End of Nations Gamescom 2011 Preview -- "Risk on Steroids" Meta Game and Unit CustomizationBy Sinan Kubba - Posted Sep 05, 2011
At this year’s E3, we got our first hands-on with End of Nations, a massively multiplayer real-time strategy game being published by Rift creators Trion Worlds and developed by the team behind the 2006 RTS game Star Wars: Empire at War, Petroglyph Games. We came away from that hands-on a bit worried that the game’s high level of ambition was making it pull in too many directions.
Just before this year’s Gamescom conference, Trion announced that End of Nations will be free-to-play. One could look at that as a vote of no confidence from the board, but I traveled to Cologne with my mind open and heart hopeful. In Germany I got a deeper look at End of Nations’ meta-game angle and some of the MMO-like customization that will be available to budding strategists.
First, the meta-game, which in the Gamescom trailer one Petroglyph developer describes as “Risk on steroids.” I’m always a bit apprehensive of any “X on steroids” description but when I see it in action I get what he’s saying. When players log in for PVP battles they’ll be greeted with a world map split into Risk-like areas. Depending on the mode, these areas are being actively contested by different factions over hours, days, weeks, or maybe even months. In the World State mode, in which different factions have up to three weeks to gain total world control, a faction requires three wins in a row to regain control from another faction. You’d think in Cologne that the battle might take place on German soil, but instead the Gamescom battle is set in Australia. It was, however, being fought between developers in the business area and fans on the show floor across a number of 8v8 games.
Before diving into battle, I take a look at the more MMORPG-like parts of End of Nations, and the emphasis there is on RPG. Players take on the role of commander, and as they play and progress they level up like you would in a MMO. Every five levels they’ll receive tech points, and tech points can be spent in tech trees. These trees will differ from faction to faction but will generally allow players to mould their armies into defensive, tanking, or damage-dealing archetypes. The one I saw for a Liberation Front commander was split into three trees: Zone Control, Area Denial, and Mobility. Example Area Denial powers included armor depots and nuclear strikes, while spending points in Mobility granted access to the hover-powered tank-come-helicopter Ragnarok.
To ensure battles are balanced with the MMORPG disparity in levels, there’s a points-limit on how many units you can send out, with stronger units worth more points. The cannon-carrying Guardian mech is a scary-looking hulk of metal, but that’s reflected in his high points score. Petroglyph were keen to remind us that there was a 16-foot replica of him for fans to sit in on the show floor, but failed to mention the scantily-clad lady (not to be found in-game) who helped them up to the seat.
Back to the game and to customizing individual units. Another MMORPG-like aspect to End of Nations is found in unit modifications. Each unit has three mod slots, and these can be filled with attribute-boosting modifiers. They can boost speed, power, resistance, armor, etc, and some are better than others; Petroglyph likened the rarer modifiers to “purple drops.” Personally, I liken the whole thing to World of Warcraft’s socketable gems, but I think it’s a neat inclusion nonetheless as long as players can chip-and-change their modifiers from battle to battle. That way the choice has tactical implications from battle to battle and player to player, and that sounds interesting to me.
I then got a look at the cosmetic side of unit customization. Units could be denoted with primary colors and secondary colors, or they could be clad in special skins like tiger stripes, blue waves, or, as they were on the show floor, in the German flag. As far as I could tell no stars-and-stripes option yet. Joking aside, it’s a significant aspect as it’s this kind of cosmetic customization that will separate the game from free-to-play players and those willing to pass on a little bit of money to Trion. Everything that will cost players money in the game will be cosmetic rather than something that will affect play. As Petroglyph explained to us in Germany, they see how players have invested years in RTS games like StarCraft II without paying for anything except the box, and as such, they don’t see a traditional MMO subscription model as competitive against that. Fair enough.
That’s the thing with End of Nations; strip the MMORPG stuff away and beneath there seems to be a familiar, traditional RTS game lurking beneath with good old rock-paper-scissors style play to exploit. Yes, that’s probably easier said than done for both developer and player, but with such an ambitious hybrid to master maybe that’s exactly what End of Nations needs to be.