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Last year, we learned that Petroglyph Studios – a developer formed from the remnants of Command & Conquer creators Westwood – was working on an MMORTS under the wing of MMOG publisher Trion. Last week, we saw the game – now titled End of Nations – in action.

End of Nations takes place in the not-too-distant future, where skyrocketing prices of fuel and food lead to civilization crumbling into anarchy. The anarchy and civil war is finally curbed by the introduction of a powerful new organization calling itself the Order of Nations – but as it turns out, the Order of Nations is actually an evil, totalitarian state, and individual armies and commanders must band together to break its iron fist of control.

That’s where you come in, by the way.

My initial thought upon the unveiling of End of Nations was that it would be a “psuedo-MMOG” of sorts, where individual skirmishes and matches might influence a larger world map – but only a few people would actually be playing together at any one time – but as it turns out, I was wrong. The game world is persistent, said Senior Producer Ted Morris during a gameplay demo, and showed us some examples.

When a player logs in, they’re brought to a War Room screen showing a map of the earth with all the “hot spots” of conflict immediately visible, as well as the in-game locations of all of their friends. A particularly cool feature, explained Morris and Producer Jeff Jirsa, was the scrolling “news ticker” at the bottom of the screen that would be updated with important events in the world of End of Nations. For instance, if you and your friends managed to defeat a terrifying Order of Nations Panzer Hulk – imagine a giant battleship tank – the news ticker might trumpet your accomplishments.

At the moment, though, we saw that there was a great deal of conflict in Magadan, a map set in Russia, and so that was where they took us. The Magadan map is a “social instance,” akin to the overworld in most other MMOGs – and what was absolutely striking about it was its size: It had an area of 20 square miles, and was able to support at least 51 players simultaneously. That odd-seeming figure of 51 wasn’t even the cap, we were told – it was limited only by the amount of people Petroglyph had available to log on at any one time.

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From what we saw of Magadan, End of Nations is essentially an MMOG that controls and plays like an RTS – instead of one character, you’re controlling a group of vehicles from a top-down perspective. There were relatively safe havens like heavily guarded towns where a player could rest, repair and recuperate, there were wandering Order patrols out in the wilderness, and there were quests and enemy strongholds. One particular quest we saw tasked the player with assaulting an Order missile base in order to stop a rocket launch, then reprogramming the rocket to work against the Order instead.

The action bar that would be filled with skills and spells in a normal MMOG was mapped to “commander abilities,” that gave Morris the ability to do things like call in airstrikes or use smoke screens to conceal his movement. Another MMOG hallmark was, of course, the presence of boss battles: We saw a group of players attacking a “baby Panzer Hulk,” one that was still under construction. Even in an unfinished state, it was a formidable foe, with missile turrets and EMP cannons all needing to be destroyed first.

With the presence of boss battles, of course, comes another MMOG staple: loot. As Morris and Jirsa explained, players will be able to acquire blueprints for new vehicles, which they can then bring back to their base and build with the proper materials. Every commander has their own HQ, and over time will be able to expand it and buy more buildings – for instance, buying an Airstrip lets you call in air strikes in combat, whereas buying a Delivery Station allows you to send units to and receive units from your friends and comrades-in-arms.

Every vehicle in the game, whether in the forces of a tank, artillery, or strike commander, was part of a “set,” we were told – and if you had all the vehicles in a set, you and anyone in your party got a bonus to their abilities. Collecting complete sets was very important, we were told, and that was why it was necessary to trade and sell units back and forth: In a way, it’s like Pokémon, but with tanks.

End of Nations is a very ambitious game, but one with potential to tap into two distinct audiences: MMOG fans getting bored of the same swords-and-sorcery world, and RTS acolytes looking for something different. It’s scheduled to release sometime in 2011.

Visit the End of Nations website to see images and some snazzy videos.

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