Tom Clancy's EndWar Hands-On

Our first hands-on with Ubisoft Shanghai's upcoming strategy game was surprisingly hands-free, but we still delivered massive destruction to our enemies.

Real-time strategy is not a genre designed for standard console controllers, and past attempts to bring PC-based RTS mainstays like Starcraft and Command & Conquer to consoles have met with varying levels of success. Ubisoft's Shanghai studio will circumvent that problem by designing Tom Clancy's EndWar from the ground up on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. EndWar is a near-future strategy game that retains the core combat tenets of the genre, with rock-paper-scissors unit balance and a resource model that ties directly into your battlefield performance. But the controls--especially the game's impressive voice-control system--will make the game more accessible than past console strategy efforts, if Ubi Shanghai is successful in meeting its goals.

EndWar's voice command system is already working quite well.

We had a chance to go hands-on with EndWar recently at Ubisoft's San Francisco offices, but really, we endeavored to use our hands as little as possible while we played and relied instead on the voice controls. First, we'll fill you in on the game's design. EndWar takes place during a mid-21st-century three-way World War III involving the United States, the newly united European Federation, and Russia. You'll get to play as all three factions during the game, and while they'll all feature roughly the same kinds of units that perform the same functions, there will be minor differences in unit stats and abilities between them all. The US is the most well-rounded of the group, for instance, while Russia's army is a bit slower but more powerful, and the European troops are the fastest at the expense of some durability. Respectively, they're EndWar's humans, orcs, and elves, according to creative director Michael de Plater.

Ubisoft isn't ready to show off the single-player campaign yet, so we got to try a couple of basic one-on-one skirmish matches against de Plater to get a feel for the fundamental gameplay and flow of battle. EndWar will offer two basic match types in multiplayer, annihilation and conquest. The former is a battle royale between two factions where you can take all the available units of your faction straight into battle from the get-go and war for supremacy of the battlefield. Annihilation will actually scale up to 12 players, with six facing off on each side. In that case, each faction will have 18 total units instead of the usual 12, with each player controlling three of them at once. Those battles will be big, we can assure you.

However, we spent our time playing conquest, which is less explosive than the all-out warfare of annihilation but a lot more tactical. Conquest requires you to capture strategic points on the battlefield in order to acquire more troops, upgrade those troops' weapons and equipment, and ultimately win the match. Unlike annihilation's wide array of available units, though, conquest lets you take only three units into a game at the outset. EndWar features all the usual suspects of military strategy--riflemen, engineers, tanks, helicopter gunships, transports, artillery, and so on--and they all have specific strengths and weaknesses against other types of units. Riflemen and engineers are the only units that can capture strategic points, and they can garrison inside buildings for bonuses to damage and firing rate. But foot soldiers are extremely vulnerable to tank attack. Tanks, however, can be decimated by artillery, but gunships can lay waste to artillery with impunity. In short, with only three units available at the start of a match, you'll have to be ready to think on your feet to put the troops you've selected to the best possible use.

Every unit has a counter. The trick is knowing which one to use, and when.

Once you get into a conquest game, you'll see roughly five to seven capture points on the map, and your first order of business will be to send your foot soldiers to grab the ones closest to you. In addition to determining the eventual winner of the match, the acquisition of capture points will grant you the ability to bring in troop reinforcements beyond your initial three units. It will also give you upgrades in one of three categories--ground troops, air support, and electronic warfare--that will allow you to do everything from scrambling the enemy's communications to calling in air strikes. The defense of your existing points and rapid capture of the remaining ones will be critical to victory in the conquest mode, since those points literally enable you to bolster your army with the reinforcements and upgrades necessary to stand up to your opposition.

After one faction has captured a majority of the points on the map, the "endwar" phase of the match will begin. This causes a few things to happen. First, a countdown timer will start ticking, and the losing side will have to take some of the winning side's points to stop it. Luckily, the losers will get a couple of bonuses in the form of increased troop morale and potency, and the ability to use a quick strike to eradicate one of the enemy's captured points from the map. Both sides will also gain an air strike ability, as well as a single-use weapon of amazing destructive power simply referred to as a "WMD." This weapon is actually a satellite launcher that fires tungsten rods from orbit to any point on the globe. (You can imagine the destructive potential with this one.) Needless to say, the endwar period of a conquest match is all the more tense and frenetic thanks to these gameplay additions.

Ground troops can garrison inside structures to gain bonuses to their firing rate and max damage.

So how do you get a handle on all the battlefield goings-on when the action gets this hectic? Unlike in most RTS games, which give you an omniscient camera perspective high above the battlefield, the camera in EndWar is locked to the unit you have currently selected. You can rotate the camera around and get a look at the surrounding area, but there's no detaching the camera to scope out your enemy's movements. You can go to an abstract tactical map of the entire battlefield, which displays your units and strategic points as simple icons--and you can even issue orders here--but you won't get the subtler combat feedback that a ground's-eye view will provide. Playing with standard controls is manageable enough, as you can switch between units by cycling through a bar with the D pad, issue orders by navigating through a series of nested menus, and so on.

