Over the years, we’ve seen many different types (read, sub-genres) of RTS published. Some of the big ones, of course, have been Blizzard’s StarCraft and WarCraft games, though Command and Conquer Generals, Company of Heroes, Warhammer: Dawn of War and Dawn of War 2, Supreme Commander, Civilization and others have also seen their time in the spotlight.
Now, Trion Worlds (developer of the critically acclaimed and much-loved MMORPG Rift) and Petroglyph (developer of Star Wars: Empire at War and the spiritual descendants of Command and Conquer developer Westwood Studio) are working on a new and exciting addition to the Real Time Strategy lineup, End of Nations.
I’m here to tell you why you should be excited about this game.
A Brief Introduction
First off, let’s explain briefly what End of Nations will be. According to the official site, the game is: “End of Nations™ is a groundbreaking new MMORTS where you fight monumental battles for global control of a massive, persistent world.” We can expound on that, a little:
- It will be an MMORTS. This is one of the holy grails of gaming, something that’s been often attempted, but seldom if ever successful. I think this game will pull it off, but we’ll deal with the specifics of this in the rest of the article
- It will be somewhat similar to games like Dawn of War 2 or Company of Heroes in gameplay. Obviously, we don’t have too many specifics yet, but from what we’ve seen, this seems at least the ballpark we’re looking at. I cover the broad strokes of this game type a little more in the next section, and I’ll follow-up later on with some specific things we’ve learned from their promotional material.
- It will have a RISK-type conquer the world metagame. I touch on this below.
- There will be 2 factions, each with 2 classes. Not a lot has been revealed thus far, but we’ve been promised that even within classes, there will be room for variations and specialization.
- It will be free to play! I see this as purely a good thing. Some may have reservations, but I’m confident that, as they promise, “Free to Play” won’t mean “Pay to Win.” Once they release more details, we can comment more about this. But, at the very least, it will get people into the game. And I think we’ll see people stay.
- Here’s a link to the EoN YouTube channel for more info: http://www.youtube.com/user/EndOfNations?feature=watch
Before moving on, here’s a somewhat dated example of gameplay recorded by commentator Totalbiscuit:
The Evolution of the RTS
As the Real Time Strategy Genre has evolved, we have seen a number of design philosophies grow to maturity. The first obvious category of RTS games we have seen is the StarCraft style game, the ultimate examples of which is, of course, StarCraft. Whether you think Brood War or StarCraft 2 is the best example of this type of game is irrelevant: this type of game has taken the lion’s share of attention lately. Its model is relatively easy to learn, and rewards both macroeconomic (that is, economy management or “macro”) and unit control (“micro”) while placing some emphasis on map control and army composition. This type of game typically favors a “soft-counter” system where units of various types have advantages against each other, but seldom overwhelming ones.
There are other genres and sub-genres of RTS that we could mention: the Command and Conquer model, which in a way is similar to the StarCraft model, though it attempts to streamline the economy and base-management, and adds in global special abilities and/or superweapons. The Total Annihilation/Supreme Commander model is another take on this idea, that emphasizes the importance of macro-style play, map control, and adds in some truly exponential economy and unit power scales.
We have also seen in recent years the Civilization model regain some popularity, and the 4x sub-genre is hanging in there with Sins of a Solar Empire.
But there is another philosophy for RTS gaming that has never quite seemed to take off in the same way. I’ll call it the Company of Heroes model, for the time being. It features objective-based multiplayer, a focus on specific roles for teammates within a battle, and a much more obvious emphasis on army composition and map control than other games in the RTS genre.
Some of the games which have attempted to use this model are: World in Conflict (though this is technically a Real-Time Tactics game), Company of Heroes, Warhammer: Dawn of War 2, and (I almost hate to mention this game in this context) Command and Conquer 4. Despite what you may think of any of these games, they do share some similarities:
- Objective-based multiplayer, focused on controlling points around the arena
- A focus on team-based play in games past 1v1 with teammates generally taking roles within the conflict (Company of Heroes exemplifies this model very well)
- Hard-Counters. As differentiated from StarCraft, where a marine with a rifle can conceivably take out a tank or a capital ship, this type of game typically utilizes a “hard counter” system where specific unit types demand an appropriate response. In Dawn of War 2, for example, vehicles almost cannot be killed without anti-vehicle weaponry, and in Command and Conquer 4, where turrets are very cost-inefficient to take out without specific anti-building weapons.
- A direct correlation between map control and victory. As my first point mentioned, points around the map earn score that leads to victory. In some games, like Dawn of War 2, other points earn resources of various types, as well.
If it’s not already obvious, I should mention that, based on what we’ve been told about End of Nations, it will be this third type of game. Here’s a clip from their video series, called Warfront, which details the control point system:
It’s also pretty obvious by now, I think, that I really enjoy this third type of game, and I feel that End of Nations will be the ultimate paragon of this genre. Let’s explore why.
