Previews// End of Nations

Posted 29 Feb 2012 13:05 by
End of Nations is something of a landmark title for PC gaming. The alliance of Rift developer Trion Worlds and Petroglyph - of Dune II, Command & Conquer and Age of Empires fame - has opened the doors for a whole new world of possibilities in the Real-Time Strategy genre. Trion’s senior producer Chris Lena even calls the collaboration “a Voltron robot of awesome.”

So they have some big plans. And even at its core, End of Nations is unique - the game is a free-to-play, MMO RTS experience, with social networking features. It’s normal to see role-playing games or first-person shooters go down the MMO route, but an RTS? What’s the story behind that, Chris?

“We think that different game designs lend themselves to different business models,” he explained. “For us, free-to-play just fits with the RTS concept. A lot of people have enjoyed RTS games in the past, but maybe have lapsed from it or have been afraid to come into the genre. We don’t want people to have to spend $60 to find out if they like it.”

Whereas the genre has usually flourished as a solitary or competitive one-on-one experience, the aim of End of Nations’ MMO side is to encourage communication between multiple players and to make players feel like their actions are affecting events on a much grander scale. This is where the 56-player battles and persistent global factions come in, handily enough.

That persistence is a big key selling point that makes End of Nations rise above all other RTS games, according to Chris. Maps will need to be played a number of times online to gain control of it on the world stage, but you could lose your grasp on certain areas just as quickly as you gain them.

“There’s a real reason to continue to log on and check out what’s going on and flip those territories,” Chris said, adding that global battles for world domination will be staged in ‘seasons’ - “almost like a sports season. So there’s still an ‘end’ to these things and a winner declared at the end, before it starts all over again.”

I spent some time playing on three maps with six players, and that was mental to begin with - can’t imagine how mad it’s going to be with 56! If you’re experienced with RTS games however, don’t panic. The gameplay and levels feel very Command & Conquer in design. After selecting unit loadouts and other specifics pre-game, controlling your assault team is as simple as dragging to select and clicking the right mouse button to direct them.

The maps vary from impressively large to epically monstrous. A stage called Resource Hog, for example, spans an entire city complete with parks, churches, main streets, alleyways, idyllic country roads and corn fields to wage war in. For this match, a 6-player team conquest scenario, the objective is to take control of specific areas known as Victory Points. As each of these are spread far out across the map, it takes a certain kind of strategy and multi-tasking (along with communication) to lead your teammates to victory.

Each team has a unique set of battle units that can be deployed at any time, assuming you have the dough. My ‘dream team’ featured: Stalkers, infantry snipers that can take out long-distance weapons and soldiers with ease; Ravagers, huge tanks equipped with long-range rocket launchers; and Reapers, nippy little jeeps that can pack a punch with its mounted turret guns. They all have advantages and weaknesses against a huge variety of other enemy units, however.

Every unit in your loadout takes up its own slot in the HUD menu at the bottom of the screen. To make things balanced, you only have a certain number of slots, so you have to be mindful of what you want to bring in to each fight. Units aren’t created from factories, like in classic RTS games, but are brought onto the field using resources collected on the battlefield.

You have more than just your ground units at your disposal however. In times of desperate need - or if you just want to stick the boot in on your opponent while the going’s good - you can launch what’s called a Super Weapon. They really are as nasty as they sound, ranging from EMP weapons, missile strikes and a devastating nuclear blast. The latter of which I have been on the receiving end many times thanks to online Texan ninjas.

Varied missions help spice up the gameplay experience. You won’t just be hovering over Victory Points in a King of the Hill style match all the time. The Deep Hammer map - set in a brown, dusty mountainous region - has you scramble over Victory Points in order to expose your enemy team’s HQ. It’s quite distressing to lose in a match like that and watch as tens of units start blasting the crap out of your massive power core.

The Last Stand map offered a very different kind of battle - one that’s as contemporary as a Horde match, but feels as solitary and atmospheric as a classic round of Command & Conquer. Multiple players are tasked with holding down a position at different points on the map - but they’re not fighting each other. At least, not directly. CPU enemy units will try to destroy you in waves, and your task is to hold on to your Victory Point for the longest without being defeated. You never really see your opponent, but you can mess with them by launching interfering EMP missiles and other such tricks.

Outside of the core gameplay experience, End of Nations offers a variety of options and tweaks - company building, technology advancement trees, unit customisation and of course, the social networking aspect which Chris believes helps tie the game together. “My background is MMORPGs, so the way I contributed here is by putting an emphasis on those social elements and not underestimating what it means to be able to have clan support, friends lists and all that social glue. Petroglyph, of course, are the RTS experts.”

Sounds like a match made in heaven, and the free-to-play approach will ensure that anyone with a passing interest will be able to participate. Does Chris feel that free-to-play is the future of PC gaming? “Yeah, there’s a lot of advantages to it, but I think there’s always going to be games that work better with a subscription model. Although I think free-to-play will continue to grow, for sure.”

End of Nations will begin a Closed Beta this Spring, followed by an Open Beta PvP Preview in the Summer leading into a Launch in the Autumn.
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