Star Wars: Empire at War previewed by Speed

Star Wars is one of those mega-licences that has brought forth a ton of games, one better than the other. However, for many people, the name “Star Wars” as such is enough to justify taking out their wallet and LucasArts has understood this quite well. After having other publishers do the work for several years, LucasArts found out that it’s better to control everything Star Wars themselves. That way all revenues also arrive in their own pockets of course. Only exception to that lately is Lego Star Wars, but whether Eidos will be able to release a sequel to that is a quite different story.

But today we’ll be talking about Star Wars: Empire at War, the real-time strategy game we got to check out at E3 last May, and of which we got to play a beta right before release, next week.

During E3 we were quite impressed by Empire at War and now we’ve played the beta we can say our first impressions were correct. There’s a lot of potential in this title and we hope that the final vesion will succeed in getting rid of the last issues.

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In Empire at War you can choose between playing with the Rebellion of The Empire. A logical choice seeing that most RTS games have at least 2 campaigns and it would be rather boring if you would have to finish an RTS with only Yoda for instance.

Each side has of course its own units and pro’s and con’s. The Rebels can’t create technology for instance but can steal it from the Empire. Also cash is gotten by hostile actions. If you think about it, these rebels are a bunch of leeches that suck dry the Empire! One could wonder what they’re going to do once they’ve finished all evil as they’ll have to progress on themselves then. (ed.: it’s quite clear Speed has an affection for The Dark Side but this isn’t really a surprise for those that have gotten to know him. We at Fragland are awaiting the day he suddenly will put on a black mask and start breathing heavily). The Empire on the other hand do have the ability to research technology and create their own credits.

Empire at War can be seen as 2 games for the price of one. Not only do you get 2 campaigns, a bunch of scenarios and skirmish mode in singleplayer, but you even have 2 wars: one on the surface and one in space. And all of this in real-time of course! No other RTS has ever achieved this seeing that this depth of strategy on the higher levels usually was done turn-based (see Rise of Nations and Total War) and not in real-time.

Through the Galactic Map you can construct buildings, do upgrades and move troops and ships. On the surface you can get some real action going in battle, but also here your work in space pays off. After all you have to destroy defensive fleets before you can land to kick ass.

But it goes further than that as both parts interact with each other. If you’ve got a bomber flying around you can use it to bombard enemy ground forces. Also you can put Ion Cannons on the surface that can help you with space battles. And if that isn’t enough: if you’re loosing on the surface, you can even retreat to space and have your units take in defensive positions through the galactic map to later on try again to accomplish your mission.

This cohesion between space and surface is extremely well done and gives a feeling of greatness no other RTS has achieved up to now. Beware though, this brings along with it that you really need to know what you’re doing as it isn’t all too easy. At least, not in the beta.

Also the setting is greatly done and the Star Wars world is nicely portrayed on your screen. Pteroglyph, whose members have titles like Command&Conquer and Dune 2 on their CV, have concentrated on a timeline between Episode 3 and the end of Episode 4 and rebuilt everything as correctly as possible. All units are at the top of their strength and so you can adjust the Star Wars “history” to your own liking. Cool!

The units are also worthwhile. The known cannon fodder (like Stormtroopers), but also cool units at AT-ST’s and such are all there and have unique moves to make things more interesting. Also heroes present in the form of upgraded units, but especially cool is the fact that famous units like Boba Fett and Darth Vader are there to play with and steal the show with their specific specials and impressive powers.

Graphically things are quite alright, with a very good 3D engine that nicely spices things up, but here and there I did remain a little unimpressed. The 3D animation scenes could use some more detail. This also goes for the surroundings in these scenes and seeing that one of the most innovating features is the moviecam (during a fight you can switch to this view so you get to see the battle like if you were watching a movie), a little more attention to these details wouldn’t be unnecessary luxury.

Whether you’ll use this cam a lot is another matter though, as you don’t have control over the game at that moment. Be sure that your troops are going to win when switching, or be quick enough to go back to your overview when things tend to get out of hand.

Two other things that bothered me were the fact that I had to almost completely open up the volume of my speakers before I would hear any music and also the rather slow speed when scrolling over a map. Also when a bunch of troops were busy during a fight you saw the speed dropping drastically.

But as said, we’ve checked out a beta and hopefully (probably?) these things will be fixed in the final version. A final version which – if everything goes as planned – should arrive in stores within the next 2 weeks after which everyone will be able to enjoy the enormous depth of the game and can try to get the universe under their control.

(ed.: after playing this preview, Speed suddenly appeared to have changed the name of the office from “Fragland Offices” to “The empire”. The fact that he’s constantly waiting behind the window until old women pass by to scare them away while loudly shouting “You Rebel Scum!”, gives us doubts about his mental health. Beware when buying the game!)