Real-time strategy games have been trying to succeed in the console world for several generations, but they have never been able to fully transition smoothly from PC monitors to televisions because of their overly complex control methods. Tom Clancy’s EndWar hopes to finally blast through this barrier by trying something different: voice commands. While this has been done in gaming before, can EndWar use them successfully enough to legitimize the console RTS genre?
EndWar focuses on World War III, a battle between US, Europe, and Russia. After several training missions, you are asked to pick a faction before being brought to a world map that shows you what group controls which areas of the planet. The goal of WWIII is to either acquire a certain percentage of land for your faction or to capture and hold all three of the capitol cities that are scattered around the planet. You gain control of these through RTS battles, which are played out in five different gametypes including Conquest, where each team is vying to capture bases that are spread out all over the map, and Assault, which requires you to wipe out every last member of the opposing force.
In addition to the Prelude and WWIII campaigns, the game also includes a multiplayer component called Theater of War, which is a persistent online conflict that has each win or loss you rack up counting towards your faction’s tally–similarly to how they do in the offline campaigns. After choosing a side, you are told their standing and asked to capture land for your group, which gives a sense of importance to every online battle you fight. It would be great to see more games adapt this type of multiplayer structure.
The combat in all modes of EndWar is centered around the basics of Rock-Paper-Scissors: certain units always beat other units, and you have to keep this in mind when sending your soldiers into battle. You are given a certain amount of unit slots to create soldiers, tanks, transports, or helicopters at the beginning of every match — with each unit having their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, the infantry units are slow and weak but can capture bases that let you launch air strikes, while the helicopters are fast moving yet easily downed by transport vehicles. The action is fast-paced and the gameplay forces you to be thinking constantly while making split-second tactical choices that can radically change the outcome of a fight. Needless to say, the combat is exciting.
This is especially true when taking advantage of EndWar’s unique voice control mechanic, which is a first in console real time strategy. Using your headset of choice, you are able to shout-out commands to your virtual army as simply as you would to someone sitting next to you. You can do everything from sending your units after an enemy to organizing your squads, and can even switch the camera’s position by telling it where to go.
Though some minor comprehension mistakes are occasionally made, voice command is easily the recommendable method of control as the recognition software is strong and able to pick up whatever you are saying regardless of what you sound like or how quickly you say it. For those without headsets, the standard controller also performs nicely for managing and ordering your units into battle, and especially works well in conjunction with the vocal options.
It also doesn’t help that each faction plays identically, as they all have the exact same types of units and offer little to no reason for you to play through the campaign again from a different side of the war. New players will also have a tough time enjoying the online battles thanks to a lack of available participants. It took me almost fifteen minutes to get into my first game on a Saturday afternoon, and I was quickly cut down by the seasoned veterans that I was matched against. While all of the online games that I played were lagless and the game can be quite fun with similarly skilled opponents, finding a match that you want to play might be difficult.
The visuals of EndWar are a mixed bag. While the graphics are fairly realistic, offering detailed backgrounds, nicely modeled units, and some great explosive effects, the environments tend to be fairly uninteresting to look at and often seem identical to one another. The cities are also completely devoid of civilian life, drably colored, and possess a fairly generic look overall. Another issue comes from the viewpoint, as you don’t have free control over the camera. You are forced to lock the camera to a unit and use their perspective to see the action, which often leaves you with a less than ideal look at what is going on.
The sound fares better, as the effects relay the destruction that is unfolding in front of you well and the eclectic music fits the military action nicely. The voice acting does the job well enough, with pre and post-mission briefings being responsible for the majority of EndWar’s storytelling. Because of this, your tolerance level for fake accents may affect your opinion on the plot, but they aren’t bad.
Overall, EndWar feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. I would normally say here that this would be a great start to a future franchise, but Ubisoft has already announced that there will be no sequel. With that in mind, EndWar is a solid, enjoyable title that utilizes vocal interactions to great effect, but some repetitive aspects might prevent this War from holding your interest for too long.