Race to the Finish: End of Nations

Petroglyph and Trion Worlds are close to releasing End Of Nations, and they are hoping that it will change things for the MMORTS genre. Seeing the game at Gamescom has given us some clues as to whether they are going to realise that dream.

Conceptually, strategy MMOs, to put it kindly, have been screwed in the head. Designers have always been so keen to create a huge, persistent strategy world where anyone can win long-term that they’ve forgotten that this means everyone else loses long-term. Most of them have turned out to be officially Not Much Fun At All. Developers have also neglected the micro-battles, if they’ve included them at all, focusing more on the wider sweep of grand political gameplay. I’m thinking Time of Defiance, Dreamlords, and the rest.

What Petroglyph (the guys behind Star Wars: Empire at War, and the original core of the Westwood team who made Dune 2 and Command & Conquer) have realised is that a) like Total War, the battles need to be damn good in and of themselves b) they themselves have lots of experience with a pretty compelling small-scale battle simulation c) those DOTA arena battle games are doing really, really well (look at League of Legend’s $5 million cash prize for evidence) d) people didn’t mind so much about Planetside’s endless back-and-forth metagame, as long as they had fun and kept levelling up e) no-one wants to pay to play. So End of Nations is a RTS that Frankensteins all those bits together.

We got a demo at GamesCom from Mike Legg, co-founder of Petroglyph. The first thing to notice is that the game is solidly attractive, with a classic over-designed C&C style GUI, replete with glowy technical bits, pulsating wiring and huge logos. In-game, it’s not spectacular but it has that solid ‘flat battlefield with 3D models thing’ that C&C has done so well. Occasionally, the team drop us down to a horizon-level camera, to show off how neatly-animated the game is, not that anyone will play the game at anything except maximum zoom. The units are trad-C&C overblown ideas, so a War-Walker thing called a Guardian, supposedly 16 feet high, has a chaingun as big as itself.

The backstory is set fifty years in the future, after a world economic collapse (fifty years might be optimistic – Pessimism Ed), so basically all governments have crumbled. The United Nations has turned into a tyrannical dictatorship called The Order of Nations, regularly disappearing enemies of the state with no compunctions. Notably, players can’t play as the UN; you only play as one of two resistance movements, the Liberation Front or the Shadow Revolution, seeking to overthrow the UN and establish a new world order along the lines of their own agenda.

Each rebel faction has different commander classes to play as – the Liberation Front have the Patriot and Spartan classes, and the Shadow Revolution have the Wraith and Phantom classes – each of which has access to different starting units and levels up in different ways, up to a max level of 30. Of course, each commander has access to a different tech tree – for example, the Spartan commander can unlock Titan tanks and Nuke turrets as he levels up, should he specialise that way.

There’s a wide variety of game modes included and available to all players – 2-50 player co-op, up to 26 vs 26 PvP, a story mode, a campaign – but the core gameplay shared by all of them is a simple RTS C&C-style multiplayer.

Looking at the world map, you can choose where to fight; when you do, it pops up a little briefing video giving you a background to the fighting in that area – what the target is, where the enemy are located, all the control points and the enemy headquarters. You get in-game money from capturing and holding points, which your fragile infantry specialise at. The battles are completely drop-in, drop-out, so players can rapidly shift to where the battle is being lost, pop out to change their unit line-up and so on. Different areas of the world map seem to have different battle maps, and the whole world can shift from one faction to another over the course of several hours. Usefully, you can see any clan members or friends online on the world map (and clans will be able to reserve spots for clan vs clan battles).

In-battle, you deploy up to twenty units you’ve selected from all those available to you; certain units, like the Titan tank or Ragnarok chopper, take up more unit slots by themselves. As you gain resources, you can deploy special weapons or order in replacements for units you’ve lost. Units take the classic rock-paper-shotgun structure and every unit has one special ability it can do – for example, the Guardian unit can lock himself down to improve his damage.

The battles we saw were extremely fluid; players advancing, dropping in turrets to defend choke-points, those turrets being nuked (along with most of their army) and them retreating, to be replaced by an ally who’d respawned his own army 30 seconds before. As you play you also earn in-battle money, which you can use to unlock these other elements. Also rare unit modifications (speed boost, attack power, defense augmentations, etc.) sometimes drop in battle, which can’t be bought but allow you to customise your army even more.

Again, like Tribes: Ascend, the mantra here is ‘no pay-to-win’. The Petroglyph guys were regularly confused about what they’d agreed they were and weren’t charging for, but we think they’re selling new skins for vehicles (we saw an astoundingly gaudy Team America look, a German flag and a disgusting bacon skin) and probably XP-boosters, but they don’t plan to restrict access to either maps or the higher levels of the game. These skins don’t preclude your own colour customization either, which you can do with every single unit.

