The Gold Edition Shines
Chased by spiders. Chased by wolves. Chased by bears. Chased by humans. There are very few things within Wurm Online that won't spot you, and immediately give Tom and Jerry style pursuit. They want you dead, and you want to survive. Pure and simple.
Over the past month I have been enduring the realms of Wurm Online. Eking out a living by chowing down on berries and salves made of nettles and garlic, I've crafted fences; fletched arrows; and even bested a mature, diseased lava spider. And so without further ado, here is MMORPG.com's definitive opinion on the Swedish sandbox.
Talking visuals will always be Wurm Online's sticking point. and starting any discourse with it seems like the kiss of death. Without sugar coating it, this MMORPG errs more on the side of ugly than beauty. The animations are basic, if at all existent, the textures average, and generally most things have a DIY-styled nature to them.
It is important to note that this is a game, while many years in the making, is truly made by a patchwork of developers and volunteers - and as such, the aesthetic side of things leave something to be desired.
For those craving the gory delights of an Unreal engine, look away now. There is a "make do" ethos to the Wurm Online project. Sporadically, certain objects might receive a facelift, and a new engine build may be introduced. At best, it looks like indieware; at worst it looks several years out of date.
But we don't play this sandbox for the visuals.
This is Wurm Online's big shiny gold star of achievement. This MMO is literally a sandbox. You can mould the earth around you. Destroy naturally occurring resources. Tunnel into the hearts of mountains. You can even build a ship and take to the high seas. Like MineCraft and, to go low-tech, Lego, this game is as good as your imagination.
Because ultimately, there is no real point to anything. Each area has certain missions such as collecting a certain amount of this material or that, but in reality, most are running the survival gauntlet.
Playing on your own can initially feel overwhelming. The tutorial comes and goes, teaching you the bare basics, and then you are unleashed onto whatever realm you have chosen. If you catch the whiff of freedom in the air, Wurm can be a liberating online experience, in that you can really immerse yourself in the world.
From building a farmstead, or small village, the goals you make for yourself drive the experience. Initially you will concern yourself with where your next meal might come from, and not being eaten by whatever particularly nasty bit of wildlife is on the prowl, but later you will have an entirely different set of obstacles to surmount.
In this way, Wurm Online becomes a number of games all thrown into one. At first, you are Robinson Crusoe adrift in the wilderness - within a few weeks you'll find yourself more Swiss Family Robinson, elephant racing, racist portrayal of pirates et al.
So without getting too lost in the possibilities of a desert island simulator, Wurm Online will also be familiar to anyone that has equipped a 1-8 damage sword. Skills form the spine of the game, with each action you take teasing out an increase in whatever ability. Chopping trees will increase strength and woodcutting, fletching an arrow will improve carpentry and so on.
These skills become the life blood of your avatar, as much as a sword and handy shield. You will spend hours attacking practice dolls, or learning how to master the art of firemaking, just to make your journey that bit easier.
Teaming up with others also becomes something of a necessity. It seems odd that a genre with the word "multiplayer" in it, seems to have become so lonely of late, but Wurm is truly better shared amongst friends.
From large scale building projects, to the simple feeling of crafting as a community - it's better done with someone to talk to. With the abandonment of conventional visuals, the entire ensemble can feel lifeless, as the only barometer of progress being a sliding bar counting down time until whatever item in complete, so seeing others going about their duties improves things.
Of course, this sandbox isn't perfect, and can suffer from some pretty easy fixes. Elements such as making the UI slightly less cluttered - at the moment everything is accessed by right-clicks and contextual menus - and the appearance of in-game map might help.
Combat is a particular bugbear, as this marks the point where the experience completely devolves in the realm of the MUD. Attack mode is activated, and the only way to discern whether you might be kicking the bucket very soon is in the combat channel as you read "your blow glanced off the bear's armour".
It's a system that is aimed at working as cleanly and simply as possible, but it can feel so boring. PvP is allowed on certain servers, but with war looking so tame, why bother?
Wurm Online is well and truly an independent product. So delving into its particular adventure must be taken with a pitch of "this isn't polished" salt. The gameplay at large doesn't suffer completely from it, but it stings at certain times.
An unfortunate offspring of the game's aesthetic, polish is a happy after thought rather than an essential. As a whole, the experience works, but there are glitches, bugs, and too many "I'm stuck" messages ringing out in the help channels.
It's not unplayable, and it seems as though the developer's have a focus on making it just so that players can get on with it - but if Wurm Online wants to continue on and conquer more minds, it needs to address this side of development more.
Wurm Online is as deep and consuming as you make it. The game is a survival sim, set inside a massive sandbox. There are masses of skills to master, hundreds of building tasks to complete, and in reality, you can become a generous land owner, or a malevolent warlord of Sauron-ilk. Like any MMO, there is enough in place to keep you engaged, and the developers have consistently added to the game. The only caveat here is that your imagination must run hand in hand with the game's possibilities.
Given that interaction between players can prove so pivotal to the experience, it helps that Wurm Online's community, by and large, is nice. The help channel provides assistant to newbies, while players out in the wild are mostly helpful. Of course to add colour, there are those that fancy themselves as isolationists, or simple bandits, but that makes the texture of the game so much richer.
Wurm Online can be played for free. The only exception here is that you won't be able hit maximum skills in certain areas. The result of this is a game that holds thousands of hours of gameplay, all for the price of nothing. There are premium offers at a reasonable price, but its F2P offering is nothing short of wonderfully generous.
Wurm Online is a fantastic sandbox MMORPG. It's an indie project through-and-through, and if you can put aside certain deficiencies, then there is an incredible experience to be had. Like an old-school piece of software, this sits happily along with your own imagination, crafting and creating a wonderful simulation in which you can create and destroy in equal measure. It isn't perfect, but it's definitely worth a try. At this point it's a good MMORPG, but in the future, with more funding and staff, it could be an incredible one. Here's to hoping.
Find out how we got to this score by reading Adam's Review in Progress articles: