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Rise and Shiny recap: Uncharted Waters Online


Uncharted Waters Online by Netmarble is one of those games that I have been meaning to get around to taking a much deeper look at, but I never seemed to find the time. I knew that the game would require more concentration and chin-scratching than I was used to in many games, so I was a little worried. I also knew that a week would be seen as "not nearly enough time" to cover the game, but then I remembered my promise of covering the newbie experience for this column. I don't care which game we are talking about; they all deserve a look at the first few levels or days in game.

UWO was surprisingly easy. In fact, the hardest part about the game was figuring out exactly what it was that I needed to do in order to move forward, but honestly even that was probably covered in the 34-year-long tutorial. Every time I broke down and asked the chat denizens about a certain item or quest section, they would give me the answer. When I asked them where they found the information, they would simply say "the tutorial." I believed them -- the tutorial is long and filled with information that I quickly forgot.

In fact, if you decide to give the game a go, do yourself a favor and pay close attention to the tutorial. It will more than likely tell you everything you need to know. Besides my issues with listening, I found a lot more inside the world or pirates, exploration, and trade, so click past the cut and let's talk about it.

First of all, I want to mention that there was indeed a lot more to the game than I have seen. Generally I like to concentrate on one or two areas of any new game I am playing in order to paint a more accurate picture of how those items made me feel, rather than trying to cover all areas with some soulless text. During my time in the game, I played as an adventurer: someone who spends his time locating lost relics, animal species, or trade routes. Really, there aren't many complex procedures in the game; instead, it boasts a series of basic clicks and movements that can be done with one hand. Even the minor bit of combat I participated in was mostly automatic.

"If you don't bring enough supplies your men might start to fight, get sick, die, or even grow restless for home. Simple pop-ups indicate what is wrong during your journey, and your imagination fills in all the blanks."

However, the great thing about UWO is that it keeps the game remarkably simple. For example, one of my missions was to go find an item belonging to Marco Polo. I had to sail across to another town, investigate inside the church, and return the information to the mission-giver. While it sounds like a very simple procedure, the activity had many different steps layered into it.

To start, I had to get to the dock and make sure that my boat was filled with crewmen. When in need, players can hire more crew at local taverns. Then, I needed to make sure I had enough supplies to make the journey. While you're on land, time passes very slowly (if at all), but while you're out at sea, days and nights fly by, complete with beautiful sunrises or moonglow. If you don't bring enough supplies, your men might start to fight, get sick, die, or even grow restless for home. Simple pop-ups indicate what is wrong during your journey, and your imagination fills in all the blanks. There are also great storms to worry about. I left port once only to find myself being literally tossed about by a great storm and giant waves. One of my crewmen was washed off the ship, and we even ran aground at one point, damaging the ship. The tension and excitement I felt at that moment was not dependent on state-of-the-art graphics -- a testament to the neat systems within the game.

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Once I got to my destination, I went to the local church and performed a "search" command. I literally stood there as the thing worked and eventually told me that I had found nothing. I re-read the quest description, adjusted accordingly, and found the item! Again the simplicity of the system surprised me with how effective it was in making me feel as though I was actually doing something. I sailed back to my mission-giver, triumphant.

"As I rounded the Western edge of Britain, I realized that I wasn't exactly sure where Dublin was -- which made me feel pretty stupid. Surely Google Earth would... no! I would stick it out and find it myself."

Of course, as I worked up through my adventurer school, I ran into missions that were the same thing as before. Still, exploring areas, discovering wildlife or opening trade routes only becomes more exciting as the travel distance becomes longer. Pirates can also suddenly attack you, forcing your boat into an instanced battle and sometimes destroying your ship. Luckily for me, I learned how to get out of sticky situations and was even able to fend off the enemy some of the time. Another time I was asked to go to Dublin to open up a trade route. I was a little cocky at this point and did not verify exactly how many units of water or food I might need to get to my destination. As I rounded the Western edge of Britain, I realized that I wasn't exactly sure where Dublin was -- which made me feel pretty stupid. Surely Google Earth would... no! I would stick it out and find it myself. Needless to say, between the starving, fighting sailors on my craft, and the pirate attack, I barely made it to Dublin. Once I did, I literally bought my crewmen a round of drinks to settle their anger.

Ships are handled with this simple-yet-effective approach as well. While a player can build and sell ships of her own, I found it remarkably easy to buy and outfit one myself. It seemed as though there were no limits to which ship someone can own -- as long as she has the money. I quickly bought a larger craft to sail in and outfitted it with an extra sail, cannons and armor. Ship items seem to work the same way; if you can buy it, you can fit it. I saw a huge variety of craft floating around the seas, most with customized sails and paint jobs. It turns out that in-game money speaks louder than level or skill, something I found completely refreshing. Opening up items to any player who has the time to earn the cash is a great balancer in the game. A player can go at his or her own pace without being pre-occupied with level restrictions. While I could have it wrong, and some items or activities might require strict level requirements, I didn't even bother with any of that. I bought a ship, outfitted it, loaded it with sailors and goods, and went on my way.

All was not perfect, of course. The tutorial was so long in this game that I spread it out over two play sessions. If there was information that I needed to remember in there, I had forgotten it by the time I was through. Luckily, the community was mostly (not nearly all, by any means) helpful, so most of my questions were answered. Also, the "school" chat, a chat that was exclusive to the specific school I was in, was locked out half of the time saying that it was "too full" to let me in. This boggled my mind! Can you name a game that is hosted on servers that can't handle chat numbers equal to the number of players in the game?

While I didn't find many bugs, there were just enough odd little details to forget to make gameplay frustrating. Certain items do certain things, different skills seem to have multiple names or uses, and certain activities require specific steps that were easily jumbled. Some might call this a "learning curve," while I simply call it hidden or poorly explained information. Quests are often very similar to each other. I could see how a player would grow bored doing the same thing over and over. Still, I believe that players can switch schools to try out other activities, and that would definitely open up possibilities.

In the end, I found a simple-yet-complicated game that was really very charming. While I did not try out the combat- or trade-related schools, I was still challenged and intrigued. I love the fact that the game ran beautifully on my basic laptop and still looked good -- mostly at sea. If you like EVE Online or Pirates of the Burning Sea, expect UWO to be a lighter version of those. Don't let that fool you, though; this game has its own tricks up its sleeves and promises to provide a lot of adventure.

Next week I am going to finally be looking deeper at Anarchy Online. The community proved itself during last week's Choose My Adventure vote, and over the years I have played the game, I have never really sat down and looked at it. My name in game is Beauhind on the Rimor server, so look me up! Now, go log in!

Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. We meet each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. EST; the column runs the following Sunday. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email, or follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr!

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