Sometimes a Chore, Always Gratifying
Let me start off by saying I am an odd Star Wars fan. I enjoy bits and pieces from every movie, in my mind they all have their merits. However, most of my fondest memories come from the merchandising and the games. Primarily the merchandising though. I love the posters, paintings, action figures, bed sheets, etc. I think they are fantastic and having Star Wars join up with Disney made the most sense to me. Star Wars has always enjoyed merchandising, and teaming up with one of the largest/most successful merchandisers should of happened decades ago. Regardless though, I don’t follow the lore as much as most do. I’ve seen the movies a couple times each, I’ve seen a few in theaters and I understand the players and can piece each of them together with their backstories. But, that’s about as much Star Wars knowledge as I possess. So it’s safe to say I’m probably not a fanboy.
Star Wars Empire at War or EAW for short from now on, is a tactical RTS. I wouldn’t call it a flat out RTS since the gameplay is closer related to Risk, Axis and Allies or other tactics/strategy games. You do build bases, but it’s in a sense of placing game pieces (you don’t actually see them being built). The only real control you have is of your troops/starships. It’s odd that I would enjoy this game truthfully. I am a HUGE fan of base building. I love resource management and having builders/gatherers running around is a pleasure for me; and essentially this game is purely tactical based warfare. But, they do it right.
Delay over Rush, Yes Please
Usually in base building RTS games, I spend hours building my economy up, making sure everything is researched (just for the points) and harvesting every resource on the entire map before I make even my first attack. I am certainly the defensive type of gamer. Whether it is building bunkers/siege tank combos in StarCraft 1/2, or my own mighty Gondor in Battle for Middle Earth 1/2; I am a base building junky for sure. When it comes to the attacking, I usually choose the biggest troops and attack, little to no strategy and casualties are usually everywhere; although I don’t tend to mind since I have enough resources to build more waves with no issues. Needless to say I focus on the opposite of rushing, so you’d say I am a delaying type of man.
With EAW, that’s not really allowed. The point of the game is you see the entire Star Wars galaxy and you create troops/ships and partake in galactic battles in space/land, while your enemy is doing the same, at the same time. There are points where you build little depots here and there (land battles) but they are primarily for troop support, and once the planet has been captured they play no role any further.
The controls are similar to all other new-age RTS games (mouse reigns supreme), and the graphics are on par with other games that were out during that time period. This is an older game and you can probably snag a copy for $9.99 and have a fairly enjoyable time. I can’t say I’ve tried the multiplayer, so I’m not much of an expert on that. But, the campaign is fun and informative. You can choose between the Rebels or Empire and each campaign varies. I chose the Empire the first time just to control an AT-ST and it was fun, then followed with the Rebels. Each unit has their own special ability and rather than spawn single units they are set in squads (think Battle for Middle Earth); doing this allows for larger more precise battles that look more realistic.
The Gratifying Experience
So you might be reading this and get a blah sense from this game. And honestly, for the longest time I did too. But… there are two things that EAW did very well.
- The space battles are fantastic. The scope of the environment is incredible and the ships all feature various details that set them apart. Rather than two opposing ships sitting still while attacking they partake in space battles doing barrel rolls, etc. It’s a much more realistic Star Wars experience and I think it really captures what a true space battle would feel like. Overall I chose space battles over land battles every time possible, just for the experience.
- The Video Camera function is awesome. I almost wish every RTS had this function. But, then I realize there are only a few games that really focus on the unit details for generic RTS games (once again BFME stands out). Essentially, when your units partake in battle (space/land) you can choose the little clapperboard on the left side and it begins a cinema experience of the battle. Rather than just a top-view of the battle, it switches to various camera modes (following, panning, etc.) and attempts to recreate a George Lucas style film work. I think this is a grand function and it really adds to the Star Wars experience. Other than enjoyment, it serves no purpose as you cannot control your units directly, but it does offer a high sense of excitement. Especially when you’re defeating the enemy and you see their units falling one by one. Overall this function saved the game for me, instead of being just another RTS game, it did something different, and deserves to be commended for doing so.
Rent or Buy? Well it’s only a PC game and no demo has been made available to my knowledge; but I would browse around and try to find a cheap deal on it. It works well and it’s new enough where you can enjoy the graphics, yet old enough where you can max out everything. The controls are well done and if you enjoy the film work in any of the Star Wars movies, then you will like the Video Camera function. I say buy it, maybe find yourself a good Steam Star Wars bundle and enjoy them all.
Alternatives: If you had to choose an alternative in the Star Wars galaxy, I would say pick up Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds, it came out around the same time frame that Age of Empires II did, and it’s pretty much the same game, except with Star Wars characters. Overall I loved Galactic Battlegrounds, it showed insights of Episodes I – III while also covering IV-VI. However, if you’re not opposed to leaving the space network, I would check out Lord of the Rings Battle for Middle Earth 1/2. I especially enjoyed number one, because I thought the base building design was clever. Plus, number two is a very difficult/rare game to find nowadays, can you believe it costs more than $100 in some areas?