What happens at the end of nations? We go to war, of course!

That's exactly what End of Nations is all about. It's a massively multiplayer online real-time strategy game with enormous battles, an engrossing campaign, and ample room for customization and tactics. The best part? End of Nations is free to play, with in-game purchases—"vanity and convenience" items, according to developers Trion Worlds—providing some extra meat for paying customers.

We sat down with Trion Worlds recently in LA to preview two of the game's multiplayer offerings: "Resource Hog" and "Operation Last Stand." The former is a PVP mode, while the latter pits players in indirect competition with one another.

"Resource Hog" is essentially a 4v4 domination gametype, with eight armies on two teams competing with one another for control of key points on the map. As you can imagine, it gets chaotic very quickly. Communication and planning between teammates is key, and it'll take more than an hour-long preview to get used to the many nuances and strategies PVP players can take advantage of.

The second mode, "Operation Last Stand," is an interesting take on popular modes like Gears of War's "Horde" and Halo's "Firefight." Two players compete to outlast one another against ever-tougher waves of AI-controlled enemies. The players can only attack one another indirectly, using landmine drops, EMP blasts and more from a distance. These "superweapons" are acquired by capturing nodes scattered throughout the map; other nodes increase the rate at which they accrue resources.

Units auto-attack nearby enemies, so players can trust half their forces to defend the base while they direct the other half in scouting out the battlefield and capturing nodes. In addition, each type of unit has some unique abilities at its disposal; helicopters can attack other air forces with a barrage of missiles, tanks are particularly effective against infantry, and so on.

End of Nations is an enormous brown and grey warzone peppered with splashes of color, players locked in intricate battles of will and might across its many playing fields. One notable new feature we hadn't seen before this preview is the ability to outfit multiple companies before a match and recall and deploy them at low cost, effectively turning some battles into an elaborate game of Rock/Paper/Scissors. Being prepared with multiple varied companies in reserve is essential to outwit your opponents during the actual battle.

The last time we played End of Nations was E3 2010, so we sat down with Trion Worlds' David Leuhmann after the preview to find out exactly what's changed since then. Check out the next two pages for our interview and some gameplay footage.

Complex: The last time I saw the game was almost two years ago at E3. How has the game evolved over its development? How has it changed?

David Luehmann, VP of third party development: I think a couple of ways. I mean the first way is really the free-to-play model. That's been a big focus of how we're developing it and how we're trying to make the game as approachable as possible to the widest audience. And I think the concept of really heavy RPG elements that kind of grew out of the MMO side have been scaled down a little bit. We're using MMO elements to really enhance the RTS feature and make it more of an RTS and less of an RPG in that sense.

Were there any other games that you were looking at specifically when you were developing those aspects? Making it free-to-play, scaling back the elements that make it less accessible to a wider audience?

There's a few other games. I mean, I think there's some good free-to-play role models out there. League of Legends is a great example. World of Tanks is another great example. There's a few other RTS games in that category that are always good to look at. A little different mentality—ours is a bit more tactical, so it's not really a focus on the build tree side. It's more, you know—not the build tree but the build order side, and more on the—what's the strategy of the tactics I want to employ here? So it really revolves around that a bit more. So you know, there's Age of Empires out there, which is a good online game. Then there's the Dawn of War series, which I think is a bit more tactical. So it's kind of drawing on some of the concepts that have existed in those games as well.

What specifically are the new things you're showing off today?

Companies, actually, you can deploy more than one company now. You start with, you know, company A—Alpha, Beta, Charlie, Delta, Echo—that may be a company that's focused on infantry. You get into a fight against tanks, you realize you're outmatched by this, you switch to a company of air, which is particularly good against tanks and ground units. Your enemy might then switch to a good anti-air strategy. You'll find those are really interesting dynamics that change the way the battle was played over the course of a half hour.

So one company retreats and you send the other guys out.

Exactly right.

That applies to Last Man Standing as well?

It does actually. In any one of the maps you can swap out companies. As long as you've gained the resources in that map and you have the ability to deploy/recall units that are in the field, you get a little bit of those resources back, and you can deploy another company that's ready to go that's in your reserves.

Anything else that's new?

Heroes are another part of it. So heroes are a company leader. And they are unique characters that bring kind of an extra boost with them. They tend to be a little bit more expensive from a resource and deployment standpoint, but they add buffs to your other units. So there's one, called Cheetah, is a fast-moving infantry unit. Any other infantry that's in proximity to her will also move at her pace. So she'll speed the rest of them all up. And there's a bunch of different varieties of those. They're very unique in that sense, and you'll see a lot of that in the game and more and more as we go forward.

What kind of aspects of the game do you think are tougher to demo at—you know, it's like a two hour event, so obviously there's a lot you can't show, and there are a lot of elements that you can't really communicate in such a short time.

I think the biggest challenge is that loop, right? You know, I play a match or two, I get a little bit of experience, I figure out how my units work, what they're good against, what they're not good against. And then I can start to unlock and I'll start to level up and think, what choices do I want to make there? And that's kind of I think what we really lack in these short events. You just hit level 5, we give you a couple of points, you know, unlock a couple things in your tech tree, you can now field a different set of units that can change your strategy, your strategy will evolve a little bit like that.

And the other element is you don't really have a, well, I call it a balanced playing field. We don't really know enough about you to know you're a good player, or not a good player, or match you up with people of similar skill or similar experience level. So those are kind of the two things I think get lost a little bit in that. You don't have friends that are coming and playing with you at the same time. So playing with two or three people over and over again actually really defines the strategy really well.

So there's going to be more of a skill-based matchmaking.

Yes, exactly.

What main elements do you want people to take away from this particular preview?

There's three big elements. One is massive scale; big battles, big units, lots of players. Massive instances like you haven't ever seen in an RTS game before. The other one is persistence. It's that, you know, as you play, the game will evolve. Your characters will evolved. What your strategy is will evolve as well, and that persistence over time is a really big feature on that. 

And the third part of that is kind of your customization, it's not just you know, skins and colors and those types of vanity items, but also what units you use and how you mod those units, and you know—do you add more on speed because you want to be a speed character, do you add more on defense because you want to be able to last longer in battler? That type of customization actually can really change the game dynamic.

How is that stuff going to be unlocked? Is it going to be stuff that you get as you level, or in-game purchases?

Yes to all of the above. In-game purchases with real money are primarily vanity and convenience. It's skins and boosts and those types of things. In the wealth system from within the game, so kind of in-game currency, you can buy mods, additional units, those types of things. You always have to unlock the ability to utilize a unit before you can purchase it with any kind of money. So it's always about earning your right to be able to play with these particular types of units, not buying your right to do so.

You're anticipating a lot of people are going to choose to boost it anyway?

Well, you know, boosting's a fast way to level rank, so..

And the free-to-play thing is—

It's popular. We want to make sure we're—it's balanced, so we're not trying to—we don't want to over-index on that, right? You know, I do think people are going to want to level up quickly. That's fine. But at some point, it's really— you still have to get in there and play, whether you're boosting or not.