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Star Wars strategy games haven't fared well. Force Commander—one of the earliest 3D-rendered RTS games—frequently appears in “Worst Games of All Time” lists. Galactic Civilizations was a touch better, but ultimately nothing more than a total conversion for Age of Empires. Empire at War, however, bucks the trend by delivering a fun, if shallow, Star Wars strategy experience.
There are three components to EaW: a strategic galaxy conquest game, a tactical space combat game, and a tactical land combat game. None of the three components features particularly deep gameplay—most of the combat boils down to a rock/paper/scissors-style choice between the different weapons at your disposal, but switching back and forth between the different types of gameplay makes for an enjoyable experience.
The strategic game is like Masters of Orion-lite. You’ll need to use your credits wisely, choosing the right planets to improve and planning defenses for planets that will face attacks, all while building a fleet (or three) and a ground-based army. We really enjoyed this portion of the game—the decisions you make in the galactic view really affect the tactical portions of the game.]
Whether you’re fighting in space or on land, the basic combat is the same. Your units are particularly strong against a few types of units, and particularly weak against others. Your ability to effectively match your units—whether they’re Y-Wing fighters, AT-AT Walkers, or the Death Star—against the weaknesses of your opponents will make the difference between success and failure.
The tactical gameplay is (unsurprisingly) much more compelling in the space battles than the land combat. Part of the problem is that the vast majority of the land units (both Rebellion and Imperial) couldn’t be pulled from the movies, and Petroglyph filled those gaps with cookie-cutter RTS units established 10 years ago—tanks, infantry, artillery. The space combat feels more fleshed out, with more roles for different ships to fill.
While it’s definitely not a must-have game, Empire at War is a pleasant enough way to fritter away a rainy or snowy Sunday.
Month Reviewed: May 2006
+ BOBA FETT: Entertaining space combat with a Star Wars theme. Boss Han Solo around!
- JANGO FETT: Ground battles can be tedious. Basic rock/paper/scissors gameplay. Unimaginative unit types.