E3 2014: Warhammer 40K devs on development and founders packs

As part of an established IP, Warhammer 40K: Eternal Crusade has had a fanbase from the get-go. And those folks have been watching and proving the development of the MMO fairly closely. How closely will the game resemble the IP? Will it hold to the lore and fit into the known universe, or will it splinter off and do its own thing?

I sat down with Warhammer 40K Creative Director David Ghozland, Senior Producer Stephanie Marchand, and Behavior Online studio head Miguel Caron at E3 2014 to talk about how development is progressing, discuss how the MMO fits in to the IP, and find out more about founders packs.

Progress

Marchand noted that last summer, the Eternal Crusade team was pretty small and focused on creating a prototype of twitch combat. Then the game moved into pre-production, finishing up this month. Now, she reports, it's moving into full production. A new website will debut at the end this month (on or around the 25th), and founders can expect special playtest events to begin in September or October.

Come January 2015, the game will have its first module release; players will be on a ship bound for the new planet and will be able to practice fighting moves. The next module will include squad quarters, a place for small groups of friends to congregate and plan their moves. At launch, players who've been a part of the action through founders packs will see the bay doors open on the planet and drop in to start their new adventures.

While the team holds the license for PC, XBoxOne, PS4, and Lightbox, it is functional only on the PC right now. The technology is portable among all platforms, so there is still room to expand in the future.

Fitting the IP

Ghozland stated that "this game exists because of the community support," so being true to the IP that fans love is certainly important. The devs assured me not only that the game will be tied to the 40k lore but that major goals will become part of the lore. Nothing unique will be created; it will all be a part of the established universe. In fact, Caron pointed out that Graham McNeill, a prolific writer in Warhammer universe, is writing for the game and keeping the actors true to form. Focusing the game on just a planetoid for now instead of space also ensures the main actions in the game are considered canon. The team's intention is to be "the definitive Warhammer 40K game," so it wants to include as much of the universe as possible.

Immersion is another factor Behavior means to emphasize. Players will be able to modulate their voices in chat to resemble in-game factions. For instance, strike forces will hear a Space Marine's voice commanding them, not a young child's. Additionally, the only free-to-play option for the game is the chaotic Ork Boyz faction.

To illustrate immersion and highlight the intense emotions the devs want the game to elicit, Caron described his own experience when he and his buddies saw a single Ork crest a hill and stare at them. He felt quite overconfident until hundreds more Orks started popping up along the ridge in true Braveheart-style and then charge down the hill screaming. "Seriously, I'm getting goosebumps [just talking about it]," he told us. "When people experience this, they'll be scared. Our video game is about making our players feel intense emotions, ups and downs, to make them forget about their normal life."

All about the game

Ghozland pointed out that while Eternal Crusade will have some PvE (often focusing on getting some artifact or item to help your faction), it is primarily a PvP game, a "massive combat RPG." The game's three tenets are player-driven massive warfare, a persistent open world, and third-person action combat, The main pillar, however, is combat: everything from personal combat to tank battles.

While PvE areas are more like instanced dungeons, each continent is a seamless zone made up of 30 to 40 territories. The battlefields are immense, non-instanced areas that can support 1,000 players. There will be monthly campaign objectives as well as natural objectives to spread conflict around the map as factions vie for territorial control. Amid the overarching large-scale objectives, players will also participate in small-scale battles and mission-critical objectives with their squads (small group of immediate friends) and strike forces (a guild-type group of squads).

The idea is to have an in-the-trenches feel for those on the ground, so there is friendly fire as well as unique execution animations for each faction and loadout. These visceral and intense visual execution animations add variety to the look of the battlefield; instead of a standard death MMO animation, players will see enemies and allies being impaled, kicked, and beheaded.

Real military strategy is also a key factor throughout the game, from holding choke-points and taking over supply territories that control the rate of stronghold repairs to utilizing the specific strengths and weaknesses of different classes. And the goal is for real players to push up in ranks and become the leaders of their factions, directing the war effort.

The four starting factions to choose from are Savage Orks, Foul Chaos Space Marines, Mysterious Eldar, and Proud Space Marines, each with different playstyles. Each faction also has sub-factions with their own goals. More Space Marine factions are expected in the future, and Caron said that players will be voting on a fifth sub-faction as well as another faction later on -- all coming from established Warhammer lore.

When players enter the game, they'll choose their face, voice, and gender. Class loadout, however, will be chosen on the battlefield, with more impressive loadouts costing more resource points to spawn. You build the character as you'd build an army on tabletop; you have a certain number of points and you pick what you want to specialize in, pick your weapons, etc. As this is an equipment- and skill-based game focused on horizontal progression, time in game will not equate to power; a skilled new player can be just as deadly as a less-skilled veteran player.

Founders packs

Warhammer 40K is taking a preorder approach to founders packs. When the game launches, it will be a buy-to-play model that costs players $40 (not $39.99). For that price, players will get four slots, one for each faction in the game. There will be a free-to-play option, but that restricts players to just Ork Boyz. As for other store offerings, the devs say that they will follow the mantra "pay to be cool," offering only cosmetic items or skins that will switch your points (like strength to speed) but not give you anything new power-wise.

Those who buy founders packs before the game launches not only get to participate in module releases of the game but will be given points to trade for items to gear start establishing their characters. For instance, buying the lowest pack for $40 will nab you 40K points to trade for items as well as other goodies like alpha/beta access, name reservations, and so on. Caron pointed out that the most expensive item available is worth 20K points, so players will be able to afford anything that is available. Buying higher levels of founders packs will offer even more points. Players can also upgrade to other packages; the three packs available are $40, $80, and $120.

Another benefit of the founders packs is that players will have the ability to reset their spent points up until the game actually launches. So if you used all your points setting up a Proud Space Marine and find out your friends are playing Savage Orks, you can change.

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 10-12, bringing you all the best news from E3 2014. We're covering everything from WildStar and Landmark to Skyforge and H1Z1, so stay tuned!

This article was originally published on Massively.