Posted – 11.24.2008
Endwar might not be based on a Tom Clancy novel, but it retains the techno-political edge of the fiction that bears his name as World War III explodes across the globe in what may have been an off day for Third Echelon. This time, instead of relying on Sam Fisher or the tactical stopping power of Rainbow Six, entire armies will be used to tilt the balance of world power without having to worry about annoying little things such as hostages or subtlety.
The story is pure Clancy, even though his pen didn’t write this one. In 2014, high tech satellites capable of shooting down ICBMs protect both Europe and America, but the thirst for oil has only gotten worse when a nuclear war between Iran and Saudi Arabia destroys most of the reserves two years later. Russia reaps the benefits of hyper-inflated oil prices using its profits to modernize its military and greatly extend its political power. Europe is forced to consolidate its own forces into a single nation, with only one or two refusing to join, becoming a rival that the United States finds itself competing against on the world stage. As former allies begin an arms race for supremacy, Russian hardliners quietly orchestrate events that will eventually plunge all three sides into war.
RTS titles on the 360, such as EA’s Command and Conquer: Tiberium Wars or Battle for Middle Earth II have proven that you don’t need a keyboard and a mouse to command your way to success, but Ubisoft has gone one step further by tossing out the controller by asking you to use your voice instead. The game recommends going through the voice configuration tutorial, but it was a lot harder to get my voice recognized there than it was to actually jump into the game and start issuing orders which the gameplay apparently had no problem with.
I’ll have to admit that after getting used to issuing orders over the mic, there was something of an ego rub in hearing my units answer back and head off to do their duty. The game keeps things simple with the kind of commands that can be issued. Simply saying “Unit One Attack Two” is enough for your units to go off and attack an enemy and they’ll actually reply back if they can’t do it or if they think it’s a bad idea to fight something they’re not equipped for. It’s not forced, either, since it also allows commands to be issued using the controller. It’s a little more cumbersome, and the voice works best in a pinch for when you’re juggling up to twelve different groups out there, but at least its an option.
The gameplay seems oriented into using your voice for everything, though. You can’t view the entire battlefield by sweeping the camera across it, for example, since its tied to each unit group. Plenty of details keep your eyes company, however, as zooming in close to tank units allows you to count how many wheels there are on a side or watch as a unit of soldiers take formation outside of a building Rainbow Six style before heading in. Cities, snowbound tundra, and a variety of other venues provide plenty of terrain for your armies to slug it out over.
Units are made up of groups of soldiers or vehicles and the game uses a rock-paper-scissors approach in defeating each one. Soldiers are great for taking over buildings such as uplink nodes, but aren’t so good against armor. Tanks are great in mopping up soldiers or attacking lesser armored troop carriers, but are at a disadvantage against helicopters. And choppers are great against ground targets, but vulnerable to fire from engineers and fast moving transports. It works by keeping it simple allowing the player to focus more on having fun in figuring out what they need than in trying to juggle together an elaborate mix.
Resource minded commanders will be able to call in additional unit groups, for a total of twelve, depending on how many uplink nodes they manage to control along with whatever conditions that the battle is fought under. Certain missions, such as raids, narrow the number of reinforcements the player can call upon with extreme limits while others are a lot more generous. Over time, command points are built up which can be spent on calling new units or initiating special orders such as launching an air-fuel bomb to annihilate a group of enemies and anything that might have the misfortune of standing too close…even your own units.
Battles are objective based. You might be asked to wipe out every enemy unit, take over uplink nodes which serve as territory flags to be conquered, destroy valuable assets with a limited number of units, or lay siege to a city over three separate battles. The game begins by getting your feet wet with each type of battle before asking you to choose one of three sides to represent in World War III. As Russia, Europe, or the United States, the rest of the story will play out depending on whose flag you choose to fly.
Depending on how well you perform in battle, you are rewarded with credits and a command rating which influences how big of a reward you earn. Credits won’t mean much during the prelude, but when WW3 begins, you can use your hard earned cash to upgrade unit groups and purchase new command powers such as improved airstrikes. When you select a flag, you’ll also be given a choice of military groups to command each of which has their own strengths and weaknesses. Some may excel when it comes to tanks, giving them bonuses on attack, but are weak when it comes to ground soldiers. Others may have an advantage in the air only to leave their armored forces weak. Once you choose your own army, their fate is in your hands.
Units earn experience which is tallied at the end of battle and units aren’t completely wiped out most of the time as the survivors are automatically evacuated. This allows you to build up veteran units that become stronger over time with a variety of bonuses such as improved health or damage. Certain enhancements can only be purchased for units that have earned experience, making it important to ensure that your favorite ones are well protected and aren’t merely thrown away because you can call in replacements.
World war is waged by attacking targets across the northern hemisphere. All you really need to do is click on a location and see if there’s a battle somewhere in the world worth fighting. Since war is never a solo affair, winning your own fights will also go towards how well your side will fare elsewhere as locations change hands at the end of any one turn. This really lends a feel that there are multiple battles occurring across the world and thanks to the missile shield, there are no nuclear options to worry about leaving battles in the hands of conventional forces.
Playing through the single player campaign will also show snippets of news as it happens elsewhere in the world and the amount of dialogue in the game ensures that your units have plenty to say, especially when you give them orders. Unfortunately, as strong as the story is when it starts off, the campaign battles do little to add to the thin narrative that continues afterwards. Finishing a thread led to a lackluster ending that did little to really inspire me to play as anyone else, but at least there’s the multiplayer to keep things fresh. Multiplayer brings the war online with a persistent map allowing players to jump in, fight a few battles, and then leave ensuring that no two maps are ever exactly alike, replacing the AI with living generals that will likely do a far better job.
If you’re looking for a solid, tactical strategy title, Endwar is sure to provide plenty of fun, but the lack of any real story and the gimmicky use of voice as a control option do little to make it very exciting. It’s an interesting Clancy-esque twist on current events, but without any of the deeper detail found in other RTS offerings to bolster the thin elements that it presents players with, fighting this final war might not be an option that everyone will want to exercise as a last resort.
– World 1-1