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PAX Prime 2012: Our first look at MMORTS Novus Aeterno


The MMORTS genre is a relatively unexplored one, generally relegated to free-to-play titles that tend to be mediocre at best and warcrimes at worst. It's beginning to pick up some steam these days, though, with titles like Trion Worlds' upcoming End of Nations. But I'm not here to talk about Trion or other big AAA studios; I'm here to talk about one guy who got bored and decided he'd make the game he wanted to play.

That's Nick Nieuwoudt, the mastermind behind in-development MMORTS Novus Aeterno. As a hardcore StarCraft II player, he realized that he enjoyed the RTS playstyle but was left wanting something more. So as any sensible person would do, he gathered together a team and got to work creating the game he wanted to play. Many months of work later, TAITALE Studios has put together the foundation of Novus Aeterno. And as luck would have it, I had the opportunity to take a look at the game at PAX Prime 2012, so if you'd like to take a look behind the curtain at a potentially promising new MMORTS, follow on with me and I'll give you all the details.

My preview began with the camera zoomed in on a large red planet somewhere in the depths of space. This, I was told, was a home planet. Each player begins the game in a home solar system within which lies that player's home planet, which is protected by a force-field that makes said planet impossible for other players to capture, thus ensuring that no player can be completely removed from the game. My guide, Nieuwoudt himself, then zoomed out the camera's view, revealing a number of similar planets that made up an entire galaxy. As if that wasn't enough, I was told that the game's map was made up of something to the tune of 10,000 separate galaxies (each containing 30,000 players) in which players can vie for territory. I'll pause for a moment so you can let that sink in.

Screenshot -- Novus Aeterno
Nieuwoudt doesn't want Novus Aeterno to be just one big game of Starcraft, though. To provide some extra motivation for the fighting, there is also an empire management aspect to the game. On each planet that a player captures, that player can build a number of different facilities, each of which provides a different utility such as building ships, harvesting resources, researching tech, and so forth. This also allows players to vary their playstyles; for instance, you may prefer to play as a trade baron, supplying allies with resources in return for protection. Alternatively, you may prefer to be that protection, pumping out armada after armada of badass starships.

Oh, and speaking of badass starships, did I mention that all units in the game can be custom-built? Factories built on players' planets will manufacture individual ship parts such as engines, shields, and weapons, but players can combine those parts in a number of ways to create a number of different unit types. Each ship's blueprint can be saved and given a custom name so that more can be easily built at a later time.

So what's to stop advanced players with a number of planets and facilities from simply making overwhelming fleets of extremely powerful ships to steamroll everyone else? Simple: Novus Aeterno uses a point-buy system in which each part used to build a ship uses a number of available points (out of a set pool of said points), and therefore bigger and more powerful ships cost a higher number of points. This leads to a strategic decision from the player. Do you want a huge fleet of smaller ships ideal for overwhelming opponents by sheer numbers, or would you rather have a smaller armada of high-powered dreadnaughts that conquer by brute force? Perhaps you'd rather balance your units between the two. The choice is yours, but the unchanging (as far as I'm aware) maximum point pool aims to ensure that each player's army is on somewhat equal footing.

OK, so single players won't be able to dominate the universe through stupidly large armies, but what about alliances? Anyone who's ever played EVE Online knows that the biggest alliance is often the best alliance, so to dissuade players from forming multi-thousand-player alliances that can dominate entire galaxies with their iron fists, Novus Aeterno is placing a 15-player cap on "official" in-game alliances in an attempt to promote smaller, more close-knit alliances. Of course, there's nothing to stop official alliances from forging unofficial treaties with others, but then there's also nothing to stop the copious amounts of backstabbing that will inevitably follow.

Concept Art - Novus Aeterno
The Novus Aeterno galaxy is also littered with a number of factions made up of a number of different races including the standard humans and robots-that-want-to-be-human known as the Cauldron Born. Each of the many factions has its own goals and modi operandi, and all factions can be joined by players. But it's not like most games where each faction is just a reputation bar for players to max; each has its own pre-existing allies and enemies, and making friends with one enemy may put you in the crosshairs of another. In addition, the process of getting into a faction's good graces will often put you directly up against another faction and the players working for it. For instance, one faction may give you the task of disrupting the trade route of another, while the opposing faction would entrust the players in its employ with the job of protecting aforementioned trade caravan. I was even told that, if a group of particularly callous players so desired, entire factions could be utterly eliminated from the game.

Ultimately, I walked away from the Novus Aeterno booth feeling unexpectedly excited to see where this road leads. Though I had no idea what to expect from this unknown title at the beginning, I'm genuinely curious to see whether or not TAITALE can pull off its ambitious goals. Only time will tell, but if you want to do your part to help craft the future of the game, the studios are seeking players to act as Infiltrators, testers who hunt bugs, spot exploits, and give feedback on game systems. So check out the game's official site, and if you like what you see, sign up to become an Infiltrator yourself. Otherwise, you can sit with me while we wait to see what's next.

Massively's on the ground in Seattle during the weekend of August 31st - September 2nd, bringing you all the best news from PAX Prime 2012. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, PlanetSide 2, RIFT: Storm Legion, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!

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