is a franchise that has been probably milked to death by now by every industry we can think of, the video game industry has spawned some truly awful games based on Lucas' brainchild, but in amongst the chaff there's definitely wheat.
The weakest aspect of the franchise so far has been in the RTS genre, this has been thankfully rebalanced now by Empire at War. The game isnít the greatest leap forwards in the genre but it certainly brings to life the Star Wars
universe for the PC gamer much better than its RTS counterparts did in the past.Gameplay
There are several modes of play in Empire at War, you can play a Skirmish style battle or go for the Galactic Conquest mode, and you can even play a Campaign as either the Rebel Alliance or the Galactic Empire.
Skirmish is just that, a battle between two opposing sides on either the ground based or space based maps. The game has no real resource gathering and instead a certain amount of points are generated for you to buy vehicles and equipment with as the game progresses, you can also capture resource point areas and build pads to construct certain defences/modules.
Galactic Conquest is where the game really attempts to shine and bring something new to the table, one could of course argue that Star Wars: Rebellion did the same thing but at least itís nice to see this mode has been included in the game. Playing as either the Rebel Alliance or the Galactic Empire you fight for dominance over the Galaxy.
Each game day you gain a certain amount of money and this buys you everything you need, you can play an extensive tutorial to learn the nuances of the gameís mode and it is highly recommended that you do. By waging war on your opponent and capturing planets you will eventually be able to gain access to better technology, the Rebels Steal it and the Empire just take it.
When you steal all the available technology from a tech list your tech level raises and you can access bigger and better ships, weapons and so on. Each planet can support a limited amount of buildings and you can usually build a space station in orbit around it. The stations are useful to protect your planet from attack by hostile forces.
Every planet also offers a particular bonus to the faction that controls it, for example you might gain a production bonus to your credits if you own the Spice Mines of Kessel.
Campaign is similar to Galactic Conquest but you can experience the story from either side of the coin, learning how the Alliance liberated the X-Wings from the Empire and how Han Solo fits into the grand scheme of things when he decides to liberate the Wookies.
There is no base building as such as all areas are pre-built based upon the tactical map phase of the game, where you can manage your planets and micro-manage your fleets. There are unit caps and so forth to prevent insane amounts of units and on the whole the entire game works well enough.
There are two styles of RTS battle on offer, the space battles which are arguably much better than the land battles. The land battles feel a little tacked on to me and they donít quite have the feel of the space segments, they are clunky and somewhat repetitious, this again could be said about the RTS style gameplay as a whole however Ė once youíve played it a few times then it begins to become more like an endless grind than any real kind of fun.
In space there are far more tactical options than on ground, for example you can order your units to aim for specific parts of a large ship or station, blasting the engines on a large Imperial Star Destroyer can halt the ship and make it more vulnerable to attack from large capital class vessels, blasting the Turbo Laser turrets on a station will give your capital ships a better chance of levelling the structure.
I also dislike build-pads and I would have preferred a more free-form style of base construction, regardless of the fact that the game isnít really about that. For me itís one of the key elements of a good RTS. Battle for Middle Earth
suffered the same fate so Empire at War isnít alone in that respect Ė but BFME II dropped the build-pad idea so I hope a sequel to Empire at War will do the same.
Units are brought into the battle via reinforcement point landing zones on the ground or reinforcement areas in space, sometimes you are tasked with capturing more of these zones to increase your available amount of reinforcements and sometimes youíre not.
You can bring in Heroes to the game such as Obi Wan or Darth Vader, these special units have powers and skills beyond the normal units and Lord Vader can take down tanks with his force crush power, this alone makes him a formidable and dangerous opponent against any and every unit in the game.