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E3 2012: End of Nations shows its MMO-ish roots


If there's one thing I love about game companies, it's their capacity to innovate. Trion Worlds and Petroglyph are teaming together to do just that with their new MMORTS End of Nations. I had the chance to demo End of Nations at E3 and talk a bit to the folks at Petroglyph, which is gearing up to launch a strong seller that is taking risks with experimentation for the RTS genre.

A lot of questions come to mind when one ponders how an MMORTS will function. How many players are there? Will lag be a significant problem? Unit control? These MMORTS games are so new that experimenting in how the game mechanics work is key. The demo was entirely functional and entertaining to play. Let's dive into some details.

End of Nations lore

Fifty years in the future, the world as we know it has gone through the shredder. War, famine, civic unrest, and economic collapse have destroyed the world as we know it. A supreme superpower named the Order of Nations has arisen and taken rights from the people. To combat the superpowers, two warring factions have risen to power: the Liberation Front and the Shadow Revolution. The Liberation Front fights to restore the world back to its original state. The Shadow Revolution wants to dominate the world so it can operate in whatever manner it wants. These two factions both seek to take down the Order of Nations.

Your armies are led by hero units, which are part of the game's lore and background. Each faction has two classes. LF has the Spartan class (juggernauts, armor, high damage) and the Patriot class (support and aircraft). SR carries Phantom (stealth and long-range artillery) and Wraith (speed, guerilla attacks). These classes are properly balanced so there's no great advantage over the other. It's all up to the player to decide how they want to utilize the resources available.

These player factions are constantly fighting for control of the world. The game's world map is segmented into control areas, and when a player logs on to get some fragging going, she chooses a section and jumps into the action. The goal (or Operation) for each team is to control the entire world map. This, as you might imagine, can take a long time to accomplish. The game gives players a time frame of two to three months (developing) in order to control the entire map. Think Risk on steroids.

Each individual map utilizes one of many modes. Domination, Base vs. Base, Base Assault, Last Man Standing, and Base Survival are just some of the modes available. Where it turns from standard RTS to MMORTS is in the sheer number of players one map can support. The largest maps support a whopping total of 56 players, each with his or her own army to control. How's that for massive? The Trion representative informed me that lag will be kept to a minimum due to all players connecting to one server instead of the players connecting to each other.

Players choose a commander (a sort of identity) at the start, and as they progress through battles, they level up. Each commander has a specific tech tree from which she can select whichever tech she wishes. Players build a loadout for different companies (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie) and select different units, abilities, and tactical buildings. This allows for flexibility during battles. As before, the tech selections that are available merely allow variety instead of advantage.

As with any new experimental genre, there are slight differences with game mechanics, so we asked the team a few questions.

Massively: How about resources? Is there mining with drones or something similar?

Trion Worlds: You always have a resource trickle on every map. The way to increase resource trickle is resource points. When you capture a resource point, that'll make the trickle go faster. It's literally hop into battle and go straight to battle. You don't have to wait 10 minutes to make a unit. You're skipping that. You're starting with your units, and you're going to fight.

Let's say you're part of Liberation Front and you take over the whole map. What happens?

That's your operation. Operations run over a two- to three-month season. That's what your faction is trying to do. At that point... we haven't decided yet, perhaps some great loot boost, or some kind of bonus endgame wealth -- some kind of big bonus. That's a huge achievement, obviously. Now another cool thing is, MMOs have in-game events, and you can kind of change stuff on-the-fly because the world's live. We can do some of that stuff here. Let's say something bad happens -- the Order of Nations comes in and takes over territory, something like that. Since it's a persistent world, it allows us to actually do stuff to affect the world. Not that we're planning anything, but we could do that.

What design challenges came up?

There were a lot of them. First off, the game has to be balanced. Balance is easily the hardest thing to do -- multiple units, multiple maps, multiple playstyles. Pathfinding is problematic. Vehicle balance... let's say this vehicle might be perfectly balanced on seven of the maps, yet on one map, this vehicle completely dominates the map. So do you change the unit or change the map? Questions like that come up.

How about the graphics -- are they final?

They'll probably be polished obviously. As the game progresses, I'm sure there will be problems and we'll fix it. There will be continual polish on everything.

What stage is the game currently in?

It is currently in closed alpha. It's going to a beta later in the summer with a full release later in the year. End of Nations is shaping up to be a fantastic experimental title. The MMORTS will be free-to-play with micro-transactions to support it.

Thanks for your time!

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 4-7, bringing you all the best news from E3 2012. We're covering everything from PlanetSide 2 and SWTOR and ArcheAge to RIFT's and LotRO's upcoming expansions, so stay tuned!

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