Star Wars: Empire at War came out back in 2006. Since then, we’ve had entirely new generations of games and even an entire new era for Star Wars movies.
So, is it worth doing the time warp and playing this old game? Or are you better off dusting off the old joystick and booting up TIE Fighter?
Keep reading to discover the answer!
A Different Kind of Strategy
Empire at War is a Real-Time Strategy game. However, this term means different things to different people.
For example, Empire at War is not like Starcraft. That game focuses almost entirely on ground battles and the race for resources. In that sense, Empire at War is also different from Galactic Battlegrounds. That game was Star Wars channeling Age of Kings as hard as it can, resulting in a game that was deep but still mostly battle-centric.
Instead, what sets Empire at War apart is that it focuses on both combat and all the behind-the-scenes operations of running an intergalactic war. Players must worry about annexing planets, gathering resources, and building formidable forces on your various planets as well as in the stars.
The result is a game that is hard to wholly love. The battles are beautiful (more on this later), but combat rarely achieves the visceral thrill of games like Starcraft. And the galactic planning is fun, but it doesn’t have the depth to compete with something like Civilization.
Long story short? Instead of doing one thing really well, this game does two things in a way that is simply “okay.”
For a 2006 game, much of this looks very good, especially on the highest settings. This is especially true of space combat: battles look much like you remember from the Original Trilogy, and you can fiddle with the camera to get some truly cinematic shots as everything goes down.
Comparatively, the ground graphics suffer a bit. Some of the ground units can look stiff, and that same cinematic camera is likelier to focus on an empty patch of ground than it is during space combat. This is even more noticeable when it comes to the hero units that play such a fundamental part of the game.
The Role Of Heroes
There are plenty of background characters that make up the bulk of both the Empire and the Rebellion. However, Star Wars is ultimately a franchise that is built on its iconic heroes and villains. And these characters play a major role in Empire at War.
The units themselves are very powerful, and a hero unit is a major threat to just about any regular unit in the game. However, what I liked most about these units was the specialized support role they ended up playing.
Certain characters can help you steal vital enemy information or reduce the production cost on a given planet. These abilities and more can turn the tide of many battles and make a big difference in how you play.
However, tying these abilities to heroic units forces you to be tactical in where you deploy your most valuable units. Choosing where your most valuable units should go next will have you feeling like Mon Mothma (or Grand Moff Tarkin) in no time.
Two Sides, Two Games
One of the biggest turnoffs in an RTS is when different factions feel like re-skins of each other. What’s the point of playing as an entirely new faction if the gameplay is almost exactly the same as the other faction?
Fortunately, Empire at War dodges this bullet by presenting two very distinct factions. The Rebellion and the Empire offer very unique experiences, both in terms of their respective campaigns and the gameplay.
As an example, Rebels are great at gathering info and forming hit-and-run squads to harass the larger Empire. Meanwhile, the Empire enjoys a ton of resources to build a mighty force, and they can always hire more bounty hunters to go hunt down the “rebel scum.”
These distinct gameplay experiences don’t change the fact that the actual gameplay is a bit “ho-hum.” But simply having different experiences available to players wins the game an extra point or two in my book.
No matter how hard you plan, Empire at War ultimately comes down to combat. And this is one of the areas in which this game is a bit lackluster.
There is typically not a lot of diversity when it comes to combat. It mostly boils down to your well-balanced squad versus their well-balanced squad until nothing is left.
The maps also offer little room for surprise. Combat often feels “on rails” because the game typically pushes each side down certain paths. It ensures some major battles, but it takes the fun out of planning things like unexpected ambushes.
One thing to get used to is the reinforcement system. Instead of getting more units from a building, you get them from reinforcement points on the map. This system is novel, but it can make your initial invasions feel lukewarm as you are forced to send down a skeleton crew and then buff it up planetside.
So, is Empire at War worth playing? Only for the truly hardcore Star Wars fan.
The developers really tried. But, as any Star Wars fan knows, there is no “try.” They should “do or do not.” And this game ultimately does “not.”
There are other, better games to scratch your RTS itch. And even in the Star Wars universe, I’m much happier to go back to Galactic Battlegrounds than Empire at War.
However, if you’ve played through all the other Star Wars games on Steam, you could do worse than this one.