Tom Clancy's EndWar - the game that tried to take the tactical RTS into the future

By Jack Trumbull 09 Jul 2019 0

If you suddenly won the lottery, after going and buying yourself a new house and a new car and all the other niceties that come with being very rich, you would set out for the nicest restaurant in town, and get the most extravagant dinner possible. You would likely eat there several times a week, having found luxury and savoring it as much as you can. But after some time, the food will lose its novelty: the filet mignon is not as exciting the 15th time around, the lobster tail doesn’t melt in your mouth quite the way it used to, and you begin to realize you’ve lost your taste for champagne. (I literally have no idea what's going on here. Where have they been keeping the champagne!?-ED)

It is the following night that you would go to dinner, not back to the nice restaurant, but to an old comfort: some fast food. And while in terms of quality, it obviously does not come close to what you have become accustomed to, sometimes, some mediocre burger you get through a drive through is exactly what you’ve been looking for. Tom Clancy’s EndWar was, is, that cheap, mediocre burger.

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Tom Clancy’s EndWar is a game that was both ahead of its time, but also a relic of a bygone era; a picture of a simpler age of strategy games coming to console, shown through that Tom Clancy lens of intrigue, beguilement, and global war. The campaign revolves around a 3-way war between the US, the EU, and Russia, sparked by terror attacks that point the finger at the other 2 factions. This of course is masterminded by a Russian general, because it is a Tom Clancy game. Phoned-in as the plot may be, the real appeal of the game comes from the scenario it sets up: command a battalion of special forces for your faction on a world map, engaging with one of the opposing factions on the battleground you choose. And the really real appeal lies within these battles: commanding your army through VOICE COMMANDS.

Holding down spacebar in battle will allow you to give orders in object-verb-object form, such as “Unit One. Move To. Alpha.” Relatively simple stuff even eleven years after the initial release, but as far as I know EndWar faced and still faces zero competition in the field of games that involve shouting stuff at your digital army and they actually doing it. If it sounds gimmicky, it certainly is, but being able to direct tank columns to intercept an enemy APC group, engineers to seize an objective, and satellite to launch a kinetic missile at a target is incredibly satisfying. And yes, you read that right about the kinetic missile, EndWar teeters on that fun balance of 'military futurism' and absurdity. The European infantry carry what are essentially extreme tasers, and the Russians are defined by the game as “experts in modifying their equipment,” so there’s a lot of strange, jury-rigged Russian vehicles.

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The mechanics of the game should be familiar to anyone who has played an RTS or turn-based strategy game in the last 15 years, with the rock-paper-scissors formula of tank beats APC beats helicopter beats tank. All of these beat any infantry when out of cover, but anti-vehicle engineers in a building or forest can defeat most mechanized enemies, and riflemen are meant to kill those pesky engineers. What’s interesting about this system is that there are a few wrinkles thrown into it, via the between-battle campaign map. Here, you can upgrade your forces by giving passive buffs and active abilities to veteran units, making a max rank unit one of the toughest groups on a battlefield, but it also encourages you to make sure they get evacuated if things start to go poorly. This means that sometimes it’s worth losing a battle if it means saving an experienced unit, because it’s harder to replace the unit than it is to come back and win that battle later.

Battles begin with a brief selection of the first units you will bring with you onto the field, and you are whisked down to the battlefield. The camera is only movable a small distance from your units at any one time, which is where voice commands come into play. It is much easier and often quicker to verbally tell a unit to capture an objective than it is to try and click your way there. This is also where the so far unmentioned command vehicle stands out, as when it is deployed, you can enter a 'tactical map' that gives you a top down view of the entire area, allowing you to precisely direct units. They are then essentially the only reason artillery can be viable, so they are necessary to defensive tacticians.

The beginning moments of a battle in EndWar are crucial to how the rest of the battle will turn out. This is due to the several nodes (called uplinks in-game but I don’t like that word for this so we’re calling them nodes) that lay around the map. Capturing these nodes is an objective in most battles, and every node captured gives the player more points with which they can bring in more reinforcements. Even in the other battle types (destroying enemy buildings and killing enemy units), these nodes are crucial to success. These nodes are also infantry’s raison d’être, as only they can seize these points, then further upgrade them to provide additional support. The support available depends on the battle’s location on the campaign map and the upgrades unlocked, and can offer a platoon of AI soldiers, an air strike, or an EMP attack that immobilizes enemy vehicles for a short time. Utilizing these resources costs points from the same pool reinforcements are drawn from, forcing the player to choose carefully.

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As the battle progresses, the losing player will be given a helping hand in the form of a nuclear option: a massive air strike that will knock out any nodes and units in an area, forcing them to be extracted. The player who faces this strike is then able to retaliate with their own, but I’ve found the strike to be a very helpful tool to the underdog, as it can keep them in a fight that they were badly losing shortly before. This mechanic ensures that no battle feels like a forgone conclusion, and they remain tense to the end. Battles end with a short summary screen, a witty quip from your aide de camp (I personally enjoy the American’s referral to “taking out the Eurotrash”), and an award of cash dependent on your performance that you can then use to upgrade your units on the campaign map.

Editor's Note: Nukes were a bit of a problem in the multiplayer portion of the game (see below) because they could easily kill veteran units that you would have spent time upgrading and building up. The ultimate dick-move would be to wait until the enemy was evacuating, and then nuke the evac zone.

EndWar is vaguely reminiscent of Slitherine games in the structure of how the campaign map gameplay goes, but more abstracted. There are no buildings to recruit units from, and your army will always be at full strength; any units that are wiped out in a battle will be immediately replaced by a rookie unit that won’t be as good as whoever they are replacing. After you spend your time looking through upgrades for your units (generally things like an increased defense, longer range, or getting an active ability for one of your unit types), you are shown the campaign screen, where you select one of several battlegrounds to fight at. I’m not entirely positive how the battlefields are chosen each turn, sometimes it is in a territory that is adjacent to an enemy territory, sometimes it’s halfway across the world.

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Thankfully, this isn’t the main focus of the game, or else this would be a much bigger bother. And it was a much bigger bother once upon a time, as there was a significant multiplayer portion to the game that had players fighting over an online campaign map. Fortunately, as far as I can tell, the multiplayer element is shut down now, as it’s locked behind an old login. The end goal of the now exclusively singleplayer campaign is to seize the enemy capitals, which will both require 3 battles to capture. The ending is a bit underwhelming, but like most games, the fun is more in the journey rather than the destination.

The Game We Deserved, But Not the Game We Needed

EndWar was a pretty simple game, all things considered - perhaps a bit to simple for PC. At the time it released, you could tell concessions were being made for the console audiences. It didn’t offer a crazy revolution of the RTS, and the battles are decent, but not fantastic. The voice command system is fun, but not exceptional and lacks some functionality a good mouse and keyboard can provide. The story is fine enough of a setup, but you’re not playing this game for the story. You’re playing it because it’s cheap, because it’s got a fun gimmick, and because it doesn’t have too much distracting you from what makes it good. Tom Clancy’s EndWar is a fast food burger, and sometimes that’s exactly what you want.

Tom Clany's EndWar is still available to purchase, and you can find it on Steam.



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