The Beginning of the End: Our First Hands-On Preview of End of Nations
Ton Hammer recently spent some time in the trenches with style="font-style: italic;">End of Nations,
the ambitious near-future MMORTS project from Petroglyph Entertainment
and Trion Worlds. With us were Senior Producer Chris Lena ( style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest,
Online), Petroglyph President
Mike Legg (Command
& Conquer series, style="font-style: italic;">Star Wars: Empire at War)
, and Executive Producer Gary Wagner ( style="font-style: italic;">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. style="font-style: italic;">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 style="font-style: italic;">End of Nations
and share the experience with our readers.
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
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 style="font-style: italic;">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
the War Room!
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 style="font-style: italic;">End of Nations
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.
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 style="font-style: italic;">EVE Online.
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 style="font-style: italic;">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 href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/events/e3/2010/eon-preview"
and the href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/end_of_nations/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
We moved on to Oman, a level 50 PvE area in the Middle East that put
our newly learned skills to the test. While the unit mix
didn’t seem all that different (we were playing with pre-made
templates) we had a lot more abilities, and enemy units seemed to
respond much more intelligently (by fleeing towards allied units when
low on hitpoints, for example).
In Oman we also encountered tougher unit types, such as Shadow Brigade
units (which had substantially more hitpoints and offensive capability
than comparable units - sort of EoN’s take on elite or heroic
mobs), and a Panzer Hulk, a mammoth war machine with dozens of
individual hitpoint bars.
Oman in general required much more group coordination for success than
Magadan, and that makes a whole lot of sense. I would have been
disappointed had this co-op RTS experience been do-able at high levels
with lone wolves. That said, I’d have rather seen it as a
demo because like any endgame encounter approached with a stock group
of newbs, Oman was flustering. Without much in the way of unit saavy or
group cohesion, our group spent most of its time chasing itself and
being torn up by actively patrolling enemy groups.
By the time we actually rallied, our unit sets were ragged ghosts of
their former selves. I watched my units picked off one by one
more than once, and when my set was totally wiped, I’d
respawn at the starting point and have to go group chasing yet again.
Thankfully, Gary explained that group-friendly systems like mission
sharing are on the way.
We finished out the day with some 5v5 PvP action on the rainy Ground
Assault map. PvP is a separate beast from the ongoing war with Order of
Nations on the World Map: it wouldn’t do to have Rebellion
forces wasting precious resources fighting each other. Lore-wise, PvP
is a chance to hone your skills in simulated battles against opponents,
and as occasionally frustrating as high-level PvE was, PvP was just as
Ground Assault was a standard point capture map: two teams fought for
control of five objectives, and scores tick upward faster corresponding
to the number of objectives (and size of the objectives) a team holds.
Visually it was a winner - tank headlights reflected on the saturated
ground and rain streaked over the airfields, bunkers, resource areas,
and sprawling center fortress.
For a twist, a nuclear weapon randomly spawned at one of the resource
bases and, when used, was just as spectacular as you might suspect.
Clear across the map, the screen went white, and a billowing mushroom
cloud formed over the remains of someone’s unit convoy. Win
button? Pretty much, especially if the same team happens to come across
it a few times in a row. But the nuke can be a game-changer if the
losing team can grab it and use it judiciously.
style="font-style: italic;">End of Nations
is already a stunner. It’s become cliche to say that
environments tell the story, but in style="font-style: italic;">EoN,
environments tell the story of a what the next world war might look
like, should the superpowers stop just short of pressing the big red
button. Crash sites, bomb craters, beached battleships, ancient
fortresses modernized with turrets and anti-vehicle dragonteeth
emplacements, rundown airstrips, decrepit windfarms, and many more
recent relics dot the landscape. And the level of detail is exquisite -
rolling tanks leave tread marks which fade very slowly and tank
headlights flick on in rainy or dark environments.
The UI is a point of concern at the moment, but it nearly always is at
this point in a game’s development and should improve
drastically with beta, given Petroglyph's attentiveness to even our
early feedback. That said, there are major problems here. The buttons
are far too small, and the icons, while distinct, fail to readily
describe the effect of the ability. On the map, yellow select boxes
appear beneath your allied players’ units and also
AI-controlled allied units, making it difficult in passing to see whose
units you should aid. Objective arrows appear and disappear for
seemingly no reason, and both the minimap and full map are fairly
inarticulate about mission objectives.
On gameplay, style="font-style: italic;">End of Nations
faces the same problem that most run-and-gun style online games on big
maps face: it’s incredibly hard to stick together and
effectively work together as a group. With enemy groups attacking
nearly constantly, there’s little time to rest and use one of
the rejuvenate abilitiess (to bring back destroyed units) or use repair
drones, then chat about what to blow up next. As a consequence, some
form of voicechat will be required for style="font-style: italic;">EoN,
as might a group of trusted friends for higher level content.
One thing is absolutely certain from my experience of style="font-style: italic;">End of Nations:
as a co-op large scale MMORTS and as an accessible online PvP game, its
got some rough edges, but it definitely works. Targetted for a 2011
launch, Petroglyph and Trion Worlds have plenty of time to focus on the
game’s current quibbles, and I know I’m not alone
in saying I can’t wait to see more of the game as it
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our End of Nations Game Page.