Rush, Boom, Turtle: The EndWar Way
I figured the PC release of EndWar would give Ubisoft's brave new real-time strategy a shot in the arm. And I'm not just saying this because I'm the president of the EndWar Appreciation Club and the registered owner of the iheartendwar domain, which cost me 15 bucks. I'm saying this because PC gamers are a special breed. Unlike console philistines, we can appreciate stuff like Kohan, Freespace, chess programs, and Java apps that run tabletop wargames over the Internet.
So I am happy to report that attendance was doubled at the March meeting of the EndWar Appreciation Club. Granted, that's only because my cat wandered into the room during roll call, so I counted him. Unfortunately, despite the increased attendance at our monthly meetings, it seems like there isn?t a lot of EndWar love even after its PC release. It's got a big, fat, steaming 68 on both Metacritic and GameRankings. It doesn't seem to be very online. Looking for a multiplayer game of EndWar on the PC has a very "I Am Legend" feel.
So to help build enthusiasm, I'm working on a list of the 10 ways EndWar is like no other real-time strategy game. I'll be reading this list at next month's meeting, which will hopefully boost attendance. Here's a preview of the list.
10. EndWar doesn't mess around with asymmetry. Now I know that asymmetry is all the rage these days. All the kids are doing it and who could blame them? After all, asymmetry is inherently interesting. Zergs vs. Protoss, or Space Marines vs. the Eldar, or the Vinci vs. the Alin. Exciting stuff! But asymmetry is often a cheap and easy alternative to good design. In fact, far too many RTS designs have simply stopped at the fact of asymmetry, which has helped ossify RTSes for many years. But EndWar will have none of that. It's built for players to each use the same tools, much like the two sides in chess. The gameplay comes from how they use their tools, not what their tools are.
9. There aren't many units in EndWar. In terms of the types of units, you get two kinds of infantry, two kinds of armor, an air unit and an artillery unit. That's it. Each unit has a very specific purpose. This means sometimes a unit will be utterly useless; other times, it will 100-percent trump the other guy. And you will never get to play with more than 12 units at a time. EndWar is never about armies. It is about a handful of individual pieces at a time.
8. Simplest resource model ever. Your resource, command points, steadily trickles in over time. A new any unit, no matter what kind, costs four command points. There. I just taught you the entire economy of EndWar. That's all there is to it. There are no economic decisions to be made except for how you want to spend your command points. This is a game with an economy even a three-year-old could understand!
(Okay, I lied just a little bit to make my point. You also earn command points when you capture an uplink. And the strategic powers cost command points. Those things might confuse the average three-year-old. But the point stands: EndWar has the simplest economy this side of Multiwinia, another game no one is playing.)
7. There are only three strategic powers in EndWar: air support, electronic warfare and force recon. Ha! Take that, World in Conflict, with your three menus crammed with powers, each with different strength levels! Or Red Alert 3 with your wacky special ability trees. Or Age of Mythology with your crazy gods. EndWar keeps it simple, stupid. Air support arrives instantly, but it only damages units, so you have to be able to finish off your target with an attack. Electronic warfare's EMP bursts will mess up the other player's map view and incapacitate vehicles in a small radius, but only for a short time. This makes it perfect for bringing in reinforcements or making a hasty retreat, but it's not going to have any permanent effect. And the force recon units are persistent, but they're slow to arrive and relatively easy to overwhelm.
6. Strategic powers are tied to map control. The uplinks you capture for victory conditions can optionally be upgraded to give you these powers. But if you lose the uplink, you lose the power. And upgraded uplinks are indicated with a nice bright laser beam shooting up into the sky that might as well be a neon sign saying, "Hey, bad guys, come take this strategic power away from me!" This also means that larger maps with more uplinks will see more strategic powers coming into play, whereas the maps with only a handful of uplinks will be all about the units.
5. You can pretty much see the entire map in terms of what's drawn on the screen, and anything within friendly line of sight is indicated with an on-screen HUD indicator, no matter how far it is from your current view, or whether there's a solid object blocking it. However, you can't move the camera wherever you want. At any given moment, your view is bound to what your units can see. Helicopters give you a nice high perspective. Infantry are closer to the ground. Infantry in woods are basically going to be staring at the trees in front of their faces. You do not get a free roaming camera, because you're not a god in EndWar. You're a major, or maybe even just a lieutenant. And you know what that makes EndWar? Immersive. That's right, I just rolled out the I-word.
4. It works on a console system. And not just because of the voice command stuff (which doesn't work very well on the PC version, where it's entirely superfluous anyway). It works for console systems because of the elegance of the design. Everyone talks about the voice support in EndWar, and it is good. But it's simply part of the interface with no real bearing on the gameplay. You might as well hold forth at length about the mouse support in an RTS. Yeah, sure, it is great and you wouldn't be able to play well without it. But can we get back to talking about the actual game?
3. The single-player story in EndWar is a dynamic campaign on a world map. You can play a series of missions however you like, and the real through line is how you upgrade your units, not what happens between chapters.
2. Superweapons in other real-time strategy games are a sure thing. You get them, you use them. There's never any point to not using a superweapon. That's not the case in EndWar. The player who's losing gets the option to use his superweapon the moment the game balance tips out of his favor. But the dilemma is that as soon as he uses his superweapon, the other player can then use his. Here, with great power comes great retaliation. Think of it as mutually assured destruction, with the guy who's most desperate getting the big red button.
1. And finally, by way of choosing this week's Unit of the Week, EndWar doesn't give everyone a full-screen mini-map. If you want the full-screen mini-map, which is a great way to order units like you would in a more conventional RTS, you have to use one of your precious slots to bring along a Command Vehicle. This also gives you a UAV you can use to spy on the other guy. It even comes with a set of cute little combat drones that won't accomplish very much, but they keep your Command Vehicle from being entirely toothless. So, yeah, the Unit of the Week is the command vehicle in EndWar.
But before you figure this is just a top 10 list about why I love EndWar, consider that every single one of those things could just as easily be construed as a complaint. Check out this slightly revised take on the same points I just made above:
10. EndWar has no depth.
9. EndWar has no variety.
8. EndWar has a dull economy.
7. EndWar doesn't give you any interesting powers to use.
6. EndWar doesn't give you much of a reward for controlling the map.
5. EndWar makes it hard to tell what's going on.
4. EndWar is a console game.
3. EndWar has no single-player storyline.
2. EndWar makes it hard to use cool stuff like nukes.
1. EndWar keeps basic functionality out of the game unless you take a Command Vehicle.
Those comments are subjective skews on the things that make EndWar unlike any other RTSes. They're not exactly wrong so much as they're a matter of players expecting from this game something that it wasn't built to do. I can't very well say any of them is wrong so much as a matter of perception when a game designer does something dramatically different. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes you end up with a cult hit like Kohan, and sometimes you've got a brilliant bit of work like Dragonshard that no one will remember. Where will EndWar end up?
Up next on Rush, Boom, Turtle: How EndWar can solve world hunger and remove unsightly mildew stains.