A few years ago around this time, Trion was suggesting to gamers that despite the overwhelming domination of World of Warcraft, there definitely was room for more than just Blizzard's opus in the MMO market, though the suggestion didn't raise much more than an eyebrow among those interested at the time. A few years later, Rift is out and stealing both players and mindshare, even getting hinted at on a conference call as one reason for WoW's numbers being slightly down.

As much as Trion has been able to do with Rift, that game is only the beginning of the company's plan. As we saw at a pre-E3 event last week, the next step is to break ground on a second MMO title, this one built as an "MMORTS" with veteran strategy developers Petroglyph. We only got to play through part of a short match, but what's there showed that Trion is aiming to do with this genre what it did with Rift, even if there's a long way to go.
It's somewhat tough to call End of Nations a strict MMO, especially with the one mode we got to see. There is a large scale map that will track out longer campaigns, but the mode we played was a four-player co-op skirmish, with four human players fighting against computer-controlled enemies. And we were told that matches, including player-versus-player, might eventually be able to host up to 50 players, which is indeed RTS on a pretty massive scale. But it's not like you're running a persistent RTS base in a world with thousands of other people. End of Nations is more like an RTS with an overarching multiplayer story.

That story involves (what else?) the future and a group called the Order of Nations. After our current nations arrive at their titular finale, that new "United Nations"-style faction rises up, originally tasked with fixing the world by uniting on a global level. Power corrupts, as it always does, and instead the Order of Nations serves as the bad guys, with players uniting in their own factions to fight as a resistance movement and try to retake the world.

The particular mode we played featured four players trying to take down a huge structure called Acropolis Widow, a base that held major tactical meaning for the Order of Nations. To do that, we four players had to each navigate our units through a series of objectives, holding various points and taking down lines of defenses, until (ideally) the Acropolis was finally conquered.

Unfortunately, we never made it that far -- some players had to back out early, and the game isn't completely balanced yet. Without four people on their toes, we had a tough time fighting back the enemy forces.


But the mechanics were clear. In this mode, there's no actual "base" like you might find in a more traditional RTS game. Instead, before entering the level, players choose units to create their own squadron, kind of like choosing cards for a Magic: The Gathering deck, we were told. When those units are killed in battle, they respawn according to a "repair" ability on cooldown. So instead of constantly building and upgrading units, the mode is all about controlling the units you've got effectively.

As you move across the map, you can claim "landing zones" by defending them against enemy forces, and when you claim one of those, your troops respawn there (so they have less distance to travel to rejoin your army. And you can also claim various defenses of your own on the map, like artillery setups or other helpful structures.

To assist you, each player has their own commander abilities as well, letting you drop a screen-sized nuclear strike or speed up your units' attack and movement for a short time. The game did reward solid micromanagement -- while I'm not a great RTS player, there was a lot of value to keeping the more fragile ranged units in back and charging in with the heavier assault tanks. And considering that you are stuck with a set number of units on the map, every health point counts.

Petroglyph has quite a bit of work yet to do on the title -- this was definitely an early build, and the UI (not to mention the network code) will need lots of streamlining and tweaking. But the gameplay skeleton is there, even if the RTS standby of base-building isn't just yet. You may say that Trion seems overly ambitious in trying to adapt the real-time strategy genre to the already pretty narrow MMO audience, and we didn't see a lot to disagree with that. Then again, that Rift game is pretty popular ...

This article was originally published on Joystiq.