What’s that title about, then? Is it the End of War? A War over an End? And if so, which end? And of what?
All these questions and more will not be answered through playing EndWar, the newest product of the mammoth Tom Clancy franchise factory.
A brief plot synopsis: terrorists (curse them!) have nuked the oilfields in the Middle East, leaving Russia as the principal oil and gas supplier to the West. Flush with cash they institute a massive troop buildup. Meanwhile, an anti-nuke missile shield goes live, the nations of Europe (except the UK; clearly the Tories are back in power in 2017) merge to form a single European superstate, the US builds a military space station. Then zomg terrorists, the evil Russians provoke a war between Europe and the US, everyone starts fighting.
Big bada boom.
Much of the plot is covered in the opening cinematic, with the rest dispensed with by the time you play through the “Prelude to War” mini-campaign, which acts as a tutorial as well as an introduction to the three different factions. By the end of it you’ll have chosen a faction, and then you’ll be dropped into “World War III” mode, giving you a strategy map of the world with a few territories available to fight in for any given turn.
You choose a territory to attack or defend, and depending on your choice you’ll find yourself fighting one of a selection of mission types:
Assault is a straightforward kill-all-the-enemies-before-they-kill-you battle;
Raid involves destroying a set number of key structures within a time limit, or preventing the enemy from doing so;
Conquest requires you to capture and hold at least half of the Satellite Uplinks on the map for five minutes, or destroy all enemy forces;
Siege requires the attacker to capture a specific uplink within ten minutes, or to prevent the enemy from doing so.
An addition wrinkle of Conquest mode is called Defcon 1. As soon as one side gains control of more than half of the uplinks on the map, the losing side gets access to a WMD strike. This can tip the balance wildly and seems to have been included more to differentiate Conquest mode from the other modes than anything else. My preferred strategy so far has been to take half the uplinks and then slaughter all the enemy units on the map. Things are a lot more predictable that way.
Anyway. Capturing and upgrading uplinks gains you access to off-map support in various forms, including air strikes and Force Recon squads. Units which survive a battle may increase in rank, improving their health and damage and allowing the use of increasingly sophisticated (and expensive) upgrades.
It’s a slightly different take on RTS than the norm: deliberately removing some of the complexity and flexibility to gain a control system which quickly becomes intuitive, particularly if you make use of the voice command system. When it works, which is the majority of the time, it’s excellent. You can rattle off sentences like “Unit one plus unit four attack hostile three” and it will just do it. Sometimes it will fail to work, and I think there’s a slight niggle with the timing of when you press the right trigger to issue a command and when it actually becomes responsive to voice. You may occasionally find yourself speaking slowly and clearly, as you would to a naughty child.
Perhaps the most disappointing part about the game is that, for a Clancyverse title, it seems almost entirely lacking in Clancyness. Sure, the Russians are the bad guys in that hackneyed old harking-back-to-the-cold-war sort of way, but that’s hardly unique. Fans of Ghost Recon will probably appreciate the fact that Scott Mitchell’s been promoted to General and gives you your mission orders if you choose the US faction, but the occasional references to Third Echelon and the fact that the US Riflemen units are called “Ghosts” just feel like they’ve been shoehorned in to please the fans.
Overall, though, I like it. It’s not especially deep but it’s entertaining enough, and the camera view is close enough to the action to make things a bit more visceral than the usual god’s-eye-view you get from an RTS. I can think of worse ways to spend a couple of hours blowing things up.