What did you do with your weekend? Something nice? Pleasant? Relaxing? Not me. I was chased by a bear, clawed by a wolf, and had my ass handed to me by an adolescent pig. I tried to forage for a simple meal, mistakenly stealing into someone else's supplies: I was quickly dispatched by a man standing atop a horse. Yes you read that right. I have been beaten, bruised, taunted, humiliated, and yet I am proud: I have managed to survive the horrors of a virtual world that wants to quite literally murder you. I have founded a safe haven, a small river-side settlement that I call "MMORPG-Ville". It has a fire. An anvil. A shrubbery. It even has a skeletal structure that marks the beginnings of a house. It might not be much, but it is mine, and I have been taunted by woodland creatures far too much not to be proud of it.
Wurm Online is a throwback MMO that harkens to the days of the MUSH and the true sandbox environment. The world is mutable, the experience is entirely player-driven, and it is unashamedly unforgiving. Given the calibre and passion of a number of messages on this website, it might just be the perfect game for a number of you - that is if you can survive a savage butt-whipping by a disgruntled rabbit.
Indie-games rarely pack a visual bang comparable to their triple-A cousins, and Wurm Online isn't much different. The world is a mixture of rough textures, blocky environments, and horrific character models – but it doesn't have to look particularly special. Sure there are some nice grass and water effects, and the draw distances can be impressive, but you do not play a game such as this to be blown away by its graphical power, and this will quickly become apparent.
The UI is also simplistic and decidedly ugly. “F” keys bring up contextual menus, while two text tabs will fill you in on the combat, event, and chat channels. Wurm Online is a continuation of the 3D MUD in almost every aspect, there is no real emphasis on pretty haircuts, sword swings, or brief animations. Everything here is basic, and yet it doesn't ever impinge on enjoyment – it simply highlights the other attractions of this indie title. And what else would you expect from the Java platform?
Perhaps a few sartorial nods towards elegance wouldn't go a miss however. The complete lack of animation in characters makes the game feel stilted and cold, and aspects such as mounts being poorly modelled horses while character stands atop just feels comically lazy. Interestingly though, this is the MMO that Notch of MineCraft fame helped develop, so perhaps a few graphical exceptions in turn for quirky gameplay is acceptable.
Wurm Online's tutorial might as well license the rights to the Bee Gee's song “Stayin' Alive”. Like 1984's “minute of hate”, instead of showing you the ropes, players should be made to gawk at a monitor, while it flashes with images of mutilated corpses, burnt-out settlements, and stamina-infinite crocodiles; finally finishing with a crescendo of “(YOU WILL DIE) AH AH AH STAYING ALIVE' (YOU WILL DIE) AH AH AH STAYING ALLLIIIVVEE” - because, honestly, the game is that much of bastard.
The goal of this MMORPG is to simply survive in the wilderness. Every tile of land is mutable, meaning it can be foraged, botanised, dug, or farmed, so there are many ways to hunker down. The best places to settle are usually near a river (for drinking water) and also within distance of a cliff face so that you might mine. After that it is a race of putting up a make-shift hovel so that the bears might not get at you so easily.
Each player begins with an array of tools, and even after death these will remain on your person. Everything within the game can be manipulated with the right contextual tools: A log can be made into kindling with an axe, a carving knife will also make a manner of parts and tools with the same material, and so forth.
Wurm Online's success comes from the idea that everything is simple and easy to grasp. With a wealth of knowledge from its Wiki site, rarely will players find themselves scratching their heads, unsure of what or how to proceed as you might find in Xsyon – and interestingly you aren't forced to group up with others. Advantage comes from numbers, but you can be the lone huntsman if you so wish: just watch out for the giant spiders.
Aside from building a small village of which you can name yourself "Grand Overlord" there is also all manner of skills to busy yourself with. From blacksmithing to combative abilities, every action will count towards the invisible experience gauge allowing you to create more, and finish tasks faster. Another aspect you will constantly dote upon is that of the stamina gauge. Running will deplete it, as will actions, and once you become too tired you will slow to a crawl - often resulting in drowning, or being mauled by that thing that you were running from in the first place.
