Price: $29.99 (£17.99)
Description: A Brilliant Star Wars Real-Time Strategy Game
Pros: Faithful to the Star Wars films, innovates on the RTS genre, just brilliant!
Cons: Steep learning curve.
Advised Control Method: Mouse only (trackpad cautioned)
When I first took a look at Empire at War, I was skeptical. Why? Because there was a chance that this game could have just been a quick re-hash of a generic real-time strategy formula with a Star Wars theme hastily stuck onto it. In other words, a cash-in. With such a memorable and infinitely famous franchise as Star Wars, the actual licensing of the brand, characters and soundtrack must have cost a fortune. Has enough work gone into the actual game itself? The answer is a yes, a very, very big yes. Star Wars: Empire at War not only immerses you in what feels like a real universe with real consequences and real decisions, but also takes the real-time strategy genre and puts a whole new spin on things. This is a strategy game not to miss.
Playing as either the vengeful Empire or the persistent Rebellion you have the challenging task to build a prosperous galactic empire by conquering planets and laying waste to the opposition.
There are three ‘views’ when organising and controlling your troops in combat. The one you’ll be using most often is the galaxy view where you get to see a scaled map of the galaxy. Fit with all of the planets and other land masses, this view enables you to build buildings, move and create units and attack other planets. This is where most of the strategic thinking takes place rather than in the actual battlefield.
Before you can conquer a planet you must first capture its air space, using your space units, and then the planet itself using your ground forces. The space combat view is where the real time strategy comes in. You are only allowed a certain amount of units in the battle territory at one time but if you lose a unit you can hyperspace in more as reinforcements. The variation in space and ground units is astonishing, and don’t you worry, all of your favourite machines and space gear are here, from the colossal Star Destroyer to the agile X-Wings. Each unit has its own unique weaknesses and strengths so you will need to make use of these in battle to reduce casualties. Other than other ships, you will also have to takedown their huge space station, with many points of interest marked on it like the hangar or the shield generator which you must target separately before you can be victorious.
The ground combat is more-or-less the same idea but on ground. You can still fly in reinforcements but you’ll need to capture reinforcements points to do so. The ground units have the same great versatility and feature all of your favourite machines and troops from the films. The only real difference between ground and space is that instead of a huge space station you have a host of buildings to destroy. Plus ground combat seems a little more stratified as you are not working on an open plain like in space, but with specific routes and paths you can use to your advantage.
The campaign takes you through a set story, introducing many familiar faces in their early days before episode IV A New Hope. Even though you can go on a tangent and partake in your own independent battles on other planets (this is even encouraged as you need planets to build larger fleets), the campaign does try and keep you on track with the story by giving you certain objectives to fulfil, like capture that planet.
But it isn’t as simple as that. If you’re thinking of skipping the campaign for the skirmish just because ‘it’s just the same thing’, it isn’t. Your missions may include testing out your new AT-AT on an unsuspecting planet, or helping Han Solo save the Wookies from their labour camps. The campaign really does add a whole lot of variety to the game’s formula and adds purpose to each mission. Plus it’s a good starting point if you’re new to the game.
Empire at War introduces you slowly into the action with the tutorials to teach you the basics of the game. But after that, you’re on your own. Empire at War’s gameplay is so deep and so intricate that there is a steep learning curve and it may take an hours or so to properly learn the ropes. But once you overcome that then Empire at War turns into quite possibly one of the best real-time strategy games around.
From one single clone trooper to the humongous galaxy you’re based in, Empire at War excels in all areas. It is hard to put into words the scale of the game. Each planet has its own unique terrain, weather and climate. All the units have their own special attacks and abilities and the distinctive individuals you will recognise from the films are devastating. Trust me, the lightning force of Senator Palpatine can kill a whole army is two seconds.
The beautiful original soundtrack will have you humming the catchy tune all day long, whilst planning new strategic movements for your fleets of course. The epic battles that will take place will stun you with awe time and time again and will really make you feel like you are partaking in the epic space battles seen in the movies.
Galactic mode pits you against an opponent in a configurable universe and Skirmish mode is just a single space or ground conflict. These modes certainly add longevity, but the campaign is where it’s at if you’re looking for an inspiring, nostalgic story, varied objectives and recognisable characters. If you have a friend who owns the same game living locally, you can even play against him online.
In the end, what Empire at War does best is recreate those epic space and land battles you previously only saw at the cinema, and puts it in a game. Then it places you in control of everything. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’d be stupid not to buy this… now! Even if Star Wars isn’t your thing, this is still an above excellent real-time strategy game that you should lay your hands on. Chances are by the end of the game you will have fallen in love with the Star Wars universe anyway.