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Here's a basic overview of UWO (from my own point of view as a veteran player of that game) for potential new players who may be interested in downloading and playing the game.
Firstly, the game is a naval game set in the age of exploration. Exact date is unclear as they have ships of different eras but around the 17th - 18th century is close enough. As a naval game, it's mostly about ships. With the exception of land battling on landing spots or in dungeons, all the action of the game (and the majority of your time) will be spent on the seas.
When you pick your starting character, you'll have a small range of choices on how the toon will look (male and female are both open and important choices as a lot of equipment in the game is gender-dependent) and you need to pick your starting nation (England, Spain, Holland, Portugal, France or Venice - with a 7th nation possible - the Ottoman empire - possible later on as your character develops). Then you pick your starting career as an adventurer, trader or maritimer.
There are several career paths to follow as you play the game. The overall three careers are adventurer (where you discover new lands, lost artifacts, exotic animals and plants, etc), merchant (where you get rich via buying trade goods from one place and selling them in another), or maritimer (where you sail a battle ship, protect the traders from pirates, become a pirate yourself or hunt pirates). Lots of people specialize in one or two types of careers and some (myself included) try to do everything the game offers and work on all careers.
Within each career types, there's a big list of different jobs (obtainable after doing quests). Each job will have a list of favored skills in it... which relate to that job. The "Pirate" job being favored in things like Rowing, Plunder, Assault... as that's what pirates do. This brings us to skills. There's a huge list of skills available to take in the game. Skills are under 3 categories: Adventuring, Merchant, Maritime. The amount of skills you can have depends on your total overall levels (in adventure/trade/maritime - the current max is 65/65/65 but that will increas to 70/70/70 soon when the new East Asia patch is released). Skills will range from rank 0 (which means you don't have the skill) to rank 16 (only possible in an "expert" job). In favored jobs, skills go up to rank 15. In unfavored jobs, skills max at rank 10.
Basically, high ranks in adventuring skills means you can find more impressive discoveries easier. A person with rank 5 in Archaeology would not be able to discover Tenochitlan (for example) as he isn't skill enough yet. Merchant skills are basically divided into two types: trading and production. High trading skills means you can buy more trade goods per time and production skills include sewing (for making clothes), cooking (for making food), casting (for making cannons, ship armor, etc), handicrafts (for making ship parts and furniture), and alchemy (for making the rarest and most expensive items in the game). The higher your production rank, the better stuff you can make.
Maritime skills mostly consist of either cannon or melee sea battle skills. Cannon skills means that you can shoot your cannons faster or with more power or at further distances, etc. Melee skills means you can board other ships, kill your opponent's crew and plunder stuff from them. The always important "Shipbuilding" skill (which lets you build and modify new ships) is also a maritime skill.
Skills are very important in the game as they make you better at what you do. Levels are more important in the game because the more levels you have, the more skills you have and you need certain levels to sail certain ships. Generally, adventure ships are the fastest ships, merchant ships have the most cargo space and maritime ships have the most cannons, armor and crew. You will start the game in a really bad ship called a "bacra" but you'll quickly gain a few levels to get you out of that ship and into a better own.
When you start the game, you'll only be able to sail around your home capital. Due to a lack of port permits and a small slow ship, you'll want to not venture too far from home until you get your sea legs. This brings us to fame. There are three types of fame in the game (you guessed it - related to adventure, merchant and maritime). As you discover more stuff, you'll become a more famous adventurer (increase adventure fame). As you make big deals and make a lot of profit selling trade goods, you'll become a more famous merchant (increase trade fame). As you kill more pirates (both PC and NPC) and help make the seas safe, you'll become a more famous maritimer (increase battle fame).
Fame is important for several things. Firstly, port permits. As a starting player, you'll only have access to sea ports near your starting nation. As you develop, you'll unlock access to the other seas around Europe (then being able to travel to all ports in Europes, dock, enter the cities, buy stuff, etc) and then Africa, the Red Sea, the Caribbean and India. Each nation will have a certain amount of total fame needed to unlock those locations. After India, you'll need to do special quests for your nation (called Imperial Quests - IQs) to unlock South America, Australia and Southeast Asia. East Asian ports (starting with China) are being patched into the game next week and that's what we'll all be doing after the patch - unlocking China.
Fame is also necessary for getting quests. The higher end quests in the game will be unavailable to you until you reach a certain amount of fame. Lots of clothes, weapons, accessories in the game also have minimum fame requirements attached to them. Fame is also tied to court ranks. When you start the game, you are basically a nobody but as you progress through the game, you'll gain court ranks. Your standing with your own nation will increase until you will eventually become nobility. Court ranks are gained via investing money into ports to develop them, gaining a lot of adventure discoveries, sinking a lot of ships in naval battles and doing well in Epic Sea Feuds (the Epic Sea Feud (ESF) is a monthly event where one nation will attack another nation's port in the hopes of taking control of that port through victory. ESF is one of the types of PVP sea battles in the game but it's on a large scale with hundreds of players fighting against each other). Your maximum court rank possible is based on your fame.
Other things to mention: Companies - companies are the equivalent of guilds in other games where up to 50 players can join one company. A company will have it's own "company chat" where you socialize as you play the game. Players in companies can sell their items/trade goods/etc in a company store. There are mixed national companies in the game or single national companies (like all Venetians, for example). There are pirate companies... maritime companies... adventure companies.. companies with elements of all those different paths. The key point about being in a company is that you have access to friends and you have access to skills and production items that you maybe don't have yourself.
Titles - When you become very good at something or complete a specific series of quests, you can receive certain titles. Most titles will allow you to wear special clothes or give your other ingame benefits. Titles can be changed at will (according to your situation). You can get three titles fairly quickly in the game by finishing school (and getting Adventure, Merchant, and Maritime Graduate titles). Other titles take a lot more work to get.
PVP - PVP in the forms of piracy, Epic Sea Feud, Battle Campaign and Mock Battles are possible in that game. Most seas outside of Europe will be deemed "hostile waters" which means that any player can attack another player there (which is piracy). Europe itself (with the exception of the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea) is always "safe waters" so no piracy is possible (though a pirate himself may be attacked there by a bounty hunter). If a player kills another player of a different nation, that player will become a "privateer". His name will change to an orange color (from white) and everyone will know that he may attack you. If you kill someone of the same nation as you, then you are a proper pirate and your name becomes red color. Pirates gain notoriety when they kill other players. Notoriety can also drop over time and a pirate can revert back to white color once his notoriety drops to 1000 or lower.
PVE - While PVP is in the game, it's in the minority. Most of the time, a maritimer will be attack NPC ships or killing NPCs in land battles or dungeons. Unless you are a pirate hunting people or a bounty hunter hunting pirates, it will be rare for you to engage in PVP.
Land Battling / Dungeons - Some people don't like this aspect of the game as it takes away from the "naval" part of the sailing game but it's a part of the game. You can leave your ship, take a sword, put on some armor and go fight NPC mobs in landing spots and in dungeons. Dungeons are big in the game as they are big money earners. Once you gain access to various dungeons (right now there are 7 different ones in the game and more coming with the East Asia patch) by doing quests and you have sufficient skills and equipment to complete the dungeon, you can grind dungeons for the trade goods you'll obtain in chests there. Said trade goods are generally quite valuable and you make a lot of money by selling them.