End of Nations is dragging the DOTA game back to its strategy roots, plugging C&C’s endlessly-compelling multiplayer into a RPG structure and a wider metagame. With this set-up, being Free2Play is natural; but if this shift of every multiplayer genre into micropayments continues, we have to ask are all AAA games going to go this way?


  1. Askeladd says:

    Is 50 APM enough for this game? :/

    • Lev Astov says:

      50 APM is good enough for any RTS, as long as your tactics are good, and the game doesn’t have a horrendous UI.

    • Fiatil says:

      If you’re playing against the AI, sure. As this seems to be against other people, your opponent also probably has sound tactics and has an APM much higher than 50, as 50 is on the low low end of any kind of “competitive” rts (I’m not talking korean pro league, I’m talking higher than bronze league in starcraft as an example, or being able to win a decent amount of games in company of heroes). It’s like aiming in an FPS, you can have great tactics but you’ve still got to shoot the dude.

    • Sassenach says:

      Worrying that you are going up against the multiplayer RTS masterrace with their fingers blurring across keyboards shouldn’t be a real concern. 50 APM, in Starcraft 2 at least, is more then adequate to play middlingly well and I can’t foresee it being a limitation here. Having eliminated the monetary barrier to entry completely it would be foolish for developers to drop new players in at the deep end.

    • randomnine says:

      @Fiatil: hey, whoa. I’m in Diamond league in SC2 (EU) and I barely hit 100 apm on a good day. A good friend of mine is in Platinum with 50 apm. You don’t have to be superhuman to do OK :)

      In Starcraft 1 you definitely needed near 100apm just to macro well. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone these days would design an RTS with a UI that limited.

    • merakai says:

      The more you play, your APM will naturally increase (barring physical disabilities) so it should never be a problem. Executing a sound and efficient strategy and reacting correctly to your opponent is usually more important than how much control you can exert in most RTS’s (even in starcraft).

    • Groove says:

      @Fiatil: hey, whoa. I’m in Diamond league in SC2 (EU) and I barely hit 100 apm on a good day. A good friend of mine is in Platinum with 50 apm. You don’t have to be superhuman to do OK :)

      This. I was in diamond in season 1 with average APM around 60.

      In SCII anything over 100 is completely overkill unless you’re actually a professional player.

  2. TotalBiscuit says:

    For all intents and purposes the game is a drop-in/drop-out World in Conflict done in a Westwood style with PvE cooperative missions thrown in and a persistent meta-map. It’s what CnC4 should have turned into had it not been such a fucking mess.

    It’s good.

    • Askeladd says:

      Relevant: link to youtube.com

    • Dana says:

      Might be a good rts, but Im still not sure how 26v26 makes an MMO.

    • mojo says:

      26v26 for individual battles

    • Dominic White says:

      Yeah, there’s a whole global war deal going on. It’s just that individual fights can only go as high as 50 players. Which is still bigger than most MMO raids.

    • Dana says:

      But the “global war” has totally different mechanics, its not even on the game engine. Its just two different games strapped together. While WoW “World” and “Instance” work and play the same.

      By this reasoning you can attach meta in the browser to every game and make it an MMO.

      I thought MMOs were about one big world, in which every player could interact with one another, with eventual instances on top. Not the other way around.

  3. cliffski says:

    so is this a micro-transactions game? me confused…

  4. nimzy says:

    How’s this do with respect to Shattered Galaxy? Does it have utility units (healing, minelaying, radar (jamming), teleportation, transport)? Artillery? From what I’m reading it looks kind of similar.

    • Dominic White says:

      Yeah, the gameplay footage of mass PvP looks VERY like an updated Shattered Galaxy. This is a bloody good thing – a 50-player Shattered Galaxy with modern graphics would be rather lovely, in fact.

  5. Hexanol says:

    I wouldn’t describe Rock-Paper-Scisssors gameplay as ‘classic’. I’d describe it as ‘uninspired’.

    • GunFox says:

      I agree. Rock, paper, scissors combat is terrible. This is why the later CnC games have been utterly terrible. It is okay to have strengths against other units, but units in reality are rarely defenseless against stuff.

      Tanks can engage helicopters with the roof mounted MG’s. In fact that was a large part of why they were originally equipped with them.

      Helicopters can engage other helicopters and slow flying aircraft with cannons and many even carry light air to air missiles.

      Reality provides a general balance between units that is better than any developer could hope to achieve. Messing with it won’t accomplish anything except to weaken the entertainment value.

  6. mktlin says:

    link to goo.gl ,so good game! I hope everybody will like them

  7. Burning Man says:

    Dan Grilohbuggerit

    • Dozer says:

      GrilledOctopus. Dan are you still in America? Plenty of lawyers there who can help you change the spelling of your surname…

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      I really have considered changing my name, to save spelling it four or five times a day.

