Tom Clancy’s Endwar is a great RTS, especially on a console. RTS has been attempted on consoles before with some degree of success with games like StarCraft 64, Goblin Commander, and Battle for Middle-Earth 2, or with failure such as with Supreme Commander on the 360. Endwar is probably the best I have played on a console, at least until a developer gets the brains to do one on the Wii, and even then, unless they use WiiSpeak for voice commands in the same way Endwar does.
The voice command features were really pushed during the lead-up to the game and Ubisoft has pretty much succeeded. The voice recognition is the best I’ve seen in a while, especially coming off of Rainbow Six Vegas. While the game is entirely playable via voice command, I find a mixture of voice and control pad works best for me. I’ll often personally lead a group of units to a specific obecjtive, using the gamepad to select and assign targets and objectives as I see them on screen while using the voice command to order troops as they are needed to other parts of the map without taking my focus away from my main task.
The game focuses on small-ish maps and a small number of units, in comparison to most PC RTS games. The most units I’ve been able to deploy has been 12 and I don’t think it goes much higher than that. The map is littered with objective points (and targets in sabotage missions) that you can order your units to move to. You can also command your units to move pretty much any point on the map but that requires the specific spot to be in one of your unit’s line of sight or have a command vehichle deployed.
The game uses a paper-rock-scissors approach when handling unit mash-ups. Infantry are pretty much weak against anything unless they’re in cover but they are required for capturing uplinks. Choppers take out tanks, which take out APCs, which take out choppers. Artillery can damage anything from a distance, but are weak against pretty much anything and command vehicles allow you to view the whole map from above.
Individual units gain experience and ranks as they defeat enemies and survive battles. A unit’s rank determines which of the upgrades you’ve purchased in the barracks apply to them. While units grow individually, they can also die and be taken out of the game permanently, think Fire Emblem.
Uplinks are used for increasing available command points in addition to calling in off-map support such as air strikes or additional units. Uplinks are, for the most part, the most important objectives in the game. They are available in all mission types, whether they are the primary objective or not.
Each mission takes place in the context of an overall world map and your overall objective is to capture your two enemies’ capitals or command 26 units of territory. The meta game is played in turns, each one of which can encompass several battles. Each turn you choose one battle that you will command and afterwards, the map is updated with your result plus the simulated results of the other battles. There is an overarching level of strategy on this field as well. By capturing air fields and bases you are able to call on air strikes and infantry support when you battle on nearby maps. Such strategy is essential when attempting to capture capitals and bases because by capturing nearby bases, you gain the support yourself while denying them to your enmeies.
While all of these are very good points for the game, the game is not exactly perfect. For one, the game has little story, which definitely takes away something from the game. Stories in Tom Clancy games are usually interesting political/military dramas, which at least provide some context for your individual mission if not personal motivation for your character. All that is really absent from Endwar. You have the set up about the world falling into war but then you’re pretty much just fighting missions with only the score tally to motivate you.
Also, this game feels like a brilliant foundation on which to build something bigger on. The unit types quickly become annoying because it really is a paper-rock-scissors match. If you don’t use the correct match-up your units will die and die fast. Your unit’s rank and upgrades really have little effect here, which takes some of the variety away from each battle since you always have to deploy the same unit type to deal with the given enemy unit type. Games like Pokemon that also use a paper-rock-scissors match up still have other factors that can really change the end result. Here it feels a lot less so.
Also it would be nice to have more unit variety. After so many battles, seven total unit types just gets stale. This is compounded by the fact that each of the three sides has the exact same unit types and each side only being slightly different. I can’t imagine that the actual military only has seven different units on the field so I wish they would add more here, if only to increase variety and not have the individual match-ups be so predictable.
Ubisoft has already stated that Endwar is only supposed to represent the European/Russian/Eastern US front of the World War and that future games will explore the war in different parts of the world. They have laid the groundwork for a great series of RTS games but I hope that they expand the game a bit in order to add a bit of variety to the gameplay.