A Company that Knows RTS, and a Company That Knows MMO
Looking at the development team alone is reason to get kind of amped about End of Nations. Trion’s flagship game Rift has been well received, and still has a relatively large following almost a year after launch. It’s not authoritative, but the game is currently #41 on Xfire’s most played games. Trion might not have a lot of experience, but they certainly seem to know what they’re doing. And I’m constantly hearing good things from Rift players about Trion’s customer support, which is a big deal for both MMOs and RTSes.
The developer, Petroglyph, is composed of the spiritual successors to Westwood, the developer of every Command and Conquer game through Generals. They’ve had some ambitious projects over the years, from Star Wars: Empire at War to Xbox Live titles, turn-based strategy games and a MOBA game. They are constantly testing the boundaries of the RTS genre.
Team-Based Play and a Persistent Metagame
I said it before, and I’ll say it again: the CoHo (company of heroes) model really lends itself to team play. The developers of the game realize this, and they’re monopolizing on it: as of this writing, the game plans to support matches of up to 26 vs 26 (though I’ve seen from 25 vs 25 to 28 vs 28). Now, this is quite an ambitious plan, I recognize. They’re taking a little bit of a chance in planning for such high numbers in their community. But I like that! Games like this should be ambitious, or else they’ll end up being boring and suffer the fate of Command and Conquer 4. Plus, it’s not like every match will be 52 players. I’m sure most of the matches will be 1v1 through 4v4, and we’ll see a lower number of matchups requiring more than 8 to 10 players.
We’ll also see a persistent metagame in the “conquer the world” or “RISK” type. This also gives End of Nations an advantage over more modest RTS offerings: persistent fighting for control of the in-game world. It’s an idea I’ve seen implemented before in RTS games, though mostly it’s a single-player mode. I’m excited to see it implemented on a scale of this size. Below is a video which details the system somewhat:
Of particular interest to me is the phrase “You can spy on a battle anywhere in the world at any time and deploy your forces to help your friends or turn the tide of battle to your faction’s advantage” This is hinting at a system whereby players can enter and leave battles, perhaps in preparation for potential issues with team games and the mentioned “mega-maps” where players dropping could cause lots of problems.
We’ve also been told that there will be a variety of game modes and play styles from single player PvE to 1v1 PvP to something they’re calling PvEvP or Player vs Environment vs Player, which will consist of 2 player teams competing against one or more NPC teams to complete their objective. I’ll talk a little more about this in the next section, though:
The Ultimate Game of its Type
Company of Heroes, Dawn of War 2 and even the much-maligned Command and Conquer 4 have all tried their take on this model. Even World in Conflict, though it is classified as a Real-Time Tactics game, promises to be similar to the gameplay model that Trion has hinted to us.
There have been various and sundry problems with this model, but from what I’ve seen the 2 biggest ones are 1) balance issues that aren’t corrected quickly enough and 2) lack of variation in play. End of Nations, as an explicitly stated MMORTS, should have the resources in place to correct both of these problems.
The first problem is a big one. It has killed many RTS games from publishers large to small, of all subgenres. But I feel confident that Trion and Petroglyph have the wherewithal to make it work. Petroglyph and Trion have quite a bit of practice now in developing MMOs, RTSes, and the associated work of scheduling and prioritizing patches. I’m honestly a little nervous about this aspect, but if they can master this, I think the game will be a huge success.
The second problem is more manageable, and it’s here that I’m most enthusiastic. Aside from what many saw as twisting a beloved IP, one of the major failings of Command and Conquer 4 was its limited scope. There was 1 game mode, and fewer than 20 (probably closer to 7 or 8?) official multiplayer maps, all optimized for 5v5 play. Dawn of War 2 was somewhat better, with it’s “Last Stand” mode and an emphasis on 1v1, but we’ve not seen a tactical RTS take full advantage yet of the freedom and flexibility that this model can afford.
Reading between the lines of the hints we’ve received, I think that Trion and Petroglyph have realized this. Ladder matches and tournaments are great for StarCraft 2, but even that game has seen huge love from the modding community as more casual gamers get fed up with the high stress of the daily ladder and look for tower defense, horde mode and other more casual or cooperative play options. From what I’ve seen, we’ll see more than just the standard “area control” that has been announced. I, obviously, don’t know what else we’ll see, but I’m prepared to be proven right in the coming weeks and months.
Well, crap. This ended up being somewhat longer than I had intended. To summarize, let me just say this:
End of Nations is an ambitious project which is being collaborated on by 2 excellent game development companies. It will apparently be a tactical RTS with an in-depth and complex metagame component. It will have (from what I’ve seen in the comics) an excellent backstory in a rich near-future sci-fi world. I expect it to have a lot for players of all persuasions to do and benefit from.
So, I’m excited, and I hope you are too.