It’s been an interesting ride for the long-rumored Warhammer 40k MMO. In the works for many years, it eventually perished due to lack of funding. For a while, it looked like it would return in the form of a single-player RPG, but hopes for that also died, along with its publisher, THQ. Now that its cousin game, Warhammer: Age of Reckoning, shut down last year, conditions couldn’t be bleaker. But like a dreadnought dropping out of warp space, Behaviour Interactive has arrived with Warhammer 40K: Eternal Crusade. Dubbed a Massive Combat RPG, Eternal Crusade is more Planetside 2 than World of Warcraft. Recently, I got to talk with Miguel Caron, Behaviour’s Head of Studio, about Eternal Crusade, and how its recently-launched Founders Pack program works.
Behaviour’s primary goal behind Eternal Crusade is to make the player feel like “an elite warrior in the 41st millennium,” according to Caron. As we all know, in the grim, dark future of the 41st millennium, there is only war. Massive, thousand player war. Eternal Crusade will have a huge number of players from four different factions fighting over the pivotal world Arkhona. No hotbars, no cooldowns, just lots of twitch action with RPG progression across a single, persistent server.
As Caron puts it, “it’s Space Marine meets Planetside 2 meets Gears of War, in a sandbox setting”. In fact, the dev team is currently spending a lot of time playing Planetside 2, studying it. Miguel said that SOE’s high-pop shooter gets a lot right, but the glue isn’t there. “[The] time to kill is too aggressive,” he said, referring to the quick way many Planetside player’s lives are ended, “it alienates new players.” That’s something that Eternal Crusade aims to correct. One way to do that is by making melee and ranged combat both equally important. While a long-ranged shot might down an enemy, someone will have to go up and execute them before a teammate gets them back up again.
Eternal Crusade will primarily be a player-run game. Caron described a situation where a new player lands on Arkhona, fresh off the dropship, and right away a commander issues him an order to grab a freshly-requisitioned tank and take out a nearby Eldar Fire Prism, allowing two nearby friendly squads to advance on an enemy outpost. Each player is dropped into a squad. Ten squads make a strike force, which are in turn controlled by the five players on the war council. Repeat this four times for each faction. Each level of this hierarchy is completely player controlled, similar to Eve Online. Unlike Eve, Eternal Crusade is all about the WAAAAGGH. As Caron joked, “no one wants to be an elite merchant in the 41st millennium.”
To get all this running, Behaviour is harnessing some new tech. To get all the players in a single game world, it’s using Pikko server tech, which was used to break the world record for simultaneous players back in 2012. It allows the devs to use many smaller servers to dynamically power a larger one, so everything can rebalance itself behind the scenes to power the massive battles you’d expect from 40k. Additionally, it will feature extensive voice chat from Razer, which will also have the ability to modulate voices so they sound appropriate for their respective races.
Behaviour’s calling Eternal Crusade “buy-to-play, free-to-WAAAAGH.” This means no subscriptions fees, just a one-time $40 price to unlock everything, similar to Guild Wars 2. However, you can still play for free, but you’ll have to join the Ork horde. Why just the Orks? Caron noted that premium players often view free players as an unruly hoard that jump spawn points, don’t follow orders very well, and love zerging, all of which conveniently is exactly how Orks work in the 40K universe. It not only fits their goal of immersion, but it also help provide a counter-weight to the 40% of players who already stated their desire to be Space Marines. Free Ork players will have slower progress rates and be limited in the roles they can fill, but all that can be eliminated by unlocking the full game for $40.
While Eternal Crusade isn’t due until the end of 2015, you can still get involved by purchasing a founder pack. More than just a pre-order, founder packs let players sample the game in beta and get in on the development process over the next 18 months.
Each pack contains access to early beta events, loads of points for use in the rogue trader shop, and of course, a full copy of the game. The packs come in $40, $80, and $120 sizes, each with increasingly more in-game points than before. Additionally, every founder will be able to give their feedback to the developers on a private forum, something Behaviour will be paying lots of attention too.
The points in each pack allow players to essentially build their own pre-order bundle in the Rogue Trader shop. Thankfully, everything in the shop is either cosmetic, convenience items, or small boosts. Caron said that Behaviour is allergic to pay-to-win games, and nothing in the store can actually influence the outcome of a battle.
It’s fair to note that some of the items are what Behaviour referred to as “sidegrades”. Essentially, these would be weapons that are, statistically, no better from the standard ones, but do have tactical differences. An example Caron gave would be a bolter that does the exact same damage per second, but with a different rate of fire. For instance, the lower rate of fire weapon might be better for putting down armored vehicles, while the higher rate of fire weapon would be more useful against fast-moving infantry. The sidegrades are merely different, not better.
Meanwhile, all founders will get to see development as it happens, similarly to Space Citizen and its hanger. In the intervening months until launch, founder’s will be able to load up their own personal space ships. Pre-registered guilds will likewise be able to log in to their strike cruisers together. Once aboard, they’ll get to play around with their characters and test their loadouts at the firing range. As time goes on, more and more areas of the ship will unlock, such as personal quarters and cartography stations. The bigger the pack you buy, the earlier you get access to said modules.
Fan interaction is key for Behaviour Interactive, who currently mandates that every member to team spend at least half an hour a day talking with fans, either on the forums or the internet as a whole. In fact, they’ve already altered the founder’s program according to suggestions on its message board. Caron recently spent two hours wading into 4Chan just to talk with potential players, which is either extraordinarily stupid or brave. Possibly both.
While Eternal Crusade is technically still in pre-production, Behaviour seems pretty set on developing its game along with its players. We’ll certainly keep an eye on it over the next 18 months and let you know how it’s shaping up.
Expect Warhammer 40K: Eternal Crusade to launch for PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4 towards the end of 2015.