Victory – A Couple of Thoughts

I was a rabid fan of End of Nations. Look at the earliest posts in this blog. I thought End of Nations was going to be a huge, transformative game. I vouched for Victory when it was on Kickstarter. I analyzed the EoN comics. On RTSGuru, I wrote guides for each class, and tons of footage analyses, lore discussions, mechanical overviews, and more. I wrote thousands and thousands of words on the game’s forums. And then, Trion killed it and desecrated the corpse.

And finally, finally, we have a game that espouses and attempts to fulfill the promises of the End of Nations concept. Victory Command is, for developer Petroglyph Entertainment, the product of what they learned from the End of Nations project in much the same way that the End of Nations MOBA was what Trion thought they could do with the game. And while Trion’s EON MOBA was a travesty of epic proportions, Victory has promise as a unique entrant into the strategy space.

Introduction and Elevator Pitch

11165161_1641476392751712_9065405685437062074_oLet’s get this out of the way, first. Victory is not End of Nations. It does some things better, some things worse, and many things very differently. It is, however, cut from the same cloth as EoN, and many unit concepts and designs would be familiar to anyone who played in the End of Nations alpha or beta events.

Like End of Nations, Victory is a team-based tactical combat game. It’s not a MOBA, it’s not an RTS, and it’s certainly not a realistic war simulation. It falls into a nebulous grey area, taking ideas from a variety of genres and cooking them up with a dash of zaniness vaguely reminiscent of a WarCraft or Red Alert game.

An elevator pitch for the game would be difficult to craft, honestly, but allow me to try before going into a more thorough discussion of its mechanics. “Victory Command is a team-based tactical combat game where players control squads of vehicles or infantry and work together to take and hold battlefield objectives in war-torn combat arenas. In Victory Command, teamwork and precision are important, as units lost in combat cannot be replaced.”

11169559_1572366256377752_1155090307370256377_oAn alternate elevator pitch could be a famous quote from Petroglyph’s Mike Legg, whom he attributes to Joe Bostic “At the foundation of the modern RTS genre is the wish to recreate, as a computer game, the quintessential boyhood experience of playing with toy soldiers and tanks in a sandbox.” And that is Victory Command.

Now, let’s discuss the game in detail, shall we?

What is Victory Command? – Choosing Your Squad

victory_command-2775140In Victory Command, players pick a squad type with which to enter combat. Unlike in MOBAs such as League of Legends or DOTA 2, this is done prior to queuing for a match – similar to how Rise of Immortals worked, if you remember Petroglyph’s abortive attempt at a MOBA (prior to its rebranding as Battle for Graxia). This has a number of significant implications which I will touch on shortly.

So, the player picks a squad type. These squads are divided into one of 3 general categories: infantry, light vehicles, or tanks. Each squad is a self-contained unit, with all of the perks, units, and global abilities the player will have access to in combat. Furthermore, each squad has its own 3 tiered tech tree. As a player uses a squad, the squad gains experience that can be used to unlock items within that squad’s tech tree. Again, like in Rise of Immortals, the game is designed around the use and upgrading of individual ‘heroes’ or squads in this case, and not with any account wide level, tech tree or specialization.

Infantry squads have a number of special characteristics, but are generally middling in speed, high in number, do not have directional armor, and have access to areas of the map not available to (most) vehicles. Light vehicles are faster, may or may not be open topped, may or may not have directional armor, and have smaller numbers than infantry. Tanks have very low squad sizes (1-4 individual units) and are slow, but can have reinforced frontal armor, and tend to be capable of dealing and taking huge amounts of damage.

Units can have a number of characteristics, such as: whether or not the unit is open-topped and is therefore vulnerable to artillery weapons, whether or not the unit can shoot up cliffs (many cannot), whether or not the unit gains stealth when immobile, or must be immobile to fire, and so on. Units have a weapons and an armor rating, determining which weapon types they are vulnerable to, and which armor types they are effective at targeting. These various interlocking systems (much as End of Nations had) pretty much require that teams have a diverse array of unit types available to them, and requires that players work together to take and hold match objectives (we’ll get to that in a second).

11109201_1639472446285440_3196907376057510672_oThe Implications of Choosing a Squad Before You Queue for a Match

The implication I mentioned earlier is this: in choosing a squad prior to entering a match, the player is locked into a specific choice which may, or may not be appropriate for the needs of their team (currently in Early Access, it’s not possible to create 5 man arranged teams, or at least there’s no UI for this) based on what their teammates have available and the force composition of the enemy. Companies can have up to 3 specialized loadouts with different abilities, and can swap out a portion of their forces for player-chosen supplemental units of any type, but by-and-large they’re stuck with the unit type they picked before they queued.

I’ve argued this on twitter and on the game’s forums, and there are those who disagree with me – that squads in Victory are fundamentally different from heroes in, say, DOTA. I disagree, and contest that it would be a good thing to let players coordinate their squad composition after the game matchmaker puts all players in a match. Even being able to coordinate with your allies, then being presented with both team loadouts, as in most MOBA games, would allow for some modicum of planning and coordination vital to a game of this type. Squad loadouts ameliorate this fundamental issue somewhat but are I think addressing the symptom and not the cause.

