Tom Clancy’s EndWar is a game the next generation console has been waiting for. It’s a game that takes a genre traditionally found on a PC and heaves it onto the console platform. And it does all of this without much kicking or screaming. The problem is it does it without many fireworks either.
Taking control of one of three factions (Europe, America or Russia), your job is to command a battalion to victory in the third world war. EndWar keeps you attached to your battalion and sees you fighting through different theatres of war in a bid to win the conflict. As a result, you’re able to upgrade your battalion with credits you win from each conflict, increasing your power and making it that little bit more difficult to defeat you. Surviving units are promoted, making them more experienced and more effective on the battlefield.
We first saw EndWar back in February and we got a chance to play it then, as well as at Ubidays later on in the year. Each time we took control of a faction something had changed, the development process had thrown something new in, there were some new features or vehicles which we hadn’t seen before. We were told the basics of the game’s rock-paper-scissor (choppers beat tanks which beat transporters which beat choppers) hierarchy hadn’t changed, meaning the gameplay would be solid and defined. All that was left for Ubi to do was bulk up the story and open the whole world as a theatre of war with battlefronts to choose from.
Unfortunately they didn’t and it hasn’t come to fruition. For some bizarre reason the game doesn’t seem to have changed much from when we saw it last. The fact there is no real story doesn’t allow for much loyalty to a faction. Only a third of the world has battlefronts from which you can choose your next skirmish and even then you’re limited to which battles you can choose. This really takes away that freedom which you get from something like the RISK board game where you can choose to attack anywhere at any time, putting real strategy into the overall war.
Unlike the strategic board games however, EndWar missions come in four different guises, regardless of which faction you choose to play. Raid missions will see you destroying or defending buildings for a predetermined amount of time. Conquest requires you to capture and hold more than half the uplink stations in the map for a set amount of time. Assault is pretty much what it suggests, complete destruction of the enemy and Siege is all about taking out or defending a critical uplink for as long as required of you.
When you jump into a battle though, the game feels completely different. It’s not clumsy nor is it difficult to keep an eye on your troops. The voice command system is slick and more accurate than anything we’ve ever used, and the commands are intuitive. However, not all commands need to be voiced – sometimes it’s just a whole lot easier to use the controller, but that is employed rarely, and the game can be easily played either entirely using voice or with a mix of both controller and voice.
On the battlefield there is a real sense of urgency, and it’s very easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of battle. Luckily not only is the voice command system excellent, but the information of units in the battle space is extremely well executed too. It ‘s never difficult to know what units are having problems, which units are attacking and which units are retreating. This is the most important part of the game, and it’s here that real RTS gamers will pull away from those that like the idea of being an armchair commander. Knowing where your units are is key to the success of this game. It doesn’t matter if you have more than 10 units on the screen, if they don’t adhere to the rock-paper-scissor system you can count them out, if your troops are exposed you can say goodbye, if the uplinks aren’t secured by foot-soldiers you’re screwed. Although the parameters are very strict, it doesn’t take away from the sense of achievement one gets when the mission has been nailed, even after a WMD has been released by the enemy…
Yes, the WMD is an option that allows the losing team to take out a key location on the map. This destroys everything in the vicinity and hopes to put the losing team back in the running when it all seems to be going horribly wrong. This is something that I am still out to lunch on, but I can imagine, as a last ditch attempt and out of desperation, this is actually quite a good thing, especially if you manage to hit most of the opposing team’s units.
EndWar is a skirmishes game, even when you complete the game it’s a complete anti-climax. Maybe it’s because there isn’t a story attached, maybe because only a third of the world is accessible as battles, and even then you’re restricted to which battlefronts you can engage in. Even then, and after completing the game with all factions, I was left feeling hollow, and cold because the heating wasn’t working.
This game is clearly designed for online play, but what it needs are more theatres of war, more downloadable content, and more players online. This game was never going to be as popular as some of Ubi’s other big titles, but this is one for the long term. This is one which, if Ubi plays it right, will become a staple for the console and in time will attract more players to a virtual world. Especially if the Tom Clancy universe does become a reality. I have a funny feeling this is only the beginning, and as a first course it’s just about right. It leaves you savouring your favourite bits, but doesn’t fill you up for the main course. Let’s just hope we’re not waiting for the main course for too long, or worse, that that starter was in fact the main.