In case anyone reading this is still wondering, I am still playing Uncharted Waters Online, although I’ve been taking a bit of a long break again from the game. UWO has been a fun, immersive, and addicting game for me to play, but after nearly three years of playing it (more or less), I’ve found myself spending time on other games and then coming back for the proverbial trade grind or sailing run. Maybe if I spent more time adventuring or maritime pvp, I’d probably get back into UWO in a heartbeat, but I’m really not so interested in those elements of UWO right now, and the reason for this is related quite closely to another MMO (or lite-MMO) that I have been playing for the past month or so on Xbox One.
But before I dive into my (admittedly biased) views, I will confess that I am no expert in MMO’s or MMO culture. UWO in fact is the first MMORPG that I’ve extensively played. I also happen to be a solo gamer, which of course begs the question why I play MMOs in the first place. The answer to that is that I play games not because they are meant to be solo or social but because I find them fun and addicting regardless of how they are meant to be played.
So the game I’ve been playing for the past month or so has been Tom Clancy’s The Division. In case anyone reading this doesn’t know, The Division is a third-person shooter/MMORPG where you are tasked to retake New York City after a disastrous smallpox pandemic. It plays similarly to games like Destiny (which I have played) and Diablo (which I have not). You play through the missions and side missions leveling your character along the way to 30, and then you slowly gear your character through replaying missions on harder difficulties and exploring through the “Dark Zone.” The Dark Zone (DZ) is a curious hybrid of PvP and PvE that’s similar in some respects to the “hostile” and “lawless” zones in UWO (except that there is no “blue flag” for players wishing to avoid PvP). Players kill PvP enemies and bosses for better gear and weapons and then head to “extraction” areas in order to take their new loot out of the DZ. Players can kill other players and steal their loot, but they end up going “rogue” in the process (which is very similar to UWO’s piracy system) and can be hunted down by non-rogue players. The latest update to the game has also introduced “Incursions,” which are supposed to be similar to “Raids” found in other MMO games. And finally, players can craft their own weapons and gear in the game (the materials are earned from pickups throughout the regular map/DZ or from finishing missions or quests).
Here’s how character progression is SUPPOSED to work in The Division:
1. Finish story and level to 30
2. Replay missions in hard mode/start grinding the DZ for levels and gear
3. Replay missions in challenging mode/continue grinding the DZ for higher levels and gear
4. Team up with well geared players to beat Incursions/max out DZ levels.
Here’s how character progression REALLY works in The Division:
1. Same as Above
2. Start farming glitches/exploits to shortcut grinding in the missions/DZ and to max out on crafting materials
3. Farm Incursion glitches and quickly get best gear in game
4. (if not burnt out already) Rampage through the DZ with maxed out gear.
I know that some of you reading this are probably wondering by now why I’m talking about a shooter MMO that has little or no relation (at least in terms of content) to Uncharted Waters Online. The reason why I’m doing this is because in many respects the issues that have been plaguing UWO for the past several years are similar to the ones that are now plaguing the Division. There also some key differences between these two games, however.
First, the similarities:
1. The character progression systems in both the Division and UWO have suffered greatly from changes made into the game by their respective developers. These changes have led to a great disparities in gear between “hardcore” veterans, more casual players, and newcomers.
2. The PvP in both The Division and UWO has underwent extensive changes that have led to debates within the community over its significance and replayability.
3. Both games have struggled with communications between the developers/game managers and the player community. These struggles can be seen in the forums, which (like most other video games) are full of complaints about one aspect of the game or another. Communication issues are commonplace in any situation, not just in video games, but both The Division and UWO have undergone some very rough patches in terms of community management.
4. Both The Division and UWO are online-only games.
Now the differences (most of these are quite obvious, but I’ll lay them down anyways):
1. UWO has been around for over five years; The Division was just released a month ago.
2. UWO is a free-to-play game (with micro transactions) whereas The Division costs sixty US dollars (plus additional money for those who bought the season pass)
3. UWO and The Division have different story content.
4. It has been much easier to hack/glitch/cheat in the Division than in UWO. The Division also suffers from a whole number of bugs and glitches that have contributed to the disparity between players in that game. UWO in comparison is a relatively bug-free game, although it’s suffered from other technical issues (e.g. server lag, login issues, etc.)
5. The Division relies more heavily on RNG (random number generation) than UWO,
which in other words means that your luck plays as much a role as your skills or tenacity.
So what’s the point of all this? Why spend so much time writing about these games and just play them instead?
Perhaps my best answer to these questions is that video games are never just games to the players who invest their time and money in them. They are more like passionate hobbies or sports. And whenever people spend a significant amount of time on something, they are going to get passionate about that something (hence the term “fan”).
But what saddens me about video games these days is that it’s so easy to become critical and cynical about them that it nearly ruins the whole purpose of gaming. This frustration is most often seen in social media or in the online forums that nearly every video game has. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to criticize something that’s wrong with a game, but when a game ends up stirring so much frustration that it leads to a toxic community, then it’s probably time to find another game to play. This is kinda where I’m at with the Division, and it’s a stage that I’ve experienced before with UWO. It’s the stage where you kinda wonder why you’re even playing the game in the first place.
I know however that despite whatever criticisms I have with a video game, I will probably still play that video game until I find another interesting game to play. And one of the nice things about solo gaming (in my opinion) is that you have the freedom and flexibility to choose however you want to play.
Finally, I want to say a little something more about the relationship between the developers of a game and the players who play their game. No matter how well made a game is, if a game’s devs are either unable or unwilling to address very difficult situations with their community, then that community will probably wither and die. I know that OGPlanet has made more than its fair share of mistakes when its come to managing UWO, but these mistakes have paled in comparison to the ones made by Ubisoft and Massive since the release of The Division. Deleted characters, numerous bugs/exploits, and the lack of a clear or effective anti-cheat policy have all poisoned The Division community. And the fact that Massive has only recently stated its intent to punish anyone caught exploiting their game says alot about how they’ve handled their game in general. It would be like KOEI or OGPlanet telling the UWO community that they are now going to punish those who have used the ESBTs to farm millions of ducats out of EA dungeons instead of just nerfing them and moving on.
I doubt that Ubisoft or Massive will really come down hard on those who have been exploiting glitches in The Division, and if they choose to do so, these players will probably just quit the game and tell everyone they’re quitting because of the punishment. I would do the same thing if I were in that position. But the fact that they are even threatening players with punishment over something that they should have fixed before the game was released is really sad, in my opinion. A negative reaction is only going to spawn more negativity at a time when the devs should be focusing on repairing the damage caused by all the controversy surrounding their game. Of course, players will always be angry about other players who are taking advantage of a glitch or exploit to advance ahead in a game. But this is why it’s extremely important to have good communications between developers/game managers and the player community. When the communication is not there or is vague, then the community suffers. And if the community suffers, then so does a game’s future.
Having gotten all of that off my chest, I want to end this post on a more positive note. For all the glitches and bugs and whatever that’s been happening to The Division, I still believe that that game has the potential to be a great game. It is the same hope that I share with the future of UWO, and my experiences with UWO have colored my experiences with The Division. And if worse comes to worse, there is nothing wrong with taking a break to focus on other games.
Who knows where the trade winds will take me on my next gaming journey….