In a concession to traditional strat-fans, you can switch to a Commander's View at any time, giving a top-down, real-time view of the battlefield. The team also calls this the "Madden view". Turns out that EA Sports' mega-series, surprisingly, is a major influence. "Madden was the game that convinced us it was possible to do strategy on console," de Plater notes.
You can play the entire game from this perspective should you wish. Though why you'd want to is beyond us: it's like watching the football on Teletext when you've got Sky Sports HD. But it's doubtless useful in short bursts.
Mode-wise, the two main single-player offerings are the traditional Conquest (take more than half the strategic points on the battlefield and hold them for a countdown to victory), and Annihilation (a massive, last-unit-standing brawl similar to the battles in Total War).
On the multiplayer side, there's team-based co-op and, as you may have read previously, an ambitious 'MMO-style' element. This again takes Madden for its cue, with the promise of season-style campaigns with persistent units.
"It's actually a massive online meta campaign," remarks de Plater. "Players belonging to each of our three superpowers can participate in massive online battles. The results of everyone's battles are tracked and uploaded and the status of the campaign is updated accordingly.
"As well as that you're online army is persistent," he adds. "So as your units survive combat they get experience upgrades and you can buy hundreds of different equipment and training upgrades for your army. Also you can customise your camo, insignia and mottos."
We're being deliberately circumspect on the gameplay, by the way. We've played it, but thanks to the mutually-assured destruction of our NDA with Ubisoft, we can't tell you what it's like until next month. Otherwise they'll WMD our ass.
A novel approach
EndWar's World War III, Armageddon scenario is by-numbers Tom Clancy fodder. But huge efforts are being made to create a narrative that engages the player from start to finish.
"We have way too much going on in this game to be handled by one writer," argues John Gonzalez, apparently seeking to justify his story director's salary. "We're talking about 25,000 lines of dialogue, which comes to about 200,000 words. That's three-to-four novels' worth of dialogue." That's why we read The Sun.
Producer Julian Gerighty chips in: "It's the biggest game in terms of dialogue Ubisoft has ever done." "The script is along the lines of a Bioware RPG in size," Gonzalez boasts. Okay, gotcha.
Interestingly, this spills over into the online arena, where pre-battle briefings are used to provide valuable insight into the psychology and strategies of your opponent. This information is determined according to each players' gamer rating. So if you're ever lucky enough to point your guns of glory in our direction online, expect to hear: "Your opponent is bottom of the barrel. If there were a war on, he'd be working fast food someplace. And I don't mean as a manager".
The onion gravy on the immersion mash is a range of CGI shorts, which appear in the top-corner of the screen at moments of acute drama, animated by an Oscar-nominee no less.
"The whole concept behind the picture-in-picture movies is to give feedback to the player," offers Gerighty. "So you order an electronic strike and you'll have a little movie that runs while you're playing just to give you that. It's also a very useful tool to communicate the emotions of the battlefield." A giant white flag would do the job for us.
And not just battlefields, but battlecity centres, too. EndWar's playable warzones include three capital cities: Washington DS, Moscow and Paris (which was also strike capital of the world last time we checked).
"We used Google Earth a lot," game designer Todd Owens confides, detailing the team's commitment to geographical accuracy. Don't expect Project Gotham levels of photorealism, but do expect to feel right at home if you know the place.
"We find the best places that are truest to the areas and map those in," he adds. "So if you've been to Moscow, you should be able to recognise the area. All the buildings are the right scale, it's just a matter of missing the odd side street."
Calling the shots
Anyway, let's talk tactics. Literally. EndWar's ace-up-the-sleeve could well be voice command. Ubi Shanghai wants to revolutionise the RTS by giving the player total command of his units simply by barking orders into the headset, the joypad becoming walkie-talkie, giving you a direct line to the battlefield.
"It's a three-part system," says de Plater. You say: 'Who' it is, so you select the unit, whether it's Unit 1, or Red Team or All Tanks; 'What' you want them to do, which on a battlefield is actually a fairly simply range of actions.... And then 'Where' you want them to do it, which boils down to one of the enemy units, or a location."
Who, What, Where. Got that? For example: "Calling all tanks" (Who), "Secure" (What), "Lima" (Where). Or "Red Team", "Attack" "Hostile 2". Issuing the correct commands simply accesses exactly the same menus you'd scroll through using the pad, but promises an immediacy and sense of involvement simply not attainable with thumbs alone.
"Voice command to our game is what the plastic guitar is to Guitar Hero," de Plater opines. "Guitar Hero would be exactly the same game on a joypad, but you get much more immersed and it's more accessible because it's on the guitar." He obviously hasn't seen Tom trying to play Knights of Cydonia on Hard.
"We are Ghost Recon, 20 times bigger, with voice command," concludes de Plater. If you can imagine such a thing. Einstein probably did.
EndWar is due out on Xbox 360 and PS3 next March. Stay tuned next month for detailed hands-on impressions, and a Eurogamer TV special looking behind the scenes at Ubisoft Shanghai, with a special investigation into the massive problem of video game piracy in China. In the meantime, you can check out the teaser trailer on EGTV now.