End of Nations – Preview
by Mark R
For someone who has, quite openly, avoided venturing anywhere near the waters of any sub-genre of the MMO, never mind actually getting their toes wet, End of Nations has somehow continued to spark more than a mere glimmer of interest. As a lover of the Command & Conquer series, thanks to a somewhat surprising christmas gift when the original C&C came out, the increased defiling of the franchise by EA has meant that I am no longer able to satisfy my desire for the RTS, but End Of Nations looks to put an end to this inspirational drought, and then some.
Created by Petroglyph Games – which was born out of the ashes of the great Westwood Studios after EA acquired them from Virgin Interactive in 1998, and subsequently closed them down in 2003 – End of Nations bears more than a passing resemblance to the familiar art and gameplay style of the Command & Conquer series. It could be argued, in fact, that End of Nations is simply a side-stepping reboot on a much grander scale, and with none of the peer to peer issues that many experienced with both the Westwood and, eventually, the EA servers. This can only be a good thing, and if there’s any studio equipped to carry the torch of the much-loved RTS style through to the MMO model, then surely it’s those who lit the flame in the first place?
Having seen End of Nations before, albeit on a more technical level last time, I was sure that this particular appointment would continue to focus around the management side and perhaps delve deeper into the unit upgrades or squad progression rather than show any real gameplay elements. Instead, we were given an enthusiastic introduction by Michael Legg, formerly of Westwood and now co-founder and president of Petroglyph, talking us through what led them to this point and what they were hoping to achieve in the future… as well as unveiling their recently-developed PvE mode.
It was at this point that we got to see End of Nations in action, and moreso than our previous hands-on, because this time it was less about the MMO aspect and more about the gameplay in general. Of course the game is, and always will be, an MMO in its own right, but introducing the option for people to play on their own or even with a couple of friends against the AI is an incredible leap forward and will help to ease those who, like me, find the prospect of a full-on MMO rather daunting.
The level on display during this particular demo was everything you’d expect to see from a strong multiplayer map: a varied mix of terrain with areas of city peppered with trees and clusters of wooded areas on the outskirts, the obligatory river (everyone loves exploiting river crossings in an RTS, right?), a few leafy glades and… oh look, something’s just destroyed the tranquility of the scene… it’s the Panzer Hulk. Now, the best way to describe this particular beast would be to suggest that it’s a small city on wheels. A city where artillery is more important than housing, and a city which crushes other cities under its huge weight. When I asked Mike if he could give us an idea of scale, he was quick to point out that it was huge, and that we’d see it in context soon enough – and that we did.
The first sign that the Panzer Hulk wasn’t your run of the mill enemy was when it calmly trundled over a small building like a curious kid crushing their first beetle, and didn’t appear to slow down in the slightest. Within moments it was pile-driving its way through the map, albeit slowly, and Mike asked one of the Trion guys if they’d move up and engage it, explaining that it wasn’t actually necessary to take it down but since they were playing in God mode, they may as well show us how deadly the Hulk was. It was. Being stupid enough to leave my glasses in my laptop bag, which was in a locker at the other end of the Koelnmesse, I wasn’t able to count the individual units attacking this thing but they weren’t exactly doing much in the way of damage.
An air-strike or two later, and this Hulk was starting to show damage with some of its turrets now inoperable while still managing to destroy anything in its path as it continued to snail forward. Even when a small nuke was sent in to hinder its progress by leaving a decent-sized crater, it proved to be futile and was treated like nothing more than a mere bump in the road. As it was finally destroyed, Mike pointed to an area at the top of the screen and explained that another one was due to arrive in fifty minutes (it may have been fifteen, but I didn’t want to interrupt the flow to clarify), so this is by no means a one-shot deal.
On top of the fantastic-looking gameplay on offer, the real beauty of End of Nations is the drop-in/drop-out nature. No matter who you’re playing with, you don’t run the risk of having the game come to a sudden end just because your friend got disconnected, which is one of the biggest problems we’ve found with C&C in our various get-togethers, because anyone leaving is immediately replaced by another player, as Mike Legg explains:
“You can leave, and somebody else can replace you mid-battle with their own army, and it tracks your contribution too so if you came in at the end of the level for maybe the last two or three minutes, you won’t be rewarded the points for the entire game.”
Sadly, as our time with Petroglyph and Trion was aimed primarily at unveiling the new PvE mode, we weren’t shown anything in the way of customisation, setting up and selecting armies, upgrading units or even how not having any base from which to launch attacks would actually affect gameplay when compared to the more familiar build-order mechanics of other RTS franchises, such as Command & Conquer. Thankfully, our earlier gameplay preview and our video preview cover these aspects in more detail.
As the meeting came to a close, an overwhelming sense of anticipation took over and I was left with a feeling of longing, coupled with a few brief moments of speculative tactical considerations as I planned the downfall of my fellow RTS-loving GamingLives writers. The excitement that the End of Nations announcement spawned has now reached boiling point and, as one who can’t get enough of a good four-player skirmish, the thought of being able to take that as far as 64v64 and actually have an opportunity to familiarise myself with the mechanics in a non-MMO arena, is just too much for words.
End of Nations is everything that modern Command & Conquer releases could, and should, have been. When it is finally released, it may mark the end of me ever getting any sleep.
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