Wurm Online Review
Thursday, August 13, 2009 2:32 PM
This may very well be the first and best portrayal of the ground-breaking feature of terra-forming. This is Wurm Online and it isn't your regular game.
After wading through countless online games that offer the same square-jawed heroes and their worn-out tales; it's refreshing to see something that comes from the other end of the spectrum.
Don't expect to be fighting monsters and levelling up to give your character a stronger sword: Wurm Online's focus is on a new kind of user-freedom. Build a house, harvest your crops, do some mining or help build a valley. Wurm Online is not your everyday game. However, to get to that point is extremely difficult if you're a newcomer to this sort of game.
The controls of Wurm are basic; the F2 button brings up a screen for you to look through your characteristics, religion and skills while the F3 button shows your inventory. To equip an item, you simply double-click it, making it turn green and active. At the start, you are given a shovel, hatchet, an iron pick-axe and a mallet head amongst other useful items. These items can be used to interact with the environment via the use of right-clicking.
For example, let's take the shovel. Once it is equipped, you put your cursor over some grass and right-click on it. This brings up a drop-down menu showing the different ways in which the shovel can interact with the grass. I may feel like doing some digging so all I do is click on dig from the menu and I can start digging away at the grass. This is the same for all the other items, although you need to know which item can be used for what. The hatchet can't be used with grass, but any tree that you see can be hacked away with it.
As previously mentioned, the F2 button lets you see your characteristics. There are several skills that can be improved, such as woodcutting and carpentry. You'll need to work on these skills by cutting down a tree to improve your woodcutting for example. Once you reach a certain level on that skill, it opens up new possibilities. Don't think you can just build a house from the start. It involves you dedicating some time in improving your carpentry skill until you are at the desired level.
That's the easy part. With the basic controls out of the way, this is where the core of the game hits you like a ton of bloodthirsty piranhas. Pretty much doing anything in the game involves you having to really do it. I might sound a bit off my head saying that, but those that have played the game know what I mean. If you want to build a house, you are going to have to cut down trees, make planks from logs and get nails from iron just to do so. These materials don't just appear nicely on a patch of grass or are found on a monster's corpse, you'll have to venture out and try and find these items by yourself.
The developers have made this aspect extremely detailed with no short-cuts to making it quicker for yourself. Before you can even build a house, you need to find some flat ground and probably prepare it for building with your shovel which involves some flattening and laying of dirt. It takes time and dedication. I repeat; there are no short-cuts.
You probably think all that detail relates only to the items. Walking from one side of the map to the next can't be that hard. Think again. This game takes everything into account. You walk for too long, your stamina is decreased. Try and imitate Indiana Jones by rushing through stinging nettles and down steep slopes, you lose health. Think you can carry twenty logs on you? Fine. Just be prepared to be beaten by a snail as you trudge along with all that weight on you.
So, you are advised to check your inventory and each item's weight, and do away with the things that are not useful and too heavy. You also need to watch your thirst; yes, you get thirsty and hungry. Foraging through grass can help you get some food and you will need to do some exploring to find wells quench your thirst.
It's not all doom and gloom. Remember, this is an online game and there are those at hand to help you. I needed help at almost every turn and was gladly assisted by the players online. I have to also give a special mention to Joss Sanglier (composer and sound designer) and the Wurm veterans who showed me the different aspects of the game and gave time and effort to show me some very cool stuff. I don't want to scare away newcomers, so I'll talk about one of the amazing things they showed me.
As mentioned earlier, players can really affect the world. The developers make the map and it's then left to the players to extrapolate what they can from it. One of the things that Joss showed me was a huge valley. This thing was massive and I presumed it was just built by the developers. I was wrong. It was actually created by the players. At the start, you possess a shovel that can be used for digging. So this valley, after about two (real) weeks or so, was created by several players coming together and digging away. Looking at such a vast sight that was the result of the long hard work of human players was truly impressive.
Then you have the mines as well that are created by the players and can be expanded by more people chipping away with their pick-axe. Again, a sight that shows what you, the player, can help produce.
The problem with Wurm is its greatest strength. If you are willing to give the time and the patience, the game is very rewarding. You can easily get sucked into the world with creating your house, having your farm and existing in this alternate reality. However, the patience that you need is on the very high end of the scale. It takes some time and effort to really do stuff in the game and that may be too much for those who prefer to have their games quick and fast.
Wurm is made using the Java programme, so the graphics won't be giving BioShock a run for its money. The presentation is very basic and it's obvious that this was not an area that the developers put their blood, sweat and tears into.
The big fear that I have with this game is its steep learning curve. Talking with the veteran members online, they stressed the importance of giving the players freedom and not spoon-feeding them. There is no in-game map to tell you where you are going, all you can rely on is hoping that those online will be kind enough to tell you where the nearest mine is or where you can get some water to quench your thirst. The emphasis is on making this as realistic an experience as possible.
Wurm has been a game unlike any other I have played before, which is why it has been so hard to grade it. We are in the game industry after all and it's the medium of art. Any good art pushes boundaries and breaks ground. Wurm may not look amazing and it will probably lose a whole host of potential users for its difficulty of getting into, but if you are able to grasp the aspects of the game then you will come to appreciate the unique vision of its developers.
If you have the patience and the resolve and want to try something different, you should play Wurm Online now and experience the amazing feature that is terra-forming. If patience is not one of your virtues, I would advise that you steer well clear of the game, as it is definitely not a game for you.