Real Time Strategy games have been a genre that has gone through its ups and downs. Usually catering to the group of gamers that would prefer to micromanage every little piece of a battle, RTS games have needed a jump start to cater to a new crowd. Even with popular titles on plenty of systems, such as the Advance Wars series, it has waited for that one title that gives us a kick-start. Ubisoft, with their popular series of Tom Clancy games, have possibly given us that title which will spark a revitalization of the RTS series with EndWar.
EndWar takes us 12 years into the future in the year 2020. A short lead-up of events from a few years prior to the game’s present time shows how the world has changed. Europe is now known as the European Union, which is a result of the countries in the continent falling under one union. The United States is still its own entity as well as Russia. These are the three superpowers of the world. The United States and the European Union enter into a pact of peace, creating a missile protection system in space that ultimately ends the threat of nuclear war, leaving Russia out in the cold. However, things take a turn for the worse when oil reserves run dangerously low. Russia, being the world’s number one in oil refining and natural gas production, begins spending its oil billions on its military, creating tension. A chain of events then occur thus sending the world into another global war.
EndWar hangs its hat on the innovative Voice Recognition System (VRS) which offers a possible savior to the clumsiness that has plagued RTS attempts on consoles that PC versions do not suffer from. The VRS uses the Xbox Live Headset to take commands from the player. Upon starting up a new campaign, you will go through a calibration where the game will adjust to the volume of your voice as much as possible as well as the clarity of your words. It takes nothing more than a few minutes to do this, which is a testament to the system’s accuracy. The VRS will ultimately limit how much you use the controller and, while it will do this fairly well, your use of the controller will not be completely eliminated.
After going through the calibration phase, you will then have the option to choose either “Prelude to War” or “World War III” as your game modes. Prelude to War is the tutorial that teaches you the basics of battle while giving you the series of events that actually leads to World War III beginning. Most tutorials in games are fairly dull and are somewhat painful to go through. EndWar makes you want to play the tutorial, especially those who are not familiar with the actual story that comes from the Tom Clancy book. The series of missions in the tutorial actually gives you the chance to play as each one of the three nations. At the end of the tutorial, you are rewarded with a long cutscene that is actually a news broadcast, showing that the world has tumbled into war once again.
World War III has now begun, and you are free to choose the United States, the European Union, or Russia, as your home nation. Each nation has their own territories which are of high importance when it comes to military strategy. You will fight in various battlegrounds such as Washington D.C., Paris, or Moscow. Most of the other battlegrounds are military installations or strategically important areas upon the nations. It is important that, upon entering a new mission, you take notice of the layout ahead of time.
After choosing your nation, it’s time to choose your battalion. Each battalion has their own specialty, whether it be airborne vehicles, tanks, or infantry. You will have several to choose from, each with their own bonuses and weaknesses. The wonderful thing about this is that it offers a lot of customization for everyone since each player will have their own unique strategy upon entering the battlefield. What does not change, however, is the cycle that EndWar uses when it comes to determining the outcome of skirmishes inside of a battle. There are seven primary forces that you will utilize: tanks, gunships, transports, artillery, riflemen, engineers, and command vehicles. Tanks defeat transports easily, transports defeat gunships easily, and gunships tear up tanks with no problem. Yes, it is a paper-rock-scissors approach to the battle, but you would be amazed at how difficult it is to maintain your advantages during battle. Riflemen and engineers are good against most anything, so long as they are in cover behind walls or in a building. If they are in the open, do not expect them to last very long. They will be mowed down by any vehicle. Artillery is good against anything as well, so long as it is long range. They are ripped apart by anything except riflemen when it comes to close combat. Command vehicles aren’t generally used for combat as they are used for reconnaissance, although they can deploy combat drones to either attack enemies or provide added protection for other units.
The customization of your battalion kicks in once you have chosen your unit and begins to amass funds from each battle. You will be able to pick and choose upgrades for each of your units, but they have to earn their stripes on the field of battle before gaining eligibility for certain upgrades. I learned the hard way that you simply can’t max out one class of vehicle and expect to run roughshod over an enemy. This provides balance to the game, forcing you to have to evenly distribute your funds in order to maintain a healthy battalion. Over time, you will learn how to manage your troops and turn them into a formidable force.
The meat of the game, of course, is on the battlefield itself. Your campaign will start out with a strategic view of the globe, having hexagonal icons that designate a battlefield. The globe works almost as a large game of Risk, connecting areas via lines across the world. You cannot just pick a city or area and attack it. You must hold an adjacent battlefield to that city and, also, your army must be ready to attack it. This creates plenty of realism as you must work your way towards the capital cities in order to take a nation out. To increase the difficulty of this, capital cities take three battles to actually conquer, which is explained a little more in depth while working through the tutorial.
