Updated Wed, Feb 29, 2012 by B. de la Durantaye
It's no secret that Strategy Games have seen more popular days. That's not to say there isn't a large segment of gamers that still enjoys these games to the fullest, but let's face it, there hasn't been much growth in that particular genre since StarCraft as more and more start turning to the MOBA-style games. Petroglyph, on the other hand, wants to change all that and bring new life back into the strategy game circle with its upcoming free-to-play title, End of Nations.
If anyone can bring more interest back to the genre, Petroglyph would be among them. Having been at the helm for giant successes like the Command and Conquer series, these guys know their strategy games. The team is also well aware that it will take something new to reinvigorate the genre and thus they have melded together two popular gaming types in their own rights-- the MMOG and the Strategy game.
So how does it play out?
We recently had some nice lengthy hands-on time with the game to check it out. Admittedly, I'm far more of a MMOGer than I am an RTS guru so my teammates were about to have to carry me. But I wanted to check out the game for myself and see how much of the MMOG made it into the game and also to see if this game had any legs.
The idea behind End of Nations is to create what Petroglyph calls a "Massive Persistent Strategy." Players will build their own companies, or loadouts, which are compiled of units. There is a budget per company and each unit has its own cost. So even though there is plenty of flexibility in the makeup of the company considerations need to be carefully made. The strategy starts here as players will decide what kind of company they want to build and determine the best units for that strategy. Every unit has a different ability and a different damage type so it's up to the player to decide how varied or focused they want their company to be. There are four tiers of units players can unlock as they level up. Conveniently players have up to three companies available to them that they are able to switch between on the fly within the game. So if one particular build doesn't seem to be working well for the map you're playing or the teammates you're playing with, you do have the option to switch off to a different company, receiving some in-game monetary reimbursement for dismissing your original units.
Once you have your company built you are able to select the company skin. These skins are as varied as they come providing no shortage of options for customization. Once built and skinned the player is then put into the game world which is a world at war. The world is a recognizable one being divided into the existing regions and countries of our own world. As the player hovers over different areas of the world they are able to select which map, or playfield, they wish to join.
Petroglyph has designed a multitude of different game types on these maps and we were only able to get a small taste during our hands-on time. Some of these maps will support up to 56 players. Some maps are Player vs. Player while others are Player vs. AI. This gets particularly intriguing as players end up playing cooperatively in most maps, whether it be against other players on an opposing team or against the computer controlled AI. This is one of the newer elements to the genre which is complimented by the MMO-style progression within the game.
As a player fights in the various maps they will earn experience which they can then use to build up their own tech tree which in turn makes them more powerful. The player development from this angle is quite new to the Strategy space and should offer some more incentives to keep players coming back for more.
The first map we played was called Operation Last Stand. In this map we were pitted against a single other player for a 1v1 game. However the rules were not what one would necessarily expect. Instead of fighting each other the goal was instead to survive the longest against the computer AI as wave after wave of enemies were sent to infiltrate each base. The player who survived the most waves won.
The flavor to the map came from control points which were able to be commandeered by the players themselves. And, should they desire, they could opt to spend their time and resources trying to sabotage the other player's chances at survival. Alternatively one could choose just to hold their ground and see who was the most resilient. These kinds of options are important to a Strategy Game as it allows the player to develop their own methods and play styles.
Later we moved on to a 24 player map consisting of four control points. The goal here was to control as many points as we could. It's a familiar concept but again more flavor was added by providing various optional resources which could be fought over for faster cash gain (in turn allowing us to build and respawn faster) or even control points which would allow an alternate respawn point which was closer to our goals.
It became quite clear quite fast that teamwork was the name of the game in this map. Some of us opted to wander around on our own and inevitably met our doom swiftly. Once we started playing together, though, we were able to build stronger strategies for better defense and even make some powerful offensive moves. We were still clearly outmatched by the other team due to our level of experience (I'm guessing!) but seeing our progress and evolution as a team lifted our spirits.
My newbism was impossible to hide and I had admittedly felt a bit overwhelmed early in the play session (again, having rarely played a strategy game) so I asked Petroglyph what kind of tutorials the game will offer at launch.
There will be two different tutorial campaigns to familiarize players with the game. One of these campaigns will introduce players to the basic mechanics and game play, which is tailored for players like me who have had little experience with Strategy Games, while the other training campaign will be designed to introduce players to the differences of End of Nations from the other Strategy Games they may have played in the past. Both of these campaigns will be replayable at any time and are, in fact, a great way to try out new company loadouts and mods (modifications to your units which provide additional power or abilities).
The game is being designed from the ground up as a free-to-play game but emphatically not a pay-to-win game. All items and customizations will be available to all players. Petroglyph aims to have this encourage a wide array of players from the broke student who has more time than money to the working dad who may only have a few hours to play on a weekend.
So does End of Nations have what it takes to bring popularity back to the Strategy game? It's a wise decision for Petroglyph to add in MMO components to make the genre a bit more social and progressive. This could potentially appeal to a larger crowd than just the MMOGers or just the Strategists. Realistically though, there will probably be a window between the two where the game will find its sweet spot offering appeal to players who enjoy elements of both game genres. Players from both camps may be uncertain at first, but being a free game, there will be no reason not to check it out to see for oneself.
End of Nations is slated for closed beta this Spring with open beta coming this summer. The projected launch of the game is aimed at this winter, after which regular updates and content will be maintained and added to the live game.