placed his palms on his thighs, uttering "one minute...one minute" through gasps of exhausted breath.
After 20 minutes of travelling, I finally decide that here is as good a place as any to build a homestead. Skirting the riverside and rounding a corner, a vast stretch of forest beckons on the horizon, clay sits at my feet, and there are a complete lack of things that want to kill me. I sigh with delight.
But just as I start attacking the nearest tree, a voice rings out in the chat channel. "Who goes there?" I feel slightly nervous, shuffling on the balls of my feet, even though seated. "Just passing through" I reply, cautiously. "Looks like we got ourselves a noober" a new voice calls out in the chat channel. "Where is he?" Shoots back the original.
I start to get the distinct feeling I've wandered into Deliverance territory, and I'm in no mood to squeal like a piggy. I turn on my heels and run into the trees.
Daring not to look back, in case I see Leatherface rushing through the thicket, I try to duck and dive between creatures. Moving further and further into the forest I find myself surrounded by smouldering Lava Spiders. I start to panic. I run side to side, trying to keep my stamina gauge relatively lively, but accidentally catch the attention of one of the fiery arachnids.
Sweating in reality, I start to panic. "Help" I shout into the chat channel. Nothing. I move further into the woods. Another Lava Spider joins the merry chase and I start to resign myself to another death, wondering whether or not I will ever manage to construct anything in game, when someone replies.
"Run to the water" appears in the chat channel. I don't answer, remembering my last foray into social interaction. "Lava Spiders right? Go to the water." It sounds like sage advice, and I start to look about furiously for an end to the woodland. I spot a small opening, and just ahead lay a body of water. I run with the last of my depleting stamina, dropping the anvil like a cartoon character.
After what seems an enternity, I manage to make it to the water and run into a small section of shallow. The spiders, still in hot-pursuit, follow, and then stop at the river’s edge. I'm safe. I tentatively type a mention to the chat channel. "Thanks. I thought I was a gonner".
Rather than simply replying, my anonymous helper strolls into view. A scruffy, bearded type, holding a fishing rod. I start to get nervous and search my brain for any fish-rod related film references. Nothing. I could be safe.
Minutes later we have swapped pleasantries, and have been invited to join the fisherman's one-man community. I gladly accept. We walk towards a ruined fortress, while it is explained that this was once someone's land, but they have left some time ago, leaving the place to slowly crumble with neglect. I felt slightly excited - are we going to fix up this old girl and give it a go like a virtual Cheech and Chong? You betcha'.
It seems a common experience that playing Wurm Online initially is sadistically hard. Racking up a significant number of hours, and I have yet to create anything more meaningful than a campfire and a trail of petty larceny.
The difficulty of the experience, coupled with the savagery of wildlife and stamina gauges mean that many will spend a long time wandering the wilderness - never quite knowing where and when to settle down.
Like any MMORPG, the best company can be found with friends, and now that I have a buddy to share my trials and tribulations with, an entirely new portion of the game as unravelled. Building up skills feels like Ultima Online, as I whittle and fletch items. I chop trees to increase strength, while I also practice endlessly on a combat doll so we might take on some of the intrusive wildlife.
Does it sound exciting? To those not involved, Wurm Online can sound sedate and repetitive. No actions have animations, and the entire experience is fairly lifeless, but once your mind starts to buzz and whirr with possibilities: it’s an infectious MMO. Currently I am building a series of fences and gates, and it feels more dangerous than the hardest raid World of Warcraft has to offer. Go figure.
Join me next week as we talk killing spiders, bandits, and farming.