Free for All: A look at WURM Online

WURM Online is no ordinary MMORPG. Sure, we have seen some systems like this in a few other games and are seeing more games come out that promise features like this, but WURM has a charm and a community that make it second to none. Essentially it is a game of survival, pitting the player against themselves. There are many ways to die but those can be avoided if you use your head and practice some patience.

I have a short history with the game, recently playing it with my social network site and for my blog, but after a few months break I decided to check out some of the changes that came along. There have been some tweaks to character models (which are essentially slightly animated dummies) and improvements to performance (the game runs in JAVA) but it was nice to see some of the same buildings still standing and to hear the familiar sounds of sawing and wolves howling.

The important thing to note about WURM is that there is quite a steep learning curve. While there have been some steps taken to teach a new player the ways of the game, it can still be frustrating at first. This is where the community comes in. To illustrate what it is like, let me give you a description of your first night:

You wake up to find yourself in a strange land, the hills dotted with bright campfires and smoke pouring from chimneys. It's dark, but you can tell the sun is about to rise. There is a light rain falling on the ground and in the distance you can see occasional lightning bursts. You have a backpack filled with basic tools and weapons, and around you are a few signs indicating where to find help. The first thing you do is hit enter and type "Hello?". Someone answers from somewhere, and you turn towards the sound of someone chopping wood. There is a man standing slightly downhill from you, and he has lit an inviting lantern. His house glows warmly from the inside, and he waves you over.

From then on out, you have two choices. You can minimize the game to look up how-to guides for the game (or you can access the wiki in game as well) or you can start talking to people. I still prefer the latter. The chat works in realistic ways, allowing only those around you to hear you. There is a help channel, and you will use that in a bind. But the real magic of WURM is figuring out what to do and how to do it.

Like I said, it can be frustrating sometimes, and it can try your patience. The community is pretty vocal about any issues they might have, and the developers seem to really have a finger on the pulse of their players. I am not sure of the size of the WURM crew, but I know that the individuals I have met are very passionate about their game. It's strange to see an MMORPG whose community is truly a friendly bunch. There are a few other similar games, like Ryzom or Myst Online: URU Live, that seem to weed out most riff-raff with their challenges.

And you will find challenges. As you can see in some of the screenshots, the game world can be very dark. But, isn't that what we want in our game world, especially one set in a time without electricity? You can borrow, make or buy lanterns and other night lights, but until you do it can be smarter to stick around the center of towns or to hang out with a friend. Soon enough you will hear the howling of the wolves, and soon after that you'll know how easy it is to become a corpse.

I was lucky that when I first started out I quickly invited members of my social network to form a group with me. Soon after, one of the WURM staff members found us and gave us some of the answers we looked for. Soon after that, we located a desirable spot (you can build anywhere, as long as you do not grief anyone) and started building. It was a very exciting time and I spent hours and hours in game talking to my neighbors, sharing information and working to build a secure spot for us to escape the wolves. Together we learned how to make a fence by first making a forge (a neighbor helped us build one) and how to keep the fire always burning (the iron took a while to heat up.) Along the way to learn how to make one thing we would learn about three more. It was a collaboration, to say the least.

That's one of the thrilling charms about the game, the fact that when danger comes calling you really do rely on your shelter (or your arrow keys) to get you to safety. Other players warn of approaching animals and team together to fight them. Now, don't expect to see fluid animations and blood spatter during combat. Essentially character models and animations are very basic. Your own experience is locked behind first person mode, and the most you will see of yourself is the identical neighbor up the hill. This does not detract from the charm of the game, though. It reminds me more of reading a good book or watching a terribly good movie. It's really not so much of a game as a visit to another place, and it makes me excited to see what independent developers can do.

But enough gushing, let's talk drawbacks.

"There is a man standing slightly downhill from you, and he has lit an inviting lantern. His house glows warmly from the inside, and he waves you over."

The game can run a little rough, even on good machines. I get good framerates, but sometimes they drop and hitch. Overall the game shines in the environmental graphics department. This might be due to atmosphere and because you know of the dangers that exist in the dark. The character models are very lacking, though. While the first person view is a great way to encourage players to feel more connected to the world, it would be incredible to see characters that acted more than store front dummies. Walking is simply a matter of two legs moving back and forth, and holding weapons and tools looks rather silly at times.

Dying and the dangers of the world are not unavoidable, but when they do happen it can be very confusing and sometimes very aggravating. First, you must find your way back to where you died. You can get the items from your corpse and then bury it, but if you're not careful you'll wind up dead again. Scrambling around in the dark can be frustrating, but IM'ing is allowed and can help in the situation. Growing food seems ranked higher on the difficulty scale than building something, forcing players to spend an entire evening foraging just to find a few scraps of vegetable. But, luckily, the game doesn't allow a player to starve to death, instead restricting how long they can do heavy lifting, climbing and other activities that require a full tummy.

Overall, though, these gripes are small. The game makes up for it in the fact that it is unique and beautiful. The community is a real community and being part of it is a pleasure. As soon as I am done writing this, I plan on joining one of the pay servers, just for the opportunity to be thrust out into a brand new world surrounded by strangers.

Am I gushing still? Probably. Understand that it is for a reason, though. I am thankful to find a place to escape to that doesn't involve grinding for rep or gear scores. So, go download the game and log in. The free server is not some half-experience, and can be enjoyed for as long as you want. If you feel brave, join the paid PvP server, complete with corpse looting.

Now, go stumble around in the dark!

This article was originally published on Massively.