By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), General Manager
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the show was held within the third floor private Square-Enix meeting room. Thanks to a little extra funding, BE Haviour is now serious and pushing towards a functioning Warhammer 40k MMO… (wait for it)… TPS! Yup Planetside 2 finally has some direct competition as the sci-fantasy world of 40k is about to get the persistent world factional base swapping treatment.
So how does it all play out? Well the current plan is to separate players into 16 sub-factions connected to four overarching factions, and then letting chaos ensure over the course of month long campaigns for global domination.
On offer are the Eldar, an advanced alien race claiming original ownership of Arkona, and utilizing superior technological prowess to reclaim it. Players will be able to side with the Iyanden, Ulthwé, Saim-Hann, and Biel-tan sub-factions.
Next up you can expect the eternal struggle between the Space Marines and Chaos Legions as well featuring Assault Marines, Devastators, Apothecaries and Terminators and Black Legion, Iron Warriors, Word Bearers, and Night Lords respectively.
Finally the wild card of the war is of course the Orks, packing sub-factions including the Evil Sunz, Bad Moons, Deathskulls and Goffs. There will also be the special F2Waaagh! Orks Boys (BOYZ) on offer for free players as an unlimited trial to help bolster the horde type gameplay of the Ork faction. The BOYZ aren't weaker than others; they simply have less tools for their class. However, they excel at swarming into melee, putting free players right in the heart of the zerg. It’s honestly the coolest way I have ever seen a free trial worked into a buy to play business model and hope they manage to balance it effectively.
Eternal Crusade plays out the way you would expect a modern AAA TPS title to work. Aiming matters and don’t expect an auto-aim feature to net you free kills. A smart cover system is also in-place to not only give you special controls to maneuver around wall cover, but even a system that allows you to stabilize weapons with greater recoil on a wall cropping to gain greater control for distance shots. Players can equip rocket packs to jet through the sky and clear walls, or get up close and personal with a good ol’ chainsword to unleash hell. Active melee blocking is also in place to ensure a more personal realistic war struggle rather than the typical no resistance slashing that most shooters offer as a take on melee weapons. Or you can distance yourself entirely as you watch your foes’ walls crumble around them from the safety of a tank.
The PvE Focus
One piece that immediately sets Eternal Crusade apart from Planetside 2 beyond just the setting is the inclusion of PvE missions. Now granted, players will be vulnerable to ambush when trekking to these instances, but once inside they can rest assured that only the intense opposition of the AI will be present to slow them down. Missions in the alpha currently involve exploration of ancient ruins for Relics, a type of token used to trade for unlocking new equipment and decorations, or stand your ground type survival tests within the Tyranid Hives. These are the nasty native buggers of Arkana for those unfamiliar with the Eternal Crusade universe, and a rather important focus in balancing the faction warfare.
See PvE doesn’t just exist within instanced bubbles separated from the persistent war going on. Occasionally the Tyranid Capillary Spires will explode from the ground, and create a massive headache for any factions present in the region where it exists. Now it is common sense that the larger your faction’s empire has grown, the more likely you are to have to deal with repeated spire maintenance. Control half the world and you’ll literally be fighting a battle on every front as your deeper territory will constantly be under threat from the Great Devourer.
The PvP Focus
An issue Eternal Crusade hopes to address is the smaller community of TPS shooters that aren’t necessarily looking for the hardcore battalion lifestyle games like Planetside 2 are so well known for. As such, they allow small ‘family guild’ style units known as Battle Squads. Through these units you are afforded all the communication and tracking tools you need to keep track of your group. Your efforts in the war effort and elsewhere will directly award your Battle Squad and give you a sense of personal responsibility in the war. And better yet, when the time comes where you want to make a difference, you can integrate temporarily into a Strife Force, essentially gaining the benefits of a more typical large scale war power, without giving up your managerial powers and community.
The goal as expected is to take over as many fortress areas as you can. Each offer a continent wide benefit for ownership, and can be customized with shield and turret fortifications to prepare for when war inevitably returns to your doorstep. These battles get quite tactical though by forcing the defending party to spread themselves thin due to supply zones. If the offensive force can manage to take down a fortress’ supply depot, you begin to starve out the energy resources of the fortress, bringing down their shields and turrets in the process. At the same time, multiple layers of fortresses will be destructible including doors and bridges to help offensive teams change up the battlemap with enough heavy vehicular support fire. While the exact details are still in development, it sounds like a smart way to go about the capture mechanics.
BE Haviour is aiming to implement an overwhelming sense of scale as well, with unorganized assaults resulting in spawns far away from the defensive fortification. Likewise, defenders that get careless and are killed will also spawn far away from their fortress to remove them from the battlefield outcome. Now if you get organized and have dropships en route to the assault location, players can choose to spawn inside them instead to get a second chance for making a difference. On a side note, Eternal Crusade features a downed state similar to games like Borderlands that will allow your allies to resuscitate you should you fall to a lucky potshot during battle. On a more awesome note, the reverse is true as enemies that come upon a target in a fallen state can initiate wild and gory finishing moves that have Warhammer written all over them.
