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Real-Time Strategy









T (Teen)



February 16, 2006



- Epic space and land battles

- One of the most complete views of the Star Wars Universe

- Tactics actually turn out to be important; "tank" rush doesn't always work

- Great audio and visual components



- Space battles are hard to maintain control over

- Don't believe the "no tedious resource gathering" on the box

- Gameplay will likely bury anyone unfamiliar with the genre



Review: Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth (PC)

Review: Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds (PC)

Review: Savage: The Battle for Newerth (PC)



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Star Wars: Empire at War

Score: 8.4 / 10


It may sound strange but Star Wars: Empire at War makes me nostalgic for the likes of X-Wing, a game in which, if I really wanted to, could single-handedly take out an Imperial Star Destroyer with an X-Wing or even an A-Wing.  While the ability to destroy such an opponent with a snub fighter seems unrealistic in the context of the Star Wars Universe, it always brought a sense of satisfaction – and man, would it have come in handy during Empire at War’s space battles where Star Wars “realism” plays a key role (i.e. a group of X-Wings will not be able to bring down a Star Destroyer, though oddly enough it’s a small group of X-Wings that takes out the Death Star).


star wars empire at war          star wars empire at war


Star Wars: Empire at War is a sprawling real-time strategic epic set in the period between Episode III and Episode IV and although the box wants you to believe there’s a complete absence of any kind of resource management, don’t believe it for a second.  There hasn’t been a real-time strategy game since Dune II that hasn’t implemented resource management to some extent.  It would be more accurate to say something along the lines of “No cutting lumber, spice harvesting or drilling for oil!”  There is still a high amount of resource management – it’s a big galaxy – but the minutia has been mostly washed out.  There are still units to produce, plans to be implemented, revenue streams to maintain, technology to steal, and so on, but it’s on the level of the Civilization series.  The smaller details are simply extrapolated.


The gameplay breaks down into three categories.  The Galactic Map is you “Eye on the Galaxy” where you can view enemy fleet movements, check your inventory of troops, vehicles, and ships on the planets under your control, and generally decide what planet to conquer next.  Although the Galactic Map feels like a pause in the action, it’s not.  Initially I was under the impression that the universe was paused during the planning stages but that was shattered when an Imperial fleet attacked one of my weaker planets as I twiddled my thumbs waiting for ships of my own to be built.





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On the Galactic Map you also form your fleets, which are then sent into battle (or better yet, positioned for defense), either directly to a planet’s surface or in orbit above the planet.  While Empire at War provides you the opportunity to “autoresolve” an encounter it almost always ends poorly for your side unless your opponent is very outnumbered.  You’ll want to take the hands-on approach for both Space and Land Tactical Combat.



Depending on the size of your fleet (and the number of reinforcements at your disposal) the space combat is spectacular to watch.  Unfortunately it’s also tough to keep track of the action because so much is going on.  The battles tend to spread out quickly so it makes it even tougher to keep control.  It can take several run-throughs before a space battle nets a victory.  (Thankfully you can save where and when you want to.)


Land combat is certainly easier to leapfrog your units around the map and able to actually track how the battle is proceeding.  The typical real-time strategy controls apply but like the space battle you can only call for reinforcements not produce an endless supply of units.  Scattered on most maps are build points that can be captured and used to build a handful of small (immobile) defensive structures like anti-vehicle turrets and bacta tank health nodes for healing infantry units.  It forces a tactical approach for sure, but at least it’s not as overwhelming as the chaos of space battles.


Making the right choices on the Galactic Map can make or break your attack and/or defense.  Each planet has a specific number of empty building slots.  On the more desirable planets there are enough slots to accommodate a large number of structures so the variety of units that can be created is high.  However, some planets have as few as three, which forces you to really consider what role the planet should have.  What it boils down to is that you can’t have one planet that does everything.  Each planet also has a bonus associated with it, like better shields or (with a select few) allows production of capital ships.  Having more planets under your control also helps boost your income of credits, which can then be used to grind out more units to facilitate your expansion.  A balance between rushing to take over more planets and fortifying planets under your control must be struck.  (It’s worth mentioning that the Rebel Alliance has a much tougher time of success in the Campaign mode than the Imperials, who possess greater cash flow and better equipment.)


star wars empire at war          star wars empire at war


The modes of play are the usual real-time strategy type: Campaign (that tells some actual stories), Galactic Conquest (which is a more free-form way to play) and Skirmish.  Star Wars fans are sure to appreciate the Campaign since the game incorporates elements from the Expanded Universe.  The likes of Mara Jade and Kyle Katarn put in appearances as “hero” units and most of the planets are only mentioned in books, other Star Wars games, and/or were mentioned in one line of dialogue in the original trilogy of movies.  After the Campaign mode you’ll probably wind up playing a lot of Skirmish matches that throws out the Galactic Map and pits you against (up to) seven human or AI opponents.  Since there’s no Galactic Map all resource management and unit production is done on the tactical maps.


Online play is fully supported, even matching wits against a human opponent in the Campaign mode!  While I have yet to follow one of these games to conclusion it’s still a lot of fun.


Empire at War features some pretty slick visuals and the tactical battles can be watched by clicking the cinematic camera icon on the control hud.  The results are hardly like watching a professionally editing action sequence but it can be fun to sit back and watch the space battles (when you’re assured of a win – it’s not so fun to watch when your side is being pummeled).  Small details like ripples on water and the texturing on the larger units are just as impressive as when a capital ship starts smoking then explodes and breaks apart in a series of explosions.  The view is 3D and it can also be zoomed in, however, for most fights you’ll be zoomed out as far as possible.  The action is also helped along by the original soundtracks from John Williams and some very familiar sound effects.


In the final analysis, Star Wars: Empire at War is a very good real-time strategy game and the best that has featured the Star Wars franchise.  The three levels of strategy, and the tactical thinking required to squeak out success should leave fans of the genre a feeling of satisfaction, even if it does still feature resource management and I don’t get to take the controls of an A-Wing.


- Omni

(March 21, 2006)


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