Moving on to gameplay…

Victory Command In-Match Gameplay

11289114_1643135399252478_4019505092939428724_oThose who remember End of Nations will be most familiar with Victory Command’s gameplay, I think. The two teams of five spawn, with all of their units initially available, into a relatively large battlefield, strewn with cliffs, brush, structures, infantry-only paths (which also provide infantry a defensive bonus) and a number of objective markers, both primary and secondary.

Unlike in a traditional RTS or MOBA, Victory has absolutely no build up phase. A player launches into a match as powerful as they’ll ever be: all abilities will have a short cooldown before they can be used, but there is no build up of power within a match, only a slow attrition. Units in Victory cannot be replaced once lost – if an infantryman dies, he’s gone for the rest of the match. If a tank is destroyed, likewise. Victory is a game about preservation, not about economics or production.

The main point of the game is to control more of each map’s 3 primary control zones than your opponent, and to ultimately be the first team to accumulate a score of 250 points from holding those control zones. Any unit a player owns will instantly revert that point to the control of that player’s team. A single unit from a player can, likewise, render a point neutral if both teams have a unit within a zone. Each map also has a number of secondary objective points that can heal units, or increase the rate of victory point gain for your team, etc. All points can be ‘locked’ which prevents the enemy team from contesting or controlling the point for a short time. When secondary objectives are locked, they often have additional effects that can disadvantage the enemy team.

Since a player’s units do not respawn, a number of mechanics have been put into place to support players who have lost most, or all of their units. As mentioned above, all zones can be contested or controlled equally well by a single unit as by a full complement of units. Also, when a player has only one unit left, that remaining unit gains huge bonuses to damage, damage resistance, and speed. Players who have lost all of their units can still use abilities to support their allies. These are all good things.

Implications of Victory Command Gameplay Design

10483821_1572366166377761_6471822592571107590_oUnfortunately, this tends to make gameplay an endless rondo of squads running from point to point, capturing the low hanging fruit of uncontested zones, and relatively infrequent abortive battles when two squads happen to run into each other. In some matches, you find truly interesting gameplay with ambushes, concerted holding actions, unit micro and intelligent teamwork but in the average match there seems to be little in the way of intelligent map flow.

In End of Nations, each player had the ability to bring a small number of turrets with them to be used to hold territory (or, in some cases, be used offensively). In Victory, there’s nothing of the sort. It’s left primarily to infantry and heavy vehicle players to camp out on control points, or to some infantry and light vehicles to scour the map for easy targets. You don’t get the sense of a battle line, or a front, or anything approaching combat as it would be conceived as simulating reality in a meaningful way.

Where in a Company of Heroes, it can be the case that cracking a point held by a player could be frustratingly difficult, in Victory you seldom get anything in the way of interesting battles. There’s some flanking, some exploitation of line of sight, and a tremendous amount of importance given to teamwork and being aware of escape paths. But, both in holding territory and fighting, there’s this feeling that things are about a half-step off from being really fulfilling.

Wish List

11206716_1572366203044424_372982156745442001_oVictory Command has some really interesting ideas. Its arcade-y combat mechanics, graphics that seem determined to put you in the mindset of ‘playing with toy tanks and soldiers in a sandbox’ and especially its loadout system, all add up to an interesting game. Sadly, I think (as I mentioned above) the current state of the gameplay feels incomplete: there needs to be some governing system in place to add a bit more structure into the gameplay in general – running around from point to point is not inherently interesting or tactical to me in a meaningful way.

Eventually, Victory will get team-based matchmaking, and I think this will go a long way to ensuring that high level play and coordination is rewarded, but I think the fundamental lack of structure is a flaw that must be addressed to improve the gameplay. Likewise, the game’s Perk system (which I didn’t get a good opportunity to go into in this article) Drone mechanic (which I likewise would like to address further in a future article) and overall unit and squad customization is lacking in general. Even in End of Nations I wanted more out of unit and squad customization options, and Victory muting these mechanics even further seems a step in the wrong direction. People love customizing their characters, and I think a game such as Victory should cater to that drive.

In Conclusion

Victory has the potential to be a true successor to the End of Nations, squad-based tactical combat game concept. It is currently rough around the edges tactically, and in need of some mechanical rethinking and refinement that it may never get. This is truly an Early Access title and it needs a loving community to play it and foster good ideas, and a loving developer to take the constructive criticism of its community and craft it into meaningful improvements. I think Victory has a chance to become a good game in its own right, and plan to continue to play and cover it so long as the community supports it and development goes in what I consider to be a positive direction.

It’s not there yet, but the Petroglyph vision of “playing with toy tanks and soldiers in a sandbox” is one I fundamentally appreciate, and will support with my time, energy, and passion.

See you on the battlefield.

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