The lights are on
The concept sounds ridiculous. How do you make a real-time strategy game into an MMO? Trion and developer Petroglyph think they have the answers.Upon logging into End of Nations, you’re taken to a futuristic main display, where dozens of streams of information blast the status of the post-apocalyptic struggle between the fascist Order of Nations and the resistance. Two tickers give you updates from the world at large and a your friends and guildmates. Intel on everything from persistent PvP objectives to story-based cooperative missions and recent game updates is available at a flick of the mouse. To begin with, your headquarters beckons.Serving as your secret base, your HQ evolves along with you. Completing Xbox Live-like achievements gives you access to monuments, completing missions enables buildings, and leveling up grants you more space to erect both. Each gives you a passive bonus or active ability, whether it’s tactical airstrikes or improved tank armor. The units you collect (again, by leveling up and completing missions) live in the armory, ready to be painted before deployment. The HQ is a neat way to marry MMO persistence and progression to RTS sensibilities.Newbies aren’t completely hosed relative to advanced players. While the passive bonuses and better active commander abilities will give old-timers an advantage, the units you start with remain relevant in the same way that your starting M1 in Call of Duty is still an excellent weapon no matter what perks the opposition has.Deploying into a mission is simple, whether it’s choosing one from the main screen, clicking an item in the ticker from an ally requesting help, or going into your friends list and directly joining them in-game. Each mission has a deploy point limit, with newbie maps allowing perhaps 100 points worth of units and endgame content upwards of 10,000. The forces you choose now are all you get for the match, so choose wisely.Trion demoed one of End of Nations’ later PvE missions for us, and it showed off the impressive scale quite well despite only being a five-player map. This battle, which the developers expect to take between a 30 and 90 minutes to complete, is trench warfare on a tank scale. Working cooperatively, players have to ultimately take out a gun so enormous that it’s not even firing at this map – it’s shooting at your allies miles away. One path takes players past a captureable airfield that can launch airstrikes against the enemy emplacements. Another goes past a similarly beneficial side objective, while a third goes directly into the mouth of the beast. Whichever you choose, the carnage is constant. Artillery fires from across the map, enemy units constantly spawn and hunt your forces, and AI-controlled allies happily march into the meat grinder in a steady stream. However you reach the goal, an MMO-like boss fight awaits before you can disable the offending artillery. Petroglyph intends major encounters like this to have stages like any raid boss, and to require unusual strategies to defeat.End of Nations’ visuals are outstanding, even compared to the genre’s best. Vehicle headlights illuminate the ground realistically, casting shadows across uneven surfaces to give an impressive illusion of depth. Fire looks especially cool, throwing beautiful heat distortion around. The game’s scale, which has hundreds if not thousands of units all blowing the bejeezus out of each other on a single map, hasn’t come with much if any sacrifice when it comes to fidelity.There are roughly a billion questions about the nitty-gritty of executing an MMORTS, which can only be answered by diving into the game for about a week – a half-hour on the E3 show floor can barely scratch the surface of a title like this. What Trion has shown so far looks good, though, and I look forward to spending the necessary week (or likely more) with the game when it comes out some time in 2011.