Atari and Eugen Systems this week spoke more candidly about the first expansion pack for Act of War: Direct Action, their highly-rated PC RTS. The pack's due out in March 2006 and features naval combat, mercenary units, a greater degree of multiplayer customisation and, of course, a new campaign.
Eugen's tried to ensure that the units in Act of War retain their correct proportions - or at least come reasonably close - so naval combat was obviously a challenge. Destroyers, aircraft carriers - these are big things. To achieve this, Eugen's worked with the camera so that you're still just as close to the action on dry land, but out to sea it zooms out to a more appropriate vantage point.
Ship to ship combat will be a bit more complex than simply turning and firing - each ship has various strengths and weaknesses so there'll be a real paper-scissors-stone feel to events. Cruise missiles fired from the back will be picked off by gun emplacements, for example, so you'll want to make sure you can affect a two-or-more-pronged attack relying on aerial support. Or torpedoes. Those tasty torpedoes.
Mercenary units, meanwhile, might sound like a shortcut to power but they're actually envisaged as a key defence against tank-rushing. Eugen noticed that a lot of novice players would build up a huge stock of cash and fail to use it effectively, while more efficient players were left to wipe the floor with them - now you'll be able to call in the merc's using your excess funds if you're under threat. They cost more, but if they don't get obliterated you can recoup some of it, so it's not all bad.
There'll also be healing units that can do "fast heal" - a chopper zooms in, heals them up, and then zooms off again to recharge.
Multiplayer additions come in the form of new modes, maps and customisation - you can set the speed, what sort of things you allow, the lethality of weapons, etc. The new modes include Marine One Down, which is like a tug of war for the downed president, where he'll follow you if you're the most likely option for escape, as well as SCUD, which puts you on the same map with a nuke in the middle, and the first there takes control; the others are then expected to gang up to try and force it out of the hands of one player.
It's all going to be ready for March 2006, apparently, and when we took a look at it last week in Lyon it was coming together quite healthily - with big, hulking naval units (sans textures at this point) and a smooth transition between camera modes. We'll have more on the expansion as we get closer to release.