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The Beginning of the End: Our First Hands-On Preview of End of Nations

Updated Wed, Aug 18, 2010 by Ethec

Ten Ton Hammer recently spent some time in the trenches with End of Nations, the ambitious near-future MMORTS project from Petroglyph Entertainment and Trion Worlds. With us were Senior Producer Chris Lena (EverQuest, Champions Online), Petroglyph President Mike Legg (Command & Conquer series, Star Wars: Empire at War) , and Executive Producer Gary Wagner (Supreme Commander).

During the demo, we created our characters and warmed up with some low level PvE play in Magadan (the demo area shown at E3 2010), continued with Oman (a level 50 PvE area), and ended the session with some 5v5 PvP on the never before seen Ground Assault map. End of Nations is still pre-beta, so this was an thrilling chance to be among the first to get our cordite-smelling hands on End of Nations and share the experience with our readers.

Roles of Engagement
End of Nations image
Sweet looking Artillery!
In End of Nations, player commanders belong to one of three distinct archetypes: Artillery, Tank Commander, and Assault. These archetypes affect not only the type of units available to a commander, but also his or her abilities (which progress and develop much like abilities in a typical RPG game). Though the three roles are nuanced and highly customizable, in general the three roles have something of a rock, paper, scissors relationship: tank beats assault, assault beats artillery, and artillery beats tank.

Artillery, as you might expect, deals damage from longer range than any other commander type and has a number of abilities that multiply the damage dealt, but artillery units are understandably slow and fragile when exposed to fire.

Assault units typically move quickly and fire while moving, but are fairly vulnerable to enemy fire. Gary noted that another game changing assault ability, the ability to go stealth, is still under discussion. Assault also seemed to have more group support abilities, especially repair skills.

Tank units are the most balanced class, able to take withering fire and respond in kind, but their ability sets aren’t quite as punishing as the other classes. For example, whereas one of a assault commander’s “superweapons” is a high altitude bombing run that decimates a huge chunk of the screen, the tank commander’s comparative superweapon is an A-10 Warthog’s column shaped hydra rocket assault. Both can be equally devastating if deployed correctly, but the abilities of the Assault and Artillery classes seemed to compensate for the difficulty of deploying the units effectively by allowing a slightly larger margin of error on the abilities.

Nevertheless, the tank commander was still the easiest archetype for a fat-thumbed EoN newbie like me, so tank was my role of choice. I chose an pre-fab avatar and a name, and just like that I was finished with character creation.

To the War Room!
End of Nations image
Time for war!
Upon logging in, we found ourselves in the “War Room,” which functioned both as an information conduit and gateway to the action. In essence the War Room is a lobby, but one with a slick cover-flow style interface.

While much of the screen was placeholder assets, Chris explained how the screen’s real estate would be used.  Players will be able to access statistics and leaderboards, watch games in progress, review current events, and jump into the World Map (where PvP and PvE encounters are displayed, along with a look at how the war against the Orwellian Order of Nations is progressing).

Along the top of the screen, we would be able to see Facebook-style updates on what our friends were doing in-game, and stretched along the bottom was a news channel-like ticker reporting critical events happening in real-time around the End of Nations world map.

Meanwhile, Back at HQ...
One of the tried-and-true methods to making the RTS genre accessible to a wider market is to move the base building and unit selection component of the game out of real-time combat. Otherwise, the tasks of building an army, defending your base, and accomplishing your combat objectives can feel pretty daunting.

The End of Nations solution was to give you a base in instanced locations you purchase (these varied in scenic beauty from desert wastelands to tropical paradises) and let you rotate and place structures within your base, from airstrips to R&D labs to gunnery ranges. Each structure contributes to your combat readiness - for example, an air strip might govern the size and frequency of the air assaults you can call in. The Armory is the core of every HQ, and this is where you can put together the sets of units you take into battle and customize their primary and secondary colors.

We couldn’t interact with the headquarters buildings in the demo build we played, but we did learn about one aspect of HQs that we hadn’t heard before. R&D buildings will research new abilities and upgrades using a real-time basis, much like research or blueprinting works in EVE Online.

Magadan
End of Nations image
Magadan firefight.
For basic training, we pulled up the World Map and joined a battle raging in Magadan on the eastern coastline of Russia. If you’ve been following End of Nations so far, you know that Magadan was the first area demoed for the game, and it was fun to check out in person what we’ve seen on the screens at E3 and the March reveal.

The user interface mixes RTS and MMORPG elements. With a chatbox hovering above,  players have an RPGish set of hotbars sporting your hotkey-mapped abilities on the left and units (and their health) listed in boxes on the right-hand hotbar.

Also like an RTS, players can create sub-groups - Crtl+1, Crtl+2, and so on. But why is such granular control necessary when you only are working with a dozen or so units? We soon found out that different units move at different speeds. For example, every Commander class has an Uplink unit that has very limited (if any) offensive capability and moves very slowly. Despite that, this unit is hard to live without in PvP because it prevents your opponent from calling down a superweapon assault within a certain radius. A wise commander keeps slower, heavy hitting units together while using faster units.

In Magadan, we also explored a bit of EoN’s mission system. Mission starters were scattered around the port area, and one of the first missions required me to tag an Order of Nations blockade on a nearby bridge for an airassault. Having done so, new orders were radioed to me directly. Not requiring players to backtrack to complete mission objectives should be MMO 101 by now, and it’s nice to see that this (among a host of niceties) made the cross-genre transition.


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