Wurm Online

Heal the world, make it a better place.

Humanity ain't so bad. I mean it! As a species, we do alright for ourselves.

You could check out the latest Human Security Report if you don't believe me. Over the last 10 years the number of armed conflicts around the world has fallen by 40 per cent, and the number of fatalities per conflict is dropping too. If that's not enough for you, check out this video of a parasitic Gordian worm causing a cricket to commit suicide by flinging itself into a body of water, thereby allowing the worm's aquatic children to wriggle out into the world. Now there's an unpleasant species.

Or you could read on and learn a little about Wurm Online, which isn't really a worm at all but is in fact an indie MMO. Unlike the Gordian worm, this stuff is bound to put you in a good mood about your brother man without putting you off your dinner and every other dinner for the rest of your life.

Wurm Online is set a fantasy interpretation of the Dark Ages, but under the skin it resembles nothing less than a cross between EVE Online and the as-yet unfinished Love. EVE because Wurm is an unstructured experience where the "game" is in doing whatever you want and forging your own violent or non-violent path in a player-built world, and Love because players are free to build and tear down structures as they see fit, as well as terraform the world. Or, most likely, just terraform the tiny piece of it they've decided is theirs.

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Digging a canal is backbreaking work not advisable for children, the elderly or residents of Azeroth.

To get specific, players in Wurm start as hearty peasants with nothing but the wind in their hair, a full stomach and a bag full of simple tools such as a rake, flint, tinder, hatchet and so on. There's a simple tutorial that gives you the most cursory of explanations of crafting and resource-gathering and the like, and... that's it. From there, you're on your own in a land full of dangerous creatures, virgin terrain and player-built settlements both thriving and abandoned. Hey, things could be worse. That tutorial's only a recent development.

So what do people do in Wurm? Well, they build homes for themselves. They grow vegetables. They build ships. They train with swords or axes or bows, or dig caves. They make friendships and get into fights. Sometimes they fight big battles and build statues. They cut down trees, plant flowers, pick flowers and plant trees. They just exist. They are human, and they have fun being human while watching their skills and stats tick up all the while.

Or, in the words of Wurm's volunteer PR man and soundtrack composer Joss Sanglier, "It's the ultimate social game. Because whether you are a hunter, a fighter, a carpenter, an outlaw or anything else, at the end of the day you can look over a wall at another player and ask him how is pumpkins are. That is what real life is - an amalgamation of the inane covered by a thin veneer of unimportance."

The world that the small team behind Wurm has built has an undertone of the real that borders on the sublime. To put it another way, my flatmate's favourite memory of playing Wurm is the time he was slaving away, bent double over his forge, and lost track of time. With the Morrowind soundtrack playing in the background he caught sight of an unexpected sunrise over the mountains in the distance, its warmth searing away the pitch darkness of night. That's it. That's the end of the story. Having played the game, I completely understand where he's coming from.

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Presenting: the third game ever made where nights are actually dark.

While the intangible aura of realism in Wurm comes largely from all the hard work the devs put into designing the look of the game and the in-depth systems governing crafting, eating, fighting and so on, it also comes from something no other fantasy MMO can boast - the world built by the same real people that actually live there. And that's not just a reference to the gravitas of looking down at a dockyard or barracks and knowing it was set in place, plank by plank, by players. The positioning and design of everything in the world makes sense. To use one example, the villages you find in areas which are in constant danger from rival kingdoms are all painstakingly constructed high up on near-vertical mounds of dirt to make attack almost impossible.

The reason all this cheers me up is simple. Ramshackle and awkward as it might be, the people playing this game have built a world. They didn't have to do that. Nobody made them. Plenty of them even paid money for the privilege, forking out five euros a month for Premium subscriptions, or even more for the tokens that allow them to found official settlements.

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