First-person shooter meets strategy is a confusing concept. But having seen how Heroes & Generals plays, it's one that just might work. It's World War 2, it's Axis vs. Allies, and it's going to take months to win.
H&G is, at its core, a shooter. Played via a plugin through your browser, most the people playing it will be taking part in an epic first-person shooter that will last for weeks or months, over dozens and dozens of cities. They are the Heroes. The Generals will be far fewer in number, sitting in tents high above the battle, issuing orders via an RTS map, with other humans as their units.
One teams starts in London, the other in Berlin, and then in a history-ignoring fashion they race to reach the other's capital and take it over. Along the way they've got the vast stretches of Europe to cover, as each side attempts to dominate and advance the battle lines. It's fairly familiar territory for multiplayer shooters, but writ enormous.
A new player will begin the game in battle. The first time you play, you play the shooter, until a battle is over. At that point you can then choose to specialise. Do you want to be a rifleman, fighter pilot, infantry, tank driver? Or do you want to be a General? Or both? As a General, you'll first have to purchase an assault team, then you'll be assigning the rest of the players into the battles, with limited numbers of slots available. For instance, a fight may have 75 spawn tickets for soldiers, totalling the number of times an infantryman can enter the battle, with lower numbers limiting how many can play at any one time. But perhaps you need tanks for this particular battle - so you need to send tank units from another captured territory across on your RTS map, which once arrived will open up spawn slots for those too.
With a tank, for instance, you'll need two-man crews, with a total of three tanks available at once, each able to spawn five times. 15 spawn tickets for the battle, which for the Heroes act as lives. Thus as a General, you're constantly generating multiplayer matches for the rest of the players.
As a player you'll be restricted to playing as one side for the entirety of the war, but persistence means you'll be able to significantly upgrade your soldiers via in-game credits, letting you buy new weapons and improvements. (It's at this point, where soldiers have to buy their own weapons, that the complete disregard for historical simulation becomes most clear.)
Generals will also be able to upgrade their abilities via play, with the aim to become favoured by players. And Generals will be able to team up with their counterparts in the same war, working together to launch large attacks on the enemy.
Of course, being free-to-play, there will be incentives to purchase upgrades too. But here's the really awesome thing - developers Reto-Moto are describing H&G as a "social F2P", with an emphasis on aiding others rather than yourself. If you spend money on enhancements, they'll be things that improve the game for others playing with you, rather than just a stat boost for yourself. A General who gets extras will be better for Heroes to serve under, giving those shooter players a better game. Heroes too will be able to upgrade weapons and the like, but this is to be balanced in a rock/paper/scissors fashion, where improvements in one direction will cause weaknesses in others. The idea being that you can't spend your way to winning, but rather specialisation.
This of course asks some significant questions. Questions like, what if my team attacks an enemy's city when the enemy isn't online? To which the answer is currently, they lose that city. Which sounds problematic to me. And if no players turn up for either side, battles with auto-resolve themselves. This sounds like it has the potential to frustrate, but with a beta currently taking place with 20,000 players, hopefully this is being worked out as we speak.
Also, how are they going to balance the distribution of Generals? Currently they're limited to being no more than 20% of the total number of players, which sounds exceedingly high to me. Four Heroes to every General doesn't sound nearly enough, but again, there's plenty of time for this to be worked out.
The role of General is also to get a lot more involved, with the top ten in any war getting a more senior position that allows them to control the overall resources available to a faction. A lower ranked general can appeal for more resources for their part of the effort, and be provided or refused by these boss types.
Currently there are five multiplayer maps in the game, with larger cities being made up of multiple maps to completely take over. Five really doesn't sound like enough to me, considering the vast scale of a war - that could get pretty repetitive, and hopefully they'll keep adding more.
But rather interestingly, victory conditions for wars won't always be about capturing the opposing capital. Inspired by Risk, it will also be possible to begin campaigns with specific conditions set, meaning sides will have their efforts focused in different ways, adding a significant degree of variety. And clans will be able to start private wars - something that should deal with a lot of the issues mentioned above.
There are plans to add in other nations, perhaps an Italian or Russian army, as well as the potential for bots to make up for imbalanced fights. They also hope to add in stealth play to battles, and even AI dogs used to clear out buildings. In other words, it feels like a work in progress. Oh, and there's already an iOS app that allows Generals to play their portion of the game on the move, which strikes me as a brilliant decision.
The whole thing goes into open beta in a few months, at which point the game will be considered launched. Until then, here's hoping a few more maps can be added, and the balancing figured out by the hefty closed beta. It's certainly a very interesting approach to a new cross-genre.