As one side continuously conquers and spreads their territory, they will eventually get within striking distance of a variation on fortresses known as a port. Ports are far more heavily defended and often are protected on multiple sides by water, making their defense a far easier task. They are key to the war effort though as without control of a port, your faction will be unable to transfer between continents.
We confirmed that each of the four factions will indeed have home bases on the planet, and part of the balancing act would mean that fortresses closer to their HQ would be increasingly harder to take for invaders. Again Eternal Crusade is too early in development to offer more information on the subject than that.
The RPG Element in this MMO
While Eternal Crusade is selling itself as a skill-based TPS with horizontal progression, BE Haviour still intends to feature plenty of customization and optimization to make you feel like a unique snowflake even within your sub-faction. A class system is present, which acts more so as a limiter to your loadout than what you might expect when thinking about MMORPG class archetypes. Ideally they made it sound like a balancing system combined with a lore system, so that hefty Ork Lootas won’t be hiding behind rocks with a tiny sniper rifle and the like. The horizontal progression system ensures that advancement awards players with more options to add new tricks to their pool but at the cost of previous starter boons.
So while seeing a Chaos Marine approaching with decked out shoulderpads and massive body armor might still feel intimidating, you should know that it’s the pool of experience and familiarization with the game that this veteran marine carries that is what makes him intimidating rather than his stats and weaponry. I tried to confirm if psychic powers would include tossing objects at enemies or hindering foes with other CC elements, but this as well was denied due to being too RPG for true skill-based combat to occur. So you can rest assured that the psychic element will typically involve support skills to heal and power-up allies. Weapon swaps however are done with almost zero downtime, ensuring that players with a balanced load out can bring the pain thanks to their greater mastery and understanding of the various weapon types in-game.
Leadership and Requisition Points
Government is an official piece of the Eternal Crusade. While it wasn’t clear if the individual factions elect their own leaders, there is a council made up of multiple leaders elected democratically who call the shots through the duration of a one-month crusade. The rewards of this position are directly tied to their success, so you shouldn’t have to worry too much about having do-nothing Senators holding you back in this space war.
While my initial interpretation of this system involved an all-seeing super power that crushes across the battlefield with near impunity, again the focus on balanced horizontal progression ensured that wasn’t the case. For starters, everyone in the faction has immediate access to the battle situation that anyone else in the faction has scouted. Secondly, these commanders do have super powers, but they aren’t related to buffing themselves into a juggernaut. Being a council member is all about utilizing your resources and a quest assignment system to command your faction members like pieces on an RTS map.
If the council sees a particular Port as being vital to a war system, or realizes the mindless lemmings are never going to smash through a pinnacle choke point fortress, they can set a faction-wide bounty on capturing the port or taking out the surrounding supply depots of the fortress. The Strike Forces or Battle Squads that support in the completion of these objectives will be rewarded via a faction-wide resource pool.
Commanders can also support the war effort more directly by spending Requisition Points to upgrade a fighter in the field to ‘veteran status,’ buffing these soldiers to levels beyond the standard soldier’s progression. Alternatively, they can summon tanks, drop pods, and other vehicles, or even call in an airstrike to carpet bomb an area prior to invading. These more direct activities carry additional risk though, as the enemy faction that destroys commander RP point units or vehicles will be rewarded more so than a typical kill.
For those worried that they’ll need a Council member at their side to accomplish anything on their own, that won’t be the case. Every player can earn Requisition Points to utilize as they see fit. While it’s on a much smaller scale compared to the council, it can still be enough to make sure your Battle Squad can unleash one major play on the war effort each day.
Fears of a massive zergfest in the middle of the map should also be present for anyone hoping for actually tactical gameplay. BE Haviour’s answer for this is coming in the form of sub-faction quests that will incentivize each of the four groups in each faction to set off to different parts of the map to complete PvE and PvP battles that might not seem directly related to the territory wars at first, but may offer an overarching advantage during the course of the current campaign if successful. The way they described it gave me a sense of a special operations team lurking in the shadows and quietly winning the war with a well-timed assassination.
The Long Road to War
While the concepts of Eternal Crusade are fascinating, the 1,000 player battles on one massive server are ambitious, and the factions within factions war organization sets the stage for one of the most innovative titles present in the online gaming realm at E3, I can’t stress enough that it’s mostly all that is currently present. The in-game footage still featured large grey blocks and tons of place holders for effects and environment tiles. There’s no official beta date locked in yet and the goal of launch remains late 2015. But if Eternal Crusade sounds like the action MMO of your dreams, you won’t have to wait long to throw money at your screen as information on Founders Packs will become available on June 25th!