Once you have chosen a battlefield, you are presented with the setup process of your units. Each battlefield you go to will vary in the amount of units you can deploy. Starting units will range anywhere from two to eight units and can go all the way up to twelve units total at one time on the battlefield. After going through the tutorial, you will have free reign as to how you deploy your units both at the start and during the battle. During your briefing, you will be given an overview of your objective in the battle as well as the opposing commander. If you listen closely to your orders, you are given hints as to the type of strategy your opponent uses. Objectives will vary, depending on the area and who is the attacking and defending nation. In one battle, you may have to secure uplinks, very similar to a “Capture the flag” scenario. In another battle, you may have to simply defend your area until reinforcements arrive. Also, there may be a battle where you simply must wipe out the opposing forces by any means necessary. Each one of these battles requires various strategies that you must employ, or else you won’t get very far in campaign.
On the battlefield, you will finally get to utilize the VRS in full swing. While you can use the control pad, analog stick, and the buttons to execute your commands, the VRS speeds everything up, eliminate that annoying point and click that is difficult to control. So, for example, if you need to send one of your units to attack an enemy, you would hold the Right Trigger and say “Unit 1 Attack Hostile 2” and release the trigger. At that point, if the command was executed properly, you will get a confirmation from that unit. If it didn’t understand you or you gave an invalid command, you will get a radio message in your headset telling you that you weren’t understood. The accuracy of the VRS, if I had to put a number on it, would be roughly 90 percent. It’s quite efficient at understanding your voice, although some words do get mixed up from time to time, such as “attack” and “abort” for example. Learning the various commands in battle will come to you in time with practice, although your screen will give you a display of the proper commands you can give, although after enough battles, they will roll off your tongue quite easily. Those who aren’t familiar with the military alphabet, such as A is Alpha, might have a little steeper learning curve, although you will only use those commands when taking over an uplink.
Battles will take anywhere from five to twenty minutes, at least with the gameplay I experienced. Some battles may go longer than that, depending on where they are located. Capital city battles, I find, are the hardest to navigate as they are a little harder to navigate with more buildings in the way. Also, when you get into your battles that require the use of twelve battle units at once, strategy becomes incredibly important. You can play defense for awhile and stretch out the battle, but it’s important to balance out your units and take advantage of geography as well as what your opponent is using. Loading up on one unit simply will not work and you will get exploited.
Campaign mode doesn’t have a set amount of turns before it ends. It varies on how many territories each nation has and if one has an overwhelming advantage over the other two. I was a little disappointed, however, at my first run through Campaign as it ended in 16 turns, yet I wasn’t able to experience taking over a capital city. It had been rumored that, in the higher skill levels, you would be required to take over at least one capital, but this has not been confirmed or denied. The campaign’s length will also hinge at how aggressive you are. You can fight defensive battles once an enemy tries to invade your home soil or you can risk it and do an all out assault on a single nation. You must choose wisely, however, as each turn will afford you the opportunity to pick from any number of battles. You can only fight one, though. The other battles will take place at the same time may or may not go in your favor, so there is an element of chance that goes into selecting your fights.
There are some negatives that need to be addressed, however. Obviously, the VRS is very good but has its flaws. You can get caught panicking if things aren’t going your way and rush some of your commands, thus throwing off the recognition and coming back with an error. Also, you may give a command to a unit but, if they are getting flanked by an enemy, you may get ignored and the unit will continue to fight. This doesn’t happen too often, but is certainly a possibility. On top of this, some players may get frustrated as battles get more and more confusing when the number of units you control increase. Trying to keep track of twelve units and deploy them in the necessary manner will test one’s wits and may wear you down if you don’t keep calm. Of course, this may not necessarily be viewed as a negative for hardened players, but may scare off some of the more casual players who are trying out an RTS for the first time.
EndWar also features an online multiplayer that will certainly test your wits and strategies. You can choose to do a single battle if you want to sharpen your skills against other players, or you can enter into a Massively Multiplayer Campaign where you take control of a nation against players from around the world. Keep in mind, though, that the MMC portion of online play can take days, not hours. Upon logging into an MMC match, I found that my turn would end in three hours if I didn’t make a move. The campaign online, itself, saves once a player completes a turn. This system will certainly be tested once more players get online, but it’s an added twist to the gameplay element of EndWar. It’s one that is certainly welcome, as change and risk are never frowned upon.
EndWar gives us a wonderfully fresh look at the future of the RTS genre. The Voice Recognition System works exceptionally well with a few hiccups here and there. It takes some time to get used to executing commands, but once it is learned, battles will become easier to manage as you learn the ins and outs of the game. There are some minor problems when it comes to the overall AI of certain commands given and no local multiplayer is a little bit of a disappointment, but understandable with the VRS and having more than one person in battle. Ultimately, the Tom Clancy series gets another solid title under its belt. If you have ever tried out an RTS or are looking at getting into the field of battle for the first time, pick up EndWar. You will not be disappointed.