It’s been awhile since Warhammer 40K: Dark Millennium dropped off the face of the earth. Who knew that just a year after the closure of the THQ studio, we’d be here at E3 2013 talking about a brand new take on the 40K license as an MMO once more. Only this time? Well, this time Chaos Marines, Space Marines, Eldar, and Orks will all be duking it out on a massive scale while fending off the AI-controlled Tyranids in a universal struggle for power. We spent time with Behaviour Studios Head Miguel Caron (formerly of Funcom Montreal and Anarchy Online as well as Age of Conan) talking about the studio’s ambitions and philosophy for their take on Games Workshop’s epic space fantasy. Today, we have so much to tell you about what Behaviour has in store for all fans of the Waaagh.
Starting right off the bat, fans should note that four races will be playable from the start, with the fifth being the AI-controlled Tyranids (who are there to keep everyone balanced throughout the battle). The four races available at launch (24 months from now, 18 months for Open Beta) will be the Space Marines (Dark Angels), Chaos Marines (Iron Warriors), The Eldar, and the Orks. Miguel told us straight away that the game will be available on PC, Xbox One, and PS4 as a premium Free-to-Play MMORPG. The free race available to everyone will be the Orks. But free players will only be able to progress through the game’s content Ork Boyz: five of which are needed to take down one Space Marine. Behaviour expects that F2P members will always outnumber paid players and the Ork Boyz are their way of balancing F2P with paid members. Once someone becomes invested in the game, they can purchase the other races and open up the full progression paths for each (including the Orks). But perhaps, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk a bit about how the game’s ongoing planetary war will actually work.
We will start with the example of the Space Marines that Miguel gave us. You will login, select your character and be ported to your personal Orbital Striker (spaceship, which you can deck out and customize like a form of housing). You can also take your Striker and join it up with your Squad (up to 10 people) and create one shared mobile living space. Your Squad is part of the larger Chapter which is run by an electorate that the players will choose in the game itself. Are you following me so far? Good.
So your squad (or you as a solo player) then chooses a continent on the current campaign planet to land on. Each campaign will last three months, and then a winner will be declared. The game’s focus will reset to a new planet in the universe that Games Workshop has given Behaviour to make their own (it will not immediately be a part of the “canonical” Black Library). Once you land, you will be presented with an overworld map interface that displays where friendly and enemy squads are headed and shows you where action and locales to be explored are available. From this map display, you’ll be able to select a place to take your squad (or go it solo if you choose). Some locations may be rife with PVP while others may be more intimate PVE Tyranid encounters. One example Miguel gave us was a mine that is infested with Tyranids. If your squad is able to clear it out, you’ll gain those resources for your Chapter.
But that’s about the extent of the PVE content in Eternal Crusade. The crux of the game will be focused on the persistent struggle between the four player factions and of course the AI-controlled Tyranids. The PVP is Eternal Crusade’s big sell. As Miguel put it: “There is only WAR.” Combat is a mix between THQ’s single-player cult hit Space Marine and Epic Games’ Gears of War. You will seamlessly go between ranged bolter combat and then hacking apart a bunch of Nobz with your chainsword. It’s all handled via the familiar third-person over the shoulder vantage point. You can build your squad, and change your specs on the fly, between ranged and melee combat with vast array skills and abilities specific to each race and class.
Progression will handled via traditional experience points, but the way in which you earn those valuable XP will be a bit foreign. Sure, you can go off into the world and do your own thing, but if you decide to listen to your Order’s leadership (again, elected by the players) you will get bonus XP and rewards. Say your order sends out the call to sack a particular fortress and you help out? Then you’ll be justly rewarded with XP and Requisition tokens. If you decide to go your own way, you’ll get XP from playing the game as you want, but it’s always in your best interest to contribute to the war effort. Not only will you unlock more classes in each faction, but each class has its own deep skill tree to progress through. So you might start as a base Space Marine, but work your way up to a Chaplain and gain its armor and skillset.
Speaking of Requisition tokens: this is Eternal Crusade’s own form of currency. Like any military, you don’t really care about gold or copper... you just want some sort of allowance from your commanding officers to get bigger and better weaponry to do your job (and armor as well). As such, as you contribute to the War Effort, you’ll get Requisition from capturing objectives, following orders, and killing enemy players and Tyranids. These tokens can be spent with the Requisition vendors in order to fully deck out your character.
So, back to the Campaign. You will drop down into this overworld map, and you’ll see a fortress of the enemy lit on fire. Your squad will vote and all agree to go see what’s happening there. From the overworld map, the camera pans in in real-time to an over the shoulder view of your character. Your squad joins the battle in progress, and let’s say you successfully overtake the Eldar’s fortress. Now you’ve changed the border and territory control of the map, and any resources that were under the purveyance of the Eldar are yours to hold onto. Miguel said it’s a lot like EVE’s economy, but on a much simpler-to-grasp level. Resources are all necessary to make the armor, weapons, ships, and fortress armaments needed to defend your faction’s stake in the world. Once you take the fortress, though you may have ruined a lot of it in the process (because EC comes complete with destructible environments and plenty of cover mechanics) you will rebuild it and hold it to keep the battle-lines drawn in your favor.
All of this: the fight between the four player controlled factions and the fifth wild-card known as the Tyranids rages on for three months. At the end, a winner is decided by overall territorial control and dominance, and the battle shifts from that planet to a brand new one (fresh and ripe for the picking). The new world may have a completely different ecosystem, new resources, new layout, and all of that to fight over. Think of it like competitive “seasons” in any sport. What’s the point of a war if no one wins? And that’s the philosophy behind having a campaign system in Eternal Crusade.
There’s so much more to tell you about Warhammer 40K: Eternal Crusade, but all we can say is that Behaviour’s vision sounds exactly like what we’ve hoped for out of a 40K MMO. They have full reign to go into all the other races and faction in Warhammer’s lore. Dungeons and other content will be procedurally generated so that there’s always an element of surprise when you go to clear out a Tyranid infestation. Progression is set up to reward those to help their fellow warriors, while not limiting the ability for the lone wolf to play his part. The payment model is designed from the ground up to let anyone play while still making sure that those who feel invested have something to invest in. Ships, artillery, fortresses, airships... it’s all customizable and usable in the field of battle. Said “field of battle” will consist of a lot of people on any given map though Miguel was not ready to let us share the number of persistent on-screen players you can expect. Let’s just say it will be a lot.
Behaviour hopes to have Warhammer 40K: Eternal Crusade ready for its open beta in 18 months, and launch in just 24 months. Can they pull it off while targeting PC and consoles simultaneously? We shall see. But we are all very keen to find out just how much of their ambitious plans come to fruition, as it’s more than a little refreshing to see 40K treated not only seriously as a game for the fans by fans, but also as an MMO that’s seeking to become something unique in an industry that’s been clouded with also-rans for far too long. If Miguel and his team of MMO veterans can pull off half of what they are planning, we’ll all be in for a treat. Be sure to check back soon for more info on Eternal Crusade as we march ever on and on and pester Behaviour for as much information as they can muster. If you have questions, ask them here and we’ll answer them after we’re all back from the convention.
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.