Wurm Online – Putting the Sand in Sandbox MMORPGs

Is there such a thing as too much freedom in a game?

For longer than most gamers care to admit, we were not only content to play, but were excited to play in theme park-styled MMOs. The trimmings of each may have changed from title to title, but in the end, they were essentially the same game with minor differences. As a result, there has been a growing call for someone to create a “true sandbox” game. Well, a small group of developers (Code Club AB) took up the challenge and Wurm Online was the result.
That old saying of, “Be careful what you wish for”, was at the forefront of my mind as I gave the game a whirl this week. Another saying that also crept into my brain repeatedly, though this one may not be as well known since it’s normally reserved for developers that don’t like to post on forums – “Players think they know what they want but they really don’t”. They don’t mean that players don’t know what they like; they just mean that while a player thinks X would make an awesome system in a game and give them enjoyment, there are a million game design reasons why it won’t.
Wurm Online is the most literal definition of a sandbox game I’ve seen since an old space title called Battlecruiser - a game from the 90s that wanted you to have complete and total control over a starship. The concept was great, and the team did a good job of bringing that concept to fruition as best they could. There was just one problem. The game was so insanely complicated that it made EVE Online look like a game for toddlers. Welcome to Wurm Online.

The level of player creativity in the game is nothing short of astounding.
You can (and need) to do everything you can imagine. Alright, I’m sure you can imagine a few things you can’t actually do in the game, but the level of thought and detail that has been put into Wurm Online is, quite frankly, scary. If you set out to detail instructions for everything, the manual would look like a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica (that’s a massive book of information used to do school reports before the Internet, ya whippersnappers).
While the concept is cool, herein lays my issue with a game this detailed. If you want to light a lantern (and you will need to at some point), you need to have flint and steel in your inventory, double-click it to activate it, then right click on the lantern and choose the “light” option. Interacting with virtually everything in the game requires that same kind of 4 step process to complete. There needs to be a certain level of automation and ease of use for basic actions that you will not find in Wurm Online.
The terraforming system is a good example of this. Imagine you come to a cave wall that you want to mine through and turn into a tunnel. Setting yourself up for mining is another 4-stepper like the lamp lighting caper, but that’s not too big a deal here. Once you click “Mine”, it takes about 20 seconds or so to get a rock. *A* rock. You only need to do this 50 times to knock that wall down. Now I’m no math wiz, but that means you’re going to stand there for 15-25 minutes clicking “Mine” before you actually make a whole. To be fair, when you have better mining equipment, your mining speeds up, but dear gods… that’s a long time to make a small amount of progress.

No matter how much you want to, do not follow a giant spider into his lair.
Combat and healing are equally as complex and in depth as anything else in Wurm Online. Any injuries sustained need to be healed and you would be astounded at the level of detail the game goes into when giving you all the information you need about your wound. If your hand is injured, for example, the system will tell you what percentage of your hand is injured and what type of injury it is. It’s both incredible and frightening at the same time.
Clearly, the game is not for me and as I’ve mentioned before with other games, that’s ok. Wurm Online may not be my cup of tea, but it absolutely is for other players as evidenced by the extraordinary amount of work they’ve put into creating their own piece of the world. Buildings, roads, boats, forests, and more – nearly everything you see in the game has been created by the player base using the tools provided in the game by the developers. There are some incredibly astounding examples of creativity on display. The game is 100% free to play and free to download. It’s also pretty light on the hard drive, so if you have any interest at all, I urge you to hop in and give it a shot.
Wurm Online is a perfect example of a game I personally don’t want to put the time into playing, but needs to exist for others to play in. For a while, I’ve been saying we need developers to create more niche games rather than giving us the same cookie cutter regurgitations we’ve been saddled with over the last few years. When teams create a game that is designed for a small, focused group of players, the level of passion and dedication from those that love it are unmatched.


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