You can also expect to die a lot in Wurm Online, and while their is a death penalty, largely it will not put you off of building a vast inventory and stat-built character. The overarching idea of the game is to simply follow your every whim, from creating monuments through terraforming, to even engaging in clan warfare between tribal villages - the choice is yours. One aspect that doesn't seem to quite work yet is a network of trading and supply and demand, but this is perhaps the only real gripe of the entire experience. That and the combat, which is about as engaging as a its MUD forefathers' text scroll.
Considering for a moment that this is the game that MineCraft in effect spring-boarded from, Wurm Online is an achievement in innovation. The idea that every tile is somehow mutable or interactive is one that is a truly groundbreaking concept. From finding seeds, to even foraging for food, the game is immersive and about as clear an image of a sandbox mechanic as you might find.
Building upon general MMORPG convention, the game is an excitable mix of interesting gameplay, if a little rough at times. Each play session can feel like an adventure, and while it might not be presented in the slickest of packages, this is a truly important thing for any game of the genre to have.
The most glaring fault of Wurm Online is its lack of noticeable polish. Although the game has been available in some form since 2006, its tiny dev-team can come across through the slightly unfinished elements of the game. Certain enemies can appear bugged, clipping issues can occur when delving into mining shafts, and the noticeable lack of an animator within the team can start to irk after a while.
The game seems like a real labour of love by those that make it, and ultimately plays like the type of game a sandbox-fan would want. But more time, growth, and perhaps investment is needed. It all feels decidedly indie, and in some cases, a little too much.
With several servers, and a handful of different kingdoms which have different play-set rules, Wurm Online gives you plenty of options on how exactly you wish to approach the game. From the PvP centric locations you can experience humanity at its most deprived as you will be stalked and murdered like a prize elk, or alternatively you can opt for the more tranquil PvE hotspots – even if they lack some of that paranoid luster.
The social side to Wurm Online is dependent on your preference for violence, but with a relatively small player base 50-100 per kingdom, the game is never awash with population. Interestingly, this is the type of experience that thrives with a smaller crowd, as it heightens the conflicts between different villages and also discourages elements of the lone bandit, simply hunting down anyone and everyone.
This MMO is by no means busy, but it works well with the players it retains.
As expected of a sandbox game, all goals are essentially self-directed. Skilling to 20 and further to 30 will take a lengthy amount of time, as will constructing a small village or town. Whether or not you wish to play warrior or town planner is your choice however, Wurm Online will engage you as long as you are engulfed by the adventure of it. Setting your own missions is essential to the experience, and in effect you will get as much as you put into a game such as this.
Like RuneScape, this sandbox has an interesting subscription model, in that a large majority of the game can be seen without parting with a single dime. Basic accounts will be restricted by server, and skill caps are introduced, but there is a very large slice of the MMO pie available here for absolutely free. If players wish to go above the skin-flint option, there is a premium mode for nine Euros, which will give players some virtual coin (which isn't as advantageous as you might think) and all caps will disappear. It is a fair system, which like Jagex's game happens to be one of the best subscription models out there. Try for a while, and buy if you like – none of this “buy more inventory space” nonsense.
Wurm Online is undeniably unfinished, indie, slightly broken at times, and in equal measures infuriating... but it captures the exact essence of what this genre is all about. From the easy to grasp, complex to master gameplay, to the infinite spirit of adventure that it conjures; not many games will leave you with quite so many stories of woe, success, and humour. And for that it deserves a kind word, and an even gentler eye over some of its slight faults.
It might be a bit disjointed, and not put together completely right, but for the adventure it is definitely worth it. Go forth, and be slaughtered a thousand times in a multitude of different ways my friend. It can actually be very entertaining - after the fact.