Hiding behind closed doors at Ubisoft we encountered a bunch of proud developers from Ubisoft’s Shanghai studios, demonstrating their first foray into console RTS gaming: Tom Clancy’s Endwar. While it was forbidden to take photos or videos from the presentation, we left the room suitably impressed.
The Endwar project started 2.5 years ago, aiming to bring a genre to consoles that was mainly confined to PCs in those days: the real time strategy. Plagued before by bad control schemes, the designers, amongst which some top guys that worked on Total War games, decided that the classical top-down approach to RTS wasn’t what people should have to play on consoles: they opted instead to put you in direct control of all your units utilizing the third person perspective also seen in tactical shooters like the Ghost Recon series. For the control scheme they also started from the Ghost Recon base, expanding it to include granular control over multiple units to genuinely make you feel like you are a general on a modern-day World War 3 battlefield.
What is most impressive though was that the game is completely controllable using voice commands with a headset. While the concept sounds gimmicky and dodgy to begin with, we were incredibly surprised in a pleasant way by what we witnessed. The voice commands were intuitive, straight-forward, and recognized and carried out extremely fast and accurate. Commands like ‘calling all tanks create group’ followed by ‘red group attack enemy 3′ are not only far faster spoken than executed through deeply nested menus, they also help immensely in making you feel like you really are the general. The same goes for camera control, a simple ‘camera follow unit 8′ will make the view zoom right away to the requested unit and follow it in third person. Highly impressive, and even more impressively all the voice commands will be localized along with the game in several languages, so the Germans and French can order their troops around in their native language.
Purpose of the game’s missions is to capture more than 50% of strategic points such as radars, which are then also put to good use as you upgrade them to control air strikes and missile defenses. There are only 7 unit types in the game, but this was an intentional low count: the idea is to differentiate between base types like light riflemen, gunships and tanks, and then let you upgrade those units progressively throughout the game to get snipers and mortar crews in there for specific strategic requirements, totaling 150 different upgrade combinations per unit type. Units that survive missions and are successfully evacuated also earn experience, so taking care of your units can reap you great benefits for subsequent missions. Should you lose some units you can replenish them with reinforcement points earned by killing opposing forces.
The game’s graphics were not impressive to say the least, but there’s still a lot of time to polish up on that before the projected Q1 2008 release. The version we saw, which was the first in-game material ever shown on this game, was also explicitly a pre-alpha build, so they’ll know they’ve got some work left in that area. Then again, it may not have been too pretty yet, it was fully destructible and interactive: you can garrison or blow up every building out there on the battlefield.
The single player campaign will take you through 6 missions, the ‘Prelude to the War’ first, and then lets you fight it out over 40 territories worldwide. In total this would take some 15-20 hours at best, and you can repeat it with all 3 factions in the game for a different experience. The true power of the game is in its online mode though, with many players duking it out in an online fully persistent world, where up to 12 players can battle simultaneously, putting over 1200 soldiers on a single map. The companion website will show all kinds of information such as experience gained and the strategical positions gained by all factions.
Endwar will be released exclusively for Xbox 360 and PS3 in Q1 2008.