Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

Why I Play: Wurm Online

Shawn Schuster

The thing about MMOs is that most of them are terrible. There, I said it.

Here at Massively, we're exposed to more MMOs than we could ever possibly play to the point of complete enjoyment. We play some for First Impressions articles, we play some for livestreaming, and we play some to see what all the hype is about, but these are often very different games than the ones we sit down to enjoy at the end of the day.

That's why I wanted to start this series of articles called Why I Play. Just like The Soapbox articles, Why I Play will be a weekly column penned by various members of the Massively staff. We'll talk about which games we enjoy the most and what it is about these MMOs that keep us hooked so passionately. These aren't reviews; they're not guides or lists of features; and they're not based on any kind of launch-day deadline. We're not selling you anything, and we don't expect you to agree with us. These articles will simply be a personal ode to our favorite MMOs.

So follow along as I kick things off with what has been my favorite MMO for probably the last 18 months: Wurm Online.

The first time I tried out Wurm Online, it was at the suggestion of Beau Hindman, who found out that I was a lover of all things sandbox. I jumped into the game with no tutorial and zero guidance, and I hated it. I hated the graphics; I hated the UI; I hated the fact that every character looked exactly the same. I couldn't figure out how to do the basic movements or how to use my basic tools, so I disconnected. I wrote it off right away as I did so many other small-budget games at that time.

But about a year later, Beau prompted me to try it again. He described some of the game's unique features, so I thought I'd give it another shot. This is when it really clicked with me.

"I play Wurm Online because it speaks to a primal side of me that just wants to hide in a secluded part of the world and build my own place with my own two hands."

I play Wurm Online because it speaks to a primal side of me that just wants to hide in a secluded part of the world and build my own place with my own two hands. I can build my home in a hole or on top of a mountain -- heck, I can even build that hole or that mountain. I can build my own island from a patch of sea or live in a dark cavern. I can choose to create a small hut or a large castle. I can become a shipbuilder, farmer, animal breeder, miner, jeweler, ropemaker, weaponsmith, champion warrior, priest, or about three dozen other jobs that aren't constrained by a talent tree, class restrictions, or any "holy trinity." The freedom in Wurm is really unlike anything else you'll find in any other MMO. You may scoff at that, but it's true.

The first time I knew Wurm had grabbed me was when I was making my way up to Beau's village. He had claimed a small piece of an island off the coast of the Independence server's mainland, and it was up to me to find my way up there from the starter town. The game has no minimap and no compass (although a compass is now standard-issue for new players). I was to refer to a player-created map I found on the web, navigating only by landmarks and sheer luck.

It would take another two or three articles for me to describe that adventure in detail, but it really was the most exciting and challenging journey I had faced in any MMO thus far. It took me three play sessions of probably an hour each to finally reach the northern shore. Beau sailed over to the mainland in his small boat and picked me up to take me back to the island.

From there, we created quite a monster. With my (and eventually Rubi's) relentless praising of this game on the Massively Speaking podcast, we soon had 30 to 35 villagers building what turned out to be an amazingly large town. We built a farm, an orchard, an inn, docks, a crafting district, a housing district, and a mine that spanned a good distance under a nearby mountain.

But I soon found myself getting bored of villager life -- which soon equated to maintenance mode if everyone has his job to do -- so I went off to create my own settlement. I bought a settlement deed, found a nice spot on the side of a lake, and did my thing. Rubi and I built adjoining settlements, acting as neighbors who shared responsibilities. She focused on cooking, animal husbandry, and blacksmithing; I focused on masonry, clothmaking, and digging.

After a few months, I decided I needed another change of scenery, so I abandoned that settlement and started another. This time, I decided that living on the side of a mountain might be fun. I had a small shack that overlooked the sea, but I built my forge, oven, and storage crates underground in the mines. I planted trees and grass on the otherwise-barren cliff face and soon had my own homestead once again.

I don't think I need to tell you how lonely that got, so I opted for another change of scenery. I saved up, bought myself a large ship (from one of the most renowned shipbuilders on the east coast of the mainland, I might add!), and sailed around the world. It was my goal to see everything I could on that trip. It took a few weeks, but it was absolutely the most amazing time I'd ever had in an MMO. I even wrote about my travels on Massively.

When I returned to my settlement, I found myself in that dreaded maintenance mode again. I was logging on and paying my deed fee to tend crops, to feed my animals, and to make sure no one came in and stole my stuff. I stopped playing soon after that.

But after being gone for a few months to try out the new shinier games, I realized that I missed Wurm, so I came back.

When I returned, I found something that truly broke my heart. No, it's not the fact that my in-game possessions were all pilfered by bandits in my absence. It was when I revisited our Massively village and saw buildings in ruin, trees overgrown where the animals once were, and rotting boats in the dock. See, Wurm has its own item maintenance mode in place to make sure that the player-made items don't get too out-of-control. The Massively village was now a set of ruins because the villagers had all quit one by one. It was a sad sight but a harsh reminder of just how genuine this game really is.

So I repaired my old ship, filled it up with whatever gear I could scavenge from the ruins, and set off to a new land -- quite literally. In the time that I spent away from the game, the developers added several new servers. But unlike new servers in any other MMO, these servers were new maps that were connected by portals and ocean borders. Rumor had it that the border to one of those new lands lay due south, so that's where I headed. I sailed for days and days until I found myself in the middle of nowhere -- barely a landmass in sight.

It was a bit jarring at first, but when I reached that new server, everything suddenly changed over with a new general chat channel and new map. There was no loading time, so it was a relatively seamless transition. I sailed for a few more days along the coast of the new land, exploring what I could and trying my hand at a bit of piracy and pillaging of my own. I enjoyed finding recently disbanded deeds and looting as much as I could carry. I found some abandoned villages with crumbling walls that invited me in to search the rotting storage bins and crates. Apparently, many people came over to the new land but just couldn't hack it. As in the tales of Jamestown and the founding of America, settlers of the Deliverance server were met with the harsh reality of fierce wildlife and unforgiving terrain. For some, it was just easier to go back to the cities and villages that were already established on the old reliable Independence server.

I eventually joined a group of players who came over from the Indy server to start a new large city from scratch. These players are all experienced and highly skilled, so it seemed like a fun venture -- especially since they had a layout and plan for the new city. So far I'm really enjoying the concept of discovering a "new world" with skilled players, and my new home is shaping up nicely.

Will I get bored again when I reach that maintenance mode milestone? I might, but the best part is that I can hop back on that ship at any time and search out new land to call my own or simply be a vagabond for the rest of my days. I can create my home, my tools, and my weapons from the raw materials around me all over again, or I can choose to pillage them from abandoned ruins before they decay into nothing. No other MMO offers that type of true freedom, and that's why I play Wurm Online.

There's an MMO born every day, and every game is someone's favorite. Why I Play is a column in which the Massively staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it's the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr