Trion Worlds' End of Nations is absurdly ambitious, but that's sort of how that developer rolls. With Rift, Trion proved it was more than capable entering into the highly-competitive world of online gaming and succeeding, a feat it hopes to repeat with its upcoming free-to-play real-time strategy game.
And, at face value, that's just what End of Nations looks like - a fairly typical RTS, with tanks, infantry, helicopters, and everything else you've come to expect from games like Command & Conquer. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface lies a massive persistent strategy game, and one we had a chance to see at a recent event.
Above: The developers promise the free-to-play model isn't "pay-for-power"
The first map we played didn't do much in terms of flexing End of Nations' massively persistent muscle. Instead, it taught us the fundamentals by having us hold out against waves of enemies while our opponent did the same. We couldn't directly interact with our foe, but we could spend money to send extra units their way, making their "Horde mode" even more difficult. It wasn't all that remarkable in and of itself, but it did a serviceable job of teaching us the mechanics by allowing us to experiment with our different units and learn how to use their unique abilities. Every unit type has its own skill that can be activated by clicking the appropriate icon, and using the infantry's grenade or the tank's heavy shot at the right time was essential to turning the tide of a battle.
But for as much fun as the one on one level was, it wasn't until we saw a big map that we finally realized what End of Nations really was.
This time we were put on teams of twelve. Yes, that's right, twelve on twelve in an RTS. Overall there were 24 players, each controlling their own arms of dozens of units, marching all over the map. It felt more… familiar than we expected. We thought it would play unlike anything we’d ever experienced, but in reality, it just ended up feeling like a massive game of League of Legends/Heroes of Newerth/Dota 2/Demigod/etc. It was a MOBA, even if it didn't realize it.
Above: This is a "small" battle in End of Nations
And once we realized this, we started to notice the key tenants of the MOBA genre: there were a few different clearly-defined lanes, there were capturable bases that gave bonuses to our team, there were turrets placed in strategic locations, and there was an enemy base that needed to be destroyed. Our cluster of units, hand-picked and designed before the game started, serve as our Champion, marching around the map in one large clump. Each unit type's unique ability ended up acting like our MOBA Champion’s ability – we’d find a group of foes and start taking them down, coordinating with our allies to come help gank the enemy.
In fact, after we began to get used to the gameplay we started thinking about all of the different ways that it actually moves the MOBA genre forward. In small-scale games we were using a point-buy system to make an RTS army. In big games, we were customizing several different MOBA Champions that we could switch between during a match. The customization options are robust, letting us not only paint and skin our company of units (with skins ranging from robotic to patriotic to bacon), but create a few different companies of units that we could switch around during the match. Getting beat up by the guy with a bunch of helicopters? It's cool, just switch to your anti-air group once your current group is taken out.
Above: We prefer the "bacon" skin to this blue one
There weren’t nonstop waves of minions causing the constant stalemate in the center of the map because there didn’t need to be. We were essentially filling that role from time to time, attacking enemies in the middle of the map to draw attention away from our allies’ actions. And it... worked. It really did.
At this scale – the scale End of Nations is meant to be played at – everything fell into place surprisingly well. It suddenly made sense why there weren’t any absurdly deep mechanics. It made sense why there weren’t tank physics or cover. End of Nations isn’t about the micro, it’s all about the macro, because your army isn’t really a bunch of different units, even if it looks like that. It's one big, fat, customizable unit masquerading as an army, and we can't wait to dig in more when the game releases.
End of Nations is due out later this year, with a release scheduled for the fall. You'll get a chance to play before that, however as an open beta is scheduled for the summer, giving you a chance to check out the free-to-play massive persistent strategy game yourself.