A few days ago, Keylynn and I were at target shopping for a toaster. Such is usually the climax of our weekend. As usual, we head to the electronics section after acquiring the $6 thing to look at books, cameras, and games. There I saw Endwar on sale for the slightly less ridiculous (but still ridiculous) sale price of $54.99. Whoo, that was a tough one. Left 4 Dead and the other big hits were still at their $arm+$leg prices, and I’m a sucker for an RTS.
The verdict? Its no command and conquer, but for the first RTS not aimed at RTS fans I’ve played, it does a fair job.
The game is built specifically for the XBox 360, taking full advantage of the microphone and headset. Yes, the whole game is voice controlled. Now I can talk to myself with a good reason. Sending a unit around is quite easy: “Unit 1 move to alpha”. Its fairly smart in guessing what you mean, so even though the official command is “calling all tanks attack target”, screaming “all tanks attack that” gets the job done.
Now as I said, the game doesn’t seem made with a hardcore RTS fan in mind. Througout the game (and even into the achievements), it emphasizes the “Battle Chain”. That means helicopter beats tank, tank beats transport, and transport beats helicopter. Engineer beats tank and helicopter, riflemen beat engineers, and anything beats infantry not holed up in a building or behind sandbags. Instead of controlling individual units, you control battalions of units. When I said “all tanks attack”, 20 or so tanks appear to attack, but only 5 game units attack. Its kinda like Advance Wars in that aspect. The health of a unit is the same way. Each unit has a health bar with 4 notches in it, along with a ‘shield’ bar with 4. It looks like constant battle in the game, but its fairly turn-based. After a few seconds or so of attacking, damage gets calculated and moved down a notch. Using the battle chain, it might take 10 seconds for riflemen to make a dent in a tank’s shield while a tank can easily wipe them out in 10 seconds. The only health a unit can restore is the shield. Once a notch in the health bar is lost, the unit’s effectiveness drops down and a 3D tank or helicopter explodes, removing it from the unit forever. Once health is down to 25%, it is considered out of play and calls for a helicopter to take it away. You can still kill them though, because if a unit doesn’t get killed, they can live to fight another day.
That brings another neat aspect into play: as your units survive battles unharmed (and don’t need evac), they get promoted and become stronger. During your unit selection at the beginning of a mission, you can choose exactly which unit you want. In the middle of a mission, you’re typically permitted to deploy more units, and the units you deploy can be either the best units you’ve got, or the least ranked. Can’t pick in the middle, and its an all-or-nothing option in the menus. Either way, would you want to scroll down a big list of units to find what you want in the middle of a heated battle?
Deployment is another different component to the play of Endwar. In multiplayer games, you start out with a small number of units, typically two. As time goes on, you gain the ability to deploy more units. Deploying units sends a helicopter in with them to your starting point. You’re usually given an allowance of around 20 units, and you can have up to 12 on the field at a time. Once you’ve used them all up, you’re pretty much boned. Tactics suddenly become very important in this game.
The game variants are fairly straightforward. In most cases, you’re trying to capture a number of uplinks by sending your infantry into them. Capture more than half in a multiplayer game, and the other person enters Defcon 1, allowing them emergency authorization to use WMDs. Uplinks can be upgraded to help you, like calling in air support to bomb a target. Some other game styles include destroying the opponent’s buildings, or simply eradicating them.
Overall, Endwar is a good game for the entry-level RTS it is. Its a bit cheesy and repetitive at times with the Battle Chain idea, but that doesn’t really bother me a whole lot. Overall, I’d recommend it to a friend. The online “global campain” play where everyone picks a faction and contributes to a global war is addicting.