We really started getting into EndWar's combat, though, when we tried out the voice-command interface via the standard Xbox 360 headset. You'll simply hold down the right trigger and then speak your orders. The keywords are all lifted from the same nested command menus you can use manually with the controller, and those menus will expand as you provide your commands verbally, in case you aren't sure of the next proper term to say. For example, if your tanks are in the first slot on the unit bar and you want to move them to the foxtrot capture point, you'd simply say, "unit one, move to foxtrot." If you've spotted your opponent's gunships coming in and you want to set your antiair-equipped transports (in the third-unit slot) against them, you'd say, "unit three, attack hostile one." You can also create colored groups out of multiple units, so you could assign all of your foot soldiers to the red group and then say, "red team, move to delta" to pull them all out of battle. Or if your forces are grouped around a point where the enemy has just targeted a WMD strike, you can quickly move them all by saying, "calling all units, retreat."

We've honestly felt that voice recognition was more gimmick than necessity in the past. But EndWar lets you use it so extensively and effectively--the game failed to recognize our commands only a couple of times during our session--that we could see wanting to play the whole game verbally. According to de Plater, there are only around 80 key words or phrases you need to learn, so the learning curve should be fairly gentle. Issuing commands verbally lets you worry less about which buttons to hit and more about the developing tactical situation and how you need to respond to it. Since your opponent can reinforce in seconds and drop a surprise attack on you at any time, you'll clearly have to stay on your toes.

Taking strategic points--and employing the upgrades they confer--will be crucial to victory.

Still several months from release, EndWar is already looking like one of the more robust and accessible console strategy games in recent memory. The game has plenty yet to prove--we haven't seen the single-player campaign at all, nor the ambitious persistent online war mode, and the team is only now beginning to add the distinguishing touches to each faction--but we had plenty of fun playing through the intensely tactical skirmish battles even at this early stage. EndWar is planned for release in the first quarter of 2008, so keep your eyes peeled in the coming months for more information.

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166 comments
JJpenguin
JJpenguin

thenephariouson, you hold RT to issue voice commands (see interview 3)

NoseWeed619
NoseWeed619

This sounds awesome! I love the voice command stuff the most though. It makes you really feel as if your in the battle.

Epsilon101
Epsilon101

I'm kinda afraid this will turn in a game where you see your enemy sending helos, then you just appropriately send flak guns against them, to find that enemy commandos were lurking around and are now planting C4 all over your cannons, and that that's when you send in your infantry units, who get slaughtered by a group of tanks, against which you order an airstrike ... Seeing a pattern here ? Anyways that's probably just me being paranoid, Ubi is usually better than that. I'm really looking forward to this, I hope it won't get messed up, the voice command seems great. But is it just me or does 12 units look rather ... small, to fight a war ? Granted it's just one battlefield, but still ...

REflexHalo3
REflexHalo3

voice command? i've gotta check this one out

Yeley718
Yeley718

this game looks cool October 28th cant come soon enough

RyguyIsSoFly
RyguyIsSoFly

This game looks sick i'll pick it up the day it comes out

RealKilla_789
RealKilla_789 moderator

voice command sounds very interesting

thenephariouson
thenephariouson

interesting how the Voice Commands will work if your already in 'In Game' chat with your friends, push a button first perhaps??

PhantomRoy08
PhantomRoy08

hopefully they will be able to make the voice commands work way better than in rainbow six vegas. those ones stunk!

Vrygar777
Vrygar777

I hope they killed the controller : ) Voice commands sound so awesome. Sucks that you have to hold the right trigger though but hey, maybe you might be able to play a handheld game while playing this. Still this is definitley gonna be a great game. No base building, count me in!

Caisu
Caisu

I'll maybe rent it first... it looks *amazing*, but for some reason I can never get voice recognition to work for me. Maybe cause I have some mangled accent no one in the UK (where I've lived my whole life) can place. I don't think using a controller will be quick enough to shift your whole army out of the way if you only have a few seconds warning of an air strike...

riotmaster1
riotmaster1

this should be amazing as long as they thouroughly debug the voice commands. read in amagazine that they have the best voice commands seen yet and the only problem was with the number 2. Also they have to make it accent neutral (for those peopl who talk like farmers)

Makavelo
Makavelo

Something is wrong with the story line, because the story is "in 2011 untill 2014 the world know peace" and what about GR (Ghost Recon), RS (RainbowSix) & SC (Splinter Cell) all of them are in the same universe as well EW (EndWar) & AC (Air Combat).

