End of Nations
This unusual combination of small-scale, no-base RTS with MMO-style social features and persistence and huge maps that put more than 50 players in a single real-time strategy match is playable on the show floor at E3 2011. End of Nations' unique design can't help but make it interesting, but after seeing it at this year's show I'm feeling more confident about its chances to be not only interesting but good.
If you've been following the game, you know that it's set in a future Earth rent by global military conflict. Players jump into cooperative and competitive scenarios that range from solo or small-group skirmishes to gargantuan 50-player PvP maps. As you play, you earn currency that can be spent to unlock new units and further customize your between-missions headquarters, as well as earning talent points that give your commander unique bonuses.
On tap today was a 8v8 PvP match that is styled much like Relic's excellent Company of Heroes, except with nukes and robotic tanks. The two sides scrambled to capture nodes that grant a slow trickle of resources, allow reinforcements to spawn closer to the front lines, or have other benefits in a march to destroy the other team's base.
Unlike StarCraft, you don't build a base of your own; instead, you customize the army you start the mission with and spend in-mission credits to rebuild them as they fall. With only a dozen or two units under your direct control, End of Nations puts the focus tightly on low-level tactics as well as communication and cooperative strategy. Petroglyph traces its lineage all the way back to the original Command & Conquer, so the gameplay is already tight and easy to grasp even though End of Nations doesn't yet have a release date.
Trion isn't talking about the business model for End of Nations yet, but we can make some educated guesses from the way the game's home screen is structured. Each "hotspot" on the map of the globe is either a PvP or cooperative mission, and the armies are cleverly structured to let players start out with a balanced, powerful force with lots of room to tweak it to more effectively perform a distinct role in the game's larger conflicts. Making a low (free?) barrier to entry and selling new units and scenarios could make a lot of sense for a game like this. This type of model has had a lot of success in the online PC space, from League of Legends to any number of free-to-play Korean MMOs. I wouldn't be surprised to see Trion and Petroglyph follow a similar path.
I've never worried about End of Nations' technology, or that Petroglyph couldn't make interesting units to do RTS battle with. The structure of matches and the nature of teh game's persistence has caused me some concern in the past, as I've never had a clear idea of how exactly it all works. This year's showing put my mind at ease as far as individual scenarios are concerned, and if Trion goes where I think it's headed with the metagame and business model, my mind will be at rest on that score as well. In any case, I love that End of Nations is trying something new and radically different that nobody has ever seen before.