Now that End of Nations is being handled entirely by Trion Worlds, we're musing on what it means for the development-troubled MMO+RTS. Is this development the best thing that could happen for the game? Will it head away from pure strategy to a more persistent MMORTS? Will Trion be able to overcome the design troubles alone where Petrglyph couldn't? Both Christina and Brandon have some thoughts, so dig in and offer your own too!
For End of Nations, there seemed to be a few things that weren’t gelling. The last beta weekend also marked the lifting of the game’s NDA, which is usually a good sign when it comes to games with a planned close release. Then things got quiet. Really quiet. Six weeks passed without a status update or the announcement of a launch date. Then, the day before Thanksgiving came the indefinite postponement. This week showed that the surprises were not over yet though, when it was announced that Petroglyph would be exiting the project and Trion itself would move from just a publisher role to handling the rest of development itself.
Though End of Nations is planned as a free to play game, there is still the need to deliver AAA content to keep players not only interested in trying the game, but in sticking around. Much has already been invested in the game, so it really does seem to have come down to a few glaring points. Despite some community members’ fears it might be canned, the game will get its final coats of polish and a planned release sometime next year. Trion will bring the game to completion under the guidance of the San Diego studio, which is also currently working on MMO shooter Defiance.
While Petroglyph’s expertise is valuable in the RTS world, it seems that the game, which is in a unique position when it comes to finding an audience as well as keeping one, needed a different kind of experience to get it over the final hurdles. Trion is up to the task. As shown with Rift and with the growth and investment in the company, Trion is made up of gamers who know how to communicate with fellow gamers, as well as how to create and keep up a consistent level of content for a massively multiplayer gameplay experience. So what does this mean for End of Nations?
When attending a Trion press event in October, I was informed that there were a few items still in the works, mainly planned for post-launch. Certain things like clan features and a campaign to tie things together were some of the features that seemed to be almost a little muddled in terms of planning. So this is where Trion’s expertise will come in handy. Knowing how to create content that is not only compelling, but can tie the myriad of modes and options already available within the game’s maps together. Clan and community features that can foster the growth of the audience, and of course, the need to draw people in in the first place.
A large scale, AAA MMORTS like this is, let’s face it, potentially intimidating to the average gamer. The question is always “Why would you play this game over another?” There are still plenty of people that won’t give an RTS a try because they’ve heard the genre is too hard. With the time and investment spent already in End of Nations, having Trion to add the remaining layers could make the difference between potential niche release and potential ace in the hole.
So, End of Nations isn’t cancelled, we know that more or less for sure now. Things weren’t looking good there for a while after the end of the fourth Closed Beta test. First, there was a long period of silence. Then, as mentioned above, there was the fateful announcement that End of Nations had been delayed indefinitely, reportedly due to a large number of changes resulting from Beta feedback. And for a while, many of the more levelheaded members of the End of Nations community were more or less satisfied with that answer, and resigned to waiting for more news. Shortly thereafter it came out that Trion had taken down their End of Nations job postings on their website, and the reasons for this were hotly debated. It was also reported on the forums (possibly in breach of NDAs) that the Alpha had been closed down, and the reasons for this as well were talked over.
And then things started to look more bleak: people began reporting that preorders were being refunded. To anyone, regardless of interest in a game, hearing about preorder refunds isn’t a good sign. And, of course, yesterday we heard about the massive layoffs at Petroglyph games. For a few hours it seemed like End of Nations was dead in the water.
Of course, Trion then stepped up and reported in a number of outlets that in fact the game was still being developed – but now, solely by them. Petroglyph isn’t apparently in the picture any more (see the Facebook post here). And, as Christina says above, this has a number of real positives. Trion have a pretty good track record with MMO games, and they might just have the wherewithal to give End of Nations some of the mass appeal it may have been lacking.
In many ways, I agree with Christina. Trion has had a much better showing in terms of polish and quality assurance than Petroglyph’s recent games. A look at Guardians of Graxia (many of the reviews bash the unintuitive interface and genre mixing) or Rise of Immortals (again, many reviews don’t have great things to say about visual appeal or quality assurance in the game, though Battle for Graxia seems to be working on addressing many of those concerns).
But, Trion is very much untested in the real-time strategy space. What role exactly did they play in the mechanical design of End of Nations, and what ability will they have to balance the game and release new content once it launches? What changes will they implement to the game? As much as I feel that Petroglyph benefitted from Trion’s quality assurance and architectural prowess, I do feel that Trion may have been relying heavily on Petroglyph in their turn, and the implications of losing all of that RTS design experience leave me a little wary.
The list of areas of focus is heartening:
learning curve for new players, a revamped UI system, advancements in player strategy, and most importantly a more polished overall game.
And in terms of polish and user interface, I’m pretty positive they can deliver. But it remains to be seen whether or not they’re able to add those extra layers of depth and persistence that many felt were lacking in the beta events. It’s very sad to see the team split up this way, but hopefully it’s for the best. It remains my hope, though, to see End of Nations become first and foremost a competitive and balanced game, and I hope that an MMO developer like Trion is able to produce a game that includes that vision.