Universe at War: Earth Assault Updated Hands-On - Multiplayer

This real-time strategy game will let you lead three entirely distinct alien factions in battle.

Sega and Petroglyph's upcoming real-time strategy game Universe at War: Earth Assault is an alien invasion tale where the aliens take it to humanity. In fact, you won't play as the plucky human defenders in this game. Instead, you'll be able to lead three different alien factions as they wage war against one another on terran battlefields. The goal in many RTS games is to create distinct factions that play uniquely from one another, and judging from the multiplayer beta that we've been checking out, Petroglyph has managed to achieve this goal. Universe at War has some truly alien races that play quite differently from anything we've seen in a strategy game.

Welcome to Earth. Don't mind those pesky humans underfoot, you've got other aliens to crush.

The story goes a bit like this: In the year 2012, the Earth is invaded by the Hierarchy, a ruthless alien faction that is built around giant "walkers," 100-foot-tall or higher war machines. The Hierarchy are pursued by the Novus, a sentient machine race out to destroy the Hierarchy at all costs. The third alien faction is the Masari, which has actually been slumbering secretly deep below the Earth for thousands of years. The arrival of the Hierarchy, their ancient enemy, wakens the Masari, and they lash out at both factions.

It naturally goes that each faction has its own philosophy and gameplay style. For example, the Novus is essentially a computer race and built around the idea of networks. Novus structures are linked to one another, as indicated by a network of beams. Certain Novus units can disassemble themselves and "ride" the beams anywhere else around the network, sort of like the transporter in Star Trek. With certain research upgrades, bigger Novus units can also ride the network. This lets you rapidly shift forces around and allows you to conduct hit-and-run raids. This also plays a large role in resource collection. The Novus rely on energy and raw materials. Energy is generated by building special power structures, and raw materials are reclaimed by building recycling centers that send out drones to recover matter from the environment. That means that you can build the recycling buildings in the back of your base, which is where they're safe, while the drones ride the network out into the edges of the map to recover material. As a result, you need to constantly push your network out if you're a Novus player.

In comparison, the Masari have a radically different game style. The Masari only have one resource--matter--and it can be generated by building matter engines that automatically generate the stuff over time. This lets them build a variety of powerful units and structures. While the Novus rely more on sheer mass and large numbers of units, the Masari utilize a smaller number of powerful units and heroes. More interestingly, Masari units and buildings can alternate between "light" and "dark" modes, which basically give them dual capabilities. Generally, in light mode, Masari units have increased line of sight and weapon ranges, along with the ability to do burning damage. In dark mode, Masari air units become grounded, but all units have increased speed. Meanwhile, weapon hits won't do burning damage but will slow enemies. It's also nice that the Masari feel like the more "conventional" faction because you can build a powerful base behind a wall of defenses but don't need to spread out your structures as you would with the Novus.

If the Novus are about decentralization while the Masari are about concentration and versatility, the Hierarchy are basically a force of nature thanks to their huge, lumbering walkers. These are mobile fortresses, albeit slow ones. There are two types of gigantic walker. The habitat walker can churn out infantry units, while the assembly walker can produce vehicles. This is on top of their ability to be decked out with various weapons and equipment, though it's a balancing act. You can make a dedicated production walker by specializing in hard points that accelerate build speed and reduce the amount of raw materials needed for each unit. Or you can make heavily armed walkers that can stomp their way across the battlefield. The Hierarchy rely only on raw materials, which are scavenged from the environment by reaper drones. You need at least four or five drones to generate a stream of raw materials sufficient enough to constantly churn out units. These drones could be a potential weakness for the Hierarchy, since they're a lot easier for enemies to knock out than walkers.

The giant Hierarchy walkers are extremely tough, but they're not unstoppable. Throw everything you have at a walker to take it down.

Because Universe at War follows the standard RTS formula of gathering resources, building bases, and then raising armies, it wasn't too surprising that we encountered early game "rushes," where one player charges another very early in the game with a handful of units. This can have a devastating effect if caught unprepared because a budding economy can be crippled with an effective rush. To defend against it, you have to build a small group of defenders and, if they're available, defensive structures, such as turrets. That's a bit of a problem for the Novus because their deflection towers don't become available until after you build the pricy science center. Another solution is to make a gentleman's agreement with the other player to not rush each other so that you can build up bases and armies for a big throw down, which is something that we experienced as well.

Trying to figure out the nuances of these factions is going to take a while, especially considering the nature of the technology tree. The tech tree has three branches, consisting of four tech levels each. However, you can only research a maximum of six technologies in a single game, which means you have to decide what you want. You could max out a single branch and research half of another. Or you could spread the research out and unlock a little from each branch. This seems like a challenging game to balance, so the designers at Petroglyph have their work cut out for them. Universe at War will ship next month.

