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Free for All: Getting lost in the labyrinth of Wurm Online

Beau Hindman
Beau Hindman|@Beau_Hindman|September 12, 2012 2:00 PM
Wurm Online screenshot
Wurm Online is a game of darkness. Really, the entire world is balanced on what will happen after the sun sets. If a player isn't careful, she can find herself lost and alone without a torch to light her path. I don't mean to make the daylight out to be a haven from danger; a player can die during the day as easily as at night. But at least during the day, a far-off shelter can be aimed for. Unless there's fog, of course.

OK, look. Wurm Online is a game of super-scary death things, but the night is particularly scary. That's what I meant.

When an old Vanguard: Saga of Heroes buddy of mine let me know that he and his friends had built a giant maze in Wurm, one that can actually keep players occupied for hours and can possibly lead to injury or death, I jumped into a tiny rowboat and paddled my way south toward the Deliverance server. I had to see this thing for myself.

Wurm Online map screenshot
Sandboxes are funny things. Sandbox fans claim that what they want is an open-world with no restrictions on gameplay. The truth is that many sandbox fans more specifically enjoy a world with definite boundaries and a game that provides a toolset. This is why most of the sandbox fans I know discount Second Life: It's too sandbox-ish. The Linden Lab creation is almost too open and does not really challenge players unless they come up with the goal. Most sandbox fans I know like to have many choices when it comes to playing in the world, but they also want some standard to compare achievements to. A game like Wurm Online is a perfect example. Its players would say that they are immersed in a grand sandbox, but there is actually a pretty limited set of items that players can make. One player-created structure can look strikingly similar to the next.

Essentially, a good sandbox is more like a box of blocks. If you go to the toy store and compare the rows of blocks, you'll find pretty much the same number and same shapes, even across different manufacturers. If you were to go home with some of the blocks, however, you would find some pretty clever designs and some very artistic children. Wurm Online's toolset is similar: It's limited, but what you do with the tools is limited only by your imagination.

Brian, known in Wurm Online as Faeran, is one of the owners of the Puzzles deed that hosts the maze I aimed to visit. He's always been a creative guy. Years ago when I hosted Voyages of Vanguard, a Vanguard: Saga of Heroes podcast with Luper (before she worked for SOE making PlanetSide 2 pew-pews), Brian volunteered to write and record a theme song for the show. It was a glorious tune. He also hosted his own website and made videos for players. He's the type of MMO gamer who has to put his own twist on his time with a game. The fact that he put out the effort to help create a massive, dangerous labyrinth in the middle of Wurm Online is really not surprising.

My travel time wasn't bad, but I was already close by in Freedom Market on the Freedom server. There are several servers that are tied together, so all a player has to do is sail in the appropriate direction and soon find himself in a brand-new section of the world. Even on my little rowboat, my trip was only a few hours, including a dangerous trek through dozens of spiders and bears. I even had to camp out one night until I could get someone to come scare off the critters that had me holed up in a player's house. Luckily many players build such havens and leave them unlocked for stupid travelers like yours truly.

I finally made it to the Puzzles deed and arranged a time to get the tour from Brian. What you see in the embedded video is how it went down. I need to make it clear that lock-ups or errors like the one I got during the stream are so rare for me in Wurm Online that I was shocked it was happening in front of live viewers. It's possible that the streaming process, combined with running Skype and everything else, finally proved too much for my PC, and it took it out on my game connection. Either way, you can see just how travel time, weather effects, and lighting can all affect gameplay in Wurm Online.

"The labyrinth did its job perfectly. I tried it about three times, and each attempt proved to me that I am so not cut out for exploring great mazes."

The labyrinth did its job perfectly. I tried it about three times, and each attempt proved to me that I am so not cut out for exploring great mazes. Within minutes I felt lost and disoriented. Soon enough, I would pass by the entrance again and give up. According to Brian, many players get hurt by falling into hidden traps or even turn a corner to find a wandering monster. Occasional monsters are just part of the experience when you build where Brian has. Normally, deed guards will take care of occasional nosy critter, but all bets are off if you are in the middle of a giant labyrinth.

I'll be doing more exploration near the Puzzles deed now that my character is parked there. For a while, Massively had an official deed on the farthest North-Eastern island that you could find on the Freedom server. We had a glorious time building together with readers and friends, but running a deed takes organization and work. Eventually, we abandoned the place, and its remains are still rotting where we left them. It would be nice to join up with friends to be part of a deed again, but this time, I don't want anything to do with leading the place. If I am lucky, maybe Faeran will allow me to work on the new labyrinth he is building, one commissioned by another player.

If you find yourself in Freedom market on the Freedom server, go South to Deliverance. Find a good map and look for the Puzzles deed. Be careful, of course, and take your time to weave through the masses of spiders and other creatures. If you're lucky, you will find your way to the great labyrinth.

Once you're there, though, your adventure has just begun!

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!
Free for All: Getting lost in the labyrinth of Wurm Online