Staff Writer Paul "LockeColeMA" Cleveland traveled over to San Francisco for some hands on time with Trion Worlds' End of Nations MMORTS.
Trion Worlds is approaching its one-year anniversary with the incredibly popular game Rift; but the company isn't sitting back and just enjoying success. They've teamed up with Petroglyph (creator of the original Command and Conquer game) to create an MMORTS: a real-time strategy game with a massive and persistent world. Is it strong enough to knock the current RTS king, Blizzard's Starcraft series, out of its top spot? I had the chance to play an Alpha version in San Francisco last week and what I saw looked promising!
Strategy games have a long history, but have become a niche market. Alex Rodberg, the global brand director at Trion, first told us a bit of the genre's history; before the role-playing game became king, there were strategy games. As one star rose, the other fell; but EoN hopes to be the modern answer to the old genre. His vision of the game involves massive battles of up to 56 players on a map commanding thousands of units in a persistent world where your victories or losses benefit or hinder your faction accordingly.
End of Nations (EoN) is set, somewhat unsurprisingly, after a worldwide economic collapse ends most of modern society. War and poverty reigned supreme until a new pan-global government called the Order of Nations rose to quell the issues. Unfortunately, the new world order became a corrupt dictatorship, leading to splinter factions. Players in the Alpha could choose either the Liberation Front, described as a more grassroots, pro-freedom, defense-oriented organization; or the Shadow Revolution, a former bloc of the Order of Nations that seeks to clean up the mess with advanced weaponry focused on both offense and quick strikes. The two factions are further customized by two sub-orders that specialize their units to certain tasks; for example, the Phantom specialization of the Shadow Revolution has additional units that can stealth and are optimal in hit-and-run missions. The Order of Nations is still very much a player in the conflict, and acts as the third faction controlled by the computer. The maps available included matches between player factions, matches between a player and the computer, and matches with everyone.
EoN follows the rock-paper-scissors rules found in most RTS games (ie, infantry with rockets bring down aircraft, aircraft safely down tanks, and tanks squish infantry), although they are switching it up by adding two other counters to this and calling it a rock-paper-scissors-lizards-Spock set-up. To organize the different types of units, a player creates different companies with select amounts of units. In the Alpha, each unit had a cost (for example, weak ground troops being 75-90, and heavy tanks being 130+) and a company could consist of any combination up to 1000 resources. This leads to some issues as well; the descriptions of the strengths and weaknesses of each unit are somewhat vague. For example, helicopters worked fine to take out tanks because it turns out tanks can't even target them; but they also cannot capture strategic points. Both of these points had to be explained outside of the game because nothing was written about it inside!
The first battle I tried was called Operation: Last Stand. Taking place in what used to be Korea, the objective is laid out in the name: it's a match to survive as long as possible. The Order of Nations constantly sends waves of attackers toward a strategic point, so the goal is to survive as long as possible (I believe Trion said the record that day was over 30 waves… I made it to 10. Hey, remember how I said it was a tough learning curve?). At the same time the match is also a competition; the map is divided, but an opposing player is placed on the other side doing the same thing. There are some neutral resource hubs; ones that increase unit production are denoted by dollar signs, while one placed halfway between both players allows for an airstrike (either against the incoming waves or on your enemy's position). The game ended relatively fast; and the winner received about five times the experience as the loser… but I least I got some!
The experience actually ties into the traditional MMO aspect. Players level up their commanders through experience; higher levels allow more tech bonuses on their tech trees to be unlocked. It also seems that players are grouped against opponents at or around their level, so you won't have a level 7 commander facing a level 1. The tech trees right now are VERY basic; while the graphics are in, the descriptions are not except for some of the lowest tier. My two available tech bonuses were some mines and a helicopter unit; the helicopter seemed like nothing special, but properly placed mines actually could take down most of the health on a heavy tank!