  8. mojo says:

    not sure how anything bacon related can be disgusting

  9. evilbobthebob says:

    What really matters is that they’ve balanced it well. From my previous experience of Petroglyph titles, they’re not great at that…

  10. Novack says:

    This review feels rather… technical.

  11. edwood_grant says:

    I do feel like this has some old flavour of like what would have been Shattered Galaxy if hasn’t been abandoned years ago and done well. Am I right?

    • Ranger33 says:

      This is exactly what I was thinking. Shattered Galaxy was so awesome back in the day, people actually worked as a team and had to apply solid strategy to win. I hope this game captures that same feel.

    • JPicasso says:

      Shattered Galaxy was an idea ahead of it’s time.
      I hope this game (or some others perhaps) can capture that feel.

  12. Droopy The Dog says:

    Reply fail

  13. jplayer01 says:

    Wow, just watched the TotalBiscuit preview and I’m blown away (just like I was with World in Conflict and Ground Control). It looks like fun. Unfortunately, simply by differentiating itself from the traditional RTS paradigm, it will probably disappear into obscurity like … World in Conflict and Ground Control. :'(

    • Grot_Punter says:

      Ground Control! How I would love for another to arrive in our dimension.

  14. Kollega says:

    Hm. Seems to me that the only case where free-to-play means something good rather than bad is this case right here, End of Nations. I wanted to try it out since it was announced – and now that i don’t have to pay a subscription fee to do that, it’s a good opportunity. My opinion on micropayment-fueled games was never too great, but as i am interested in this one, i just might give it a chance.

  15. Lev Astov says:

    I played this at PAX last year and was quite pleased with how it played. I’m definitely looking forward to the release, despite the glut of upcoming great games to play.

    I would also like to point out that what you call traditional C&C overblown units only seemed to start with C&C generals. The units in the traditional Westwood games, C&C, RA, and C&C:TS were quite reasonable, I though. I never played RA2, so I can’t speak for that one, but what I have seen of it didn’t look unreasonable. C&C 3 is where things started to get absurd, what with GDI’s triple barreled artillery on legs and whatnot.

    I’m a fan of the more reasonable but still awesome units of Tiberian Sun.

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      Red Alert 2 was eminently unreasonable by all conceivable standards. And the triple-barreled artillery on legs was in the Firestorm expansion for Tiberian Sun. (Which also had spider mechas that shot trap webs and cluster missiles.) And don’t forget the teleporting metal canisters of the original Red Alert. I’d say the C&C games have always been on a steady trajectory towards madness, increasing the sillines by increments with every game.

    • Post-Internet Syndrome says:

      And that is intended as a compliment by the way.

    • evilbobthebob says:

      There is one unit to rule them all, and that is the Mammoth Tank.

    • LionsPhil says:

      C&C1 was faaairly sensible, and I’d say the strongest of the bunch (in singleplayer). I think they mis-stepped badly moving away from their day-after-tommorrow-but-not-choked-with-realism feel. Although, Obelisk of Light.

      And RA1 was bleak. Some very “experimental” units (MAD tanks, for one), but the tone, especially in the FMV, was very much No Fun.

  16. westyfield says:

    “Units take the classic rock-paper-shotgun structure and every unit has one special ability it can do”

    So, RPSers, what are your special abilities?

    • LionsPhil says:

      My special ability is a dislike of RPS mechanics, because they make for dull, formulaic tactics.

    • DK says:

      It’s petroglyph. You’re lucky the units even have abilities at all. And you won’t be able to shift-queue commands or have units that aren’t utterly braindead either. It’s Petroglyph – so expect an RTS from 1995, with no updates beyond graphics.

    • LionsPhil says:

      You’re lucky the units even have abilities at all.

      That is not “lucky”. Manually-triggered “abilities” are a scourge on strategy games from the Starcraft click-frenzy croud and their “uber micro”.

      I want to use my brain, not my caffinated reflexes.

    • Grot_Punter says:

      So Kohan II? Were proper squad composition made or broke your formations in a way I’ve rarely seen in any RTS since? Because there’s really nothing like marauding around the map with an army comprised 6 squads of diverse undead units, with the archer squads being led by necromancers who would promptly and kindly summon skeletal bulwarks against any would-be flankers, all while the accompanying dark priests proceeded to drain the life of my foes and infuse it into my grim cavalry and ravenous ghouls.

    • Primar says:

      Yes, because any opportunity to change the outcome of a battle via better micromanagement and effective use of abilities is a bad thing.

      Let’s just select all our units and attack move at each other.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Watch where you’re waving that fallacy of false choice; you’ll have someone’s eye out.

    • BeamSplashX says:

      My special ability is turning into something I never asked for.

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