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24 comments
Blightless
Blightless

For those who don't like the research scheme there is also a DEFCON mode. You start out at DEFCON 5 with no tech. Every few minutes the DEFCON count changed by 1, and you get the next level of all 3 branches. The result is that after a while you have all the super tech, and the game can get real hectic. Even without this mode you do see a lot of different approaches to research, including when to start it, and which technologies to use. And the Novus can counter the early rush, they just have to use units for it rather than turrets. If they feel really inclined to get turrets they can tech to the science center real fast, but it would be at the expense of economy growth or troops. This is the first RTS to keep me occupied for more than a week in a long while.

alcari
alcari

""Another solution is to make a gentleman's agreement with the other player to not rush each other so that you can build up bases and armies for a big throw down, which is something that we experienced as well."" Are you kidding me? If the Novus can't counter an early rush, nobody will play them. I asume they'll fix it, because "No rush No SW plz" is just super lame.

Lesysh
Lesysh

this game is f'in horrible lol.

gacmyver
gacmyver

why would they want to charge for ladder games? i mean, if you buy a game, you should freakin get the right to use it's features. 2years ago, when you bought a game, you got the stuff thta's supposed to be in a game. then xbox360 came and you had to buy freaking horse armours :S im not cheap, i just dont want to be sucked dry :S

RTSFanatic
RTSFanatic

The BETA is pretty awesome and on the Petroglyph forums they've been saying a new patch for the BETA is on the way. I don't have a LIVE gold account, and I have no problem playing the game.

alcari
alcari

I forsee very few ladder players. Doesn't MS know that by requireing Gold membership, they're going to alienate the majority of PC gamers, thereby killing the online community?

Marka1700
Marka1700

Asking as to par for little more bit by bit untill we have to pay to use the instillation program or even worse.

EE2lemmonhead
EE2lemmonhead

i say they dont charge unless you want to cross conslode

HOMIE_G64
HOMIE_G64

I say that MS needs to pump out more Windows Live games if they are going to make you pay for the full online experience. $50 a year for just this game isn't worth it, but $50 a year for this plus some other 360 ports might.

snipergimp
snipergimp

For those wondering, Silver Live accounts allow you to play custom matches against Gold or Silver accounts. As Silver, you miss out on Automatching along with Ladder matches. As a current beta tester, I believe it needs some adjusting, but the game is great. Oh and I don't have a gold membership. If you have a Gold membership for your x360 (I do not even own any MS consoles), you are Gold for PC as well. Other than that, the beta is awesome, the 3 sides are VASTLY different. It's a very refreshing RTS to say the least.

SirSmokeal0t
SirSmokeal0t

Oh my god...this Microsoft 'Live' thing is spreading to PC now?! I have to pay for 'Gold subscription' just to be able to play a simple game online on my PC?! Jesus Christ...

KingBahamut
KingBahamut

These are some very different factions nothing like anything I have seen before

alcari
alcari

Well, the asymetric faction design is done pretty well, and the implementation of research is a nice touch in a fast paced RTS like this. I'm not sure I'm going to like the "6 techs max" thing, it looks like there will be variation, but in the end, everyone will use the same 6 techs. What I like is that this game actually has the potential for different strategies for the factions, something I can't say for most games out there, where the winning tactic is always the same for all factions.

L0stS0u1
L0stS0u1

This game has tons of potential, just afraid that windows live will kill the multiplayer aspect.

dragonfireaod
dragonfireaod

You have to get windows live GOLD to be able to play quickmatch and conquer the world, silver members will only get a FPS like browser of custom games.. WHY THE HELL WOULD U PAY FOR STANDARD RTS FEATURES? DONT EVEN BOTHER. For prove, check gamereplays or petro glyph forums.

Samulies
Samulies

looks like a spot of fun. Definatly tracking.

wytefang
wytefang

With the new Company of Heroes expansion out, I hope I have time to give this a try.

seangames
seangames

I can never seem to beat anyone who's using the Hierarchy faction in the beta. I love the Novus' use of "power-lines" to power buildings and to travel across the map.

KorJax
KorJax

This game is great (im in the beta), the faction diversity is awesome. I've never seen a group like the Hiarchy before in a game. Thier "bases" are basically thier walkers, which can produce units. It's pretty interesting fighting someone who just rushes a walker or two, at your base early game. If they loose thier walkers, they basically lost the game, unless you dont play agressive after you kill essentually thier moble base. Beta patch supposidly releases this week. Much needed too, as the current build is weeks old, and has alot of accidental imbalances in it.

Gubitz
Gubitz

With this and World in conflict my RTS game needs are maxed out.

firebubbles
firebubbles

the technology tree and different factions seem like they will make this game more challenging, but in the end hopefully it will be that much more fulfilling to to succeed. i can't wait to see how it turns out when released

ppau08223
ppau08223

yep it seems that this game has genuinely different factions and also one where there are no humans. well thats a nice change.

OrkHammer007
OrkHammer007

The more I read about this game, the more impressed I am. Hopefully, the balancing act will smooth out by late Oct.