Black_Dragon00
Black_Dragon00

ok first ill settle some dispute and mybe answer some ?'s. 1. this game has been in development for at least a year and a half before World in Conflict was even thought of (ubisoft said they have been working on it for over 3 yrs in an interview). by the way im not saying this to rag on WiC cuz ive played it and i think its amazing. 2. to give orders u press the right trigger and to talk to ur team u just talk. 3. the units arnt the exact same thing for each faction like in WiC. in end war the units have some variety like the russian infantry have heavy armor but move slow where as the US r more balanced and the euros have light armor but move the fastest. 5. the 3 starting units thing i think is refering to unit types. i think they said in some part of this preview that unit one was ur tanks (plural) and the infantry will be in squads and u get more units during the match that said in my opinion u cant judge a game before it comes out (with some exceptions). but from what they have decided to show us so far the graphics r great considering it is supposed to have large scale battles (c&c 3 was good till u got 10 units on screen then it started to slow down. i like the camera idea because their isnt this magical eye floating around that is feeding information to generals. i already know that ill be buying this because they need to make more console rts games since not all of us r ric enough to buy the lates computer gear to run them. that said this is just my opinion and shouldnt be taken too seriously because this is a game and there r a lot of other things going on.

dragonnewby
dragonnewby

That's awesome. I mostly like that there are cool voice commands and not each unit looks the same

thenephariouson
thenephariouson

World In Conflict, C&C & EndWar your very clever in your observation in te fact that they are all RTS games... DOH!!!

twentymooseman
twentymooseman

i didn't really like world in conflict, but i know that i'll at least rent this because of the voice commands. i just think i can control the units more precisely. i also hope the game has a setting that throws a battalion at you and says "this is what you have to work with". i hate how complicated it gets with buying reinforcements, finding a safe drop zone, etc, etc, while simultaneously trying to keep up with your own units that may or may not be gunned down while you're pulling up 20 menus to call in reinforcements.

Mad_Mendez
Mad_Mendez

Dude! I cant WAIT for this game to release a demo! When it does im kicking ALL your bungholes! :D

choclateskater
choclateskater

This game has many of the same features as World in Conflict does and in my opinion is World in Conflict with a different story line, but same foundations but this game is on xbox 360 and with how World in Conflict turned out this should be a must buy.

cloudy14
cloudy14

this game will definitely change the way games are made in future. I mean come on you can control a game with your voice how frikin awesome is that.

LordPasta
LordPasta

u guys who say graphix r bad obviously don't play RTS's cuz these graphics are gorgeous!

GCNfreak011
GCNfreak011

K_M82, it's better because you don't have to type anything... You can just say it haha

thenephariouson
thenephariouson

i was never really a fan of C&C, however as i love 'Realistic' shooters i will defo be getting this, cant wait. Bring on the demo please : )

Bczican015
Bczican015

This game sounds so EPIC! Why wont time go by faster so we can get our hands on it sooner?...

thenephariouson
thenephariouson

Typical Clancy / Ubisoft....... Tottaly top shelf, cant wait!!

sonata_4
sonata_4

Tom clancy is a legend, his ideas have made some of the best games out there.

teammojo
teammojo

Can't wait to get my hands on this one

SgT_P3pr
SgT_P3pr

game looks freiken AWESOME...... wana get it so badly

supertrooper89
supertrooper89

this and rainbow 6 are going to be the best games tom clancy u are GOD

K_M82
K_M82

How can voice command be better than mouse and keyboard? With hotkey and grouping you can quickly and simply give orders to units that aren't even on the screen. Shift+double clicking a unit will select all unit of same type across the map (even the ones outside the screen) for most RTS. For the PC voice command would just be redundant. For the console however this is a great idea. Now control for RTS in console can be as precise as on the PC although not as fast (obviously barking out orders such as, "Calling all gunships, create group," is still slower than shift+double clicking the gunship and pressing Ctrl 1 on the PC).

wariswar123
wariswar123

the game looks AWESOME its just theres a game company (activision) thats made a cheap copy of this mean its like the same sort of play just with out the voice commands. NOW THATS WAT I AM PISSED OFF ABOUT

FiddleStick
FiddleStick

are you serious??? i hope this works really well and other developers use this too. more voice command in games would be awesome!!!!!

deth420
deth420

they had some decent voice commands for rainbow six, they seemed to respond even after drinkin heavily, and sluring. dunno why they stopped it in the newer rainbow games, but glad to see there trying it again!

volpexpress
volpexpress

Ive been waiting 4 a good RTS to come out and this looks like it will be a very promising one. i like the voice command but i hope it will be clear and it wont be difficulte to use. I would like to have a demo to play as well just like pdpstyle said.

Blunten
Blunten

Voice control - just like SOCOM did it 5 years ago... maybe now with proper voice recognition

bradx101
bradx101

my complements to the cheif . that is what an rts is all about

FAcorp
FAcorp

The game looks great! I hope the multiplayer is good.

kittykiller897
kittykiller897

does anybody know if there planning on releasing a demo? cant wait to try it.

LON3_W0LF360
LON3_W0LF360

This seems to be shaping up good. I can't wait to play this on Live.

Lawar41
Lawar41

its not a canadian game coldfear. its made in bejing

bestkilla
bestkilla

this is gonna be awsoume also will the voice command

ColdFear2
ColdFear2

Look's very nice, but the most very nice it's a Canadian game :D