We Just Played End of Nations (at E3 2010)

We take an updated look at this massively multiplayer online real-time strategy game at this year's E3, then hunker down and take it for a spin ourselves.

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The Los Angeles Convention Center, the glaring lights, the blaring music, the sluggish crowds of people who probably shouldn't be there…it's probably E3 2010. And we are seated in front of a station running an early version of Trion's End of Nations? Yes, that'd definitely be E3. This upcoming online game will let you play as one of three different types of officer--a tank commander, strike commander, or artillery commander (your profession will determine specialized abilities you can get out of a certain type of vehicle, but your unit mix won't be limited by your profession). We sat down with the game and picked up a few new details before diving into a high-level instance that we barely escaped with our virtual life.

First up, an update on your character's headquarters--your persistent real-time strategy base, which exists in its own instance and can't be attacked. Your HQ can contain a pretty sizeable area split among three different quadrants, with plenty of room for research building improvements (such as weapon labs that increase the strength of your tanks), along with trophy statues you'll earn regularly for completing certain missions or getting wins in player-versus-player battles. While Trion hasn't yet finalized the system, research for various upgrades at HQ will probably take a certain number of real-time hours to enact.

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As a tank commander, we then readied ourselves for action by jumping to the global map, which had several sectors on various continents highlighted in red and blue to indicate which faction had control of them. Currently, the game's playable instances seem to mostly be in Europe, North America, South America, and North Africa, though Trion suggests that the game will eventually take place all over the world in different climates. The high-level player-versus-environment instance we played, "The Acropolis," took place on a flatland map controlled by the Order of Nations--the game's hostile computer-controlled enemy faction that opposes players of all alignment. The instance was also tuned for a group of extremely high-level players with well-developed forces, so our Trion representative helpfully turned on a developer-only toggle that made us immune to damage so that we didn't die instantly.

Our little group of tanks was still hard-pressed to make honest progress through the instance because the Order was equipped with many, many tanks of its own, several of which sported mounted flamethrowers that probably would've chewed our lighter vehicles to bits. While players in the final game won't be able to make themselves immune to damage, they will be able to use various special abilities, including on-the-spot vehicle repair (essentially, healing); profession-specific skills that affect vehicle performance (such as a "precise shot" ability that lowers your tank's rate of fire but increases its damage); consumable items, such as special ammo (like electromagnetic pulse rounds that briefly stun enemy vehicles); and superweapons researched back at HQ, such as artillery strikes and carpet bombing.

Playing through this instance gave us a good sense of the game's scale. While the map itself wasn't enormous, it was still more than big enough to house several waves of enemy vehicles, along with a central stronghold that housed gigantic Gatling guns protected by EMP pulse cannons that stunned our vehicles briefly. Defeating outposts like this can sometimes make them vulnerable to capture, and if you can hold out long enough to capture an outpost by stationing your units nearby (similar to the way you capture control points in shooters like the Battlefield series or in strategy games such as World in Conflict or the Dawn of War series), you'll gain control of it. Some outposts will provide repairs to nearby friendlies; others will act as forward respawn points for defeated armies; and others, like the Gatling gun emplacements, won't be under your direct control but will fire on any nearby hostiles.

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After capturing a couple of Gatling gun emplacements in the center of the map, we decided to make a run for it and scrambled our forces toward the other side of the field, where our objective--a massively fortified wall that spanned the entire length of the map--lay in wait. While most walls aren't that intimidating, these particular walls were guarded by gigantic ballistic cannons that fired shells roughly the size of one of our tanks(!) and also housed vehicle factories below that periodically churned out more angry, fire-breathing assault vehicles from the Order. In this particular encounter, you can't break the walls down unless you target a specific breach point (the barrel of the wall-mounted cannon, where giant shells are elevated in sequence), and even then, this weak spot gets periodically shielded by a sheet of extra armor--all while the humongous wall cannons are raining exploding death down onto your head. The high-end instances in End of Nations will definitely be a challenge even for organized parties, and the game's unusual premise of a massively multiplayer, real-time tactical game seems even more intriguing now that we've had a chance to take it for a spin. End of Nations will launch next year, and while the game will definitely have a beta test, no date has been set at this time.

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