Star Wars: Empire at War is LucasArts' latest attempt to appease fans who dream of collecting resources like Kaibur Crystals and Carbonite to construct massive armies of AT-ATs and TIE Fighters and crush the puny Rebellion.
Designed like Battlefront's Galactic Conquest mode, Empire at War allows you to assimilate planet after planet in your quest for domination. You can deploy structures on your captured planets, which help you create more powerful vehicles as your tech tree advances. Or you can choose to populate your empire with mines to increase income in order to finance bigger, badder ships and units. Some planets have more building slots, while others offer the opportunity to gain military or economic bonuses.
In both space(click here to view a screenshot)- and ground-based(click here to view a screenshot) combat, conflict is played out with RTS-sized units, with little connection between them. With few exceptions, each planet has two distinct, separate theatres of war - ground and space. Each map allows you only a limited number of units with the opportunity to call in reinforcements. Battles rage on until you succeed or fail in a specific mission objective, or simply run out of reinforcements.
The story-driven solo campaign follows the rise of the Rebellion and continues through to the construction (and subsequent destruction) of the first Death Star. The campaign offers some interesting variations and challenges that require smart tactical decisions, but skirmish modes or multiplayer battles will usually end decisively in favour of the player who pits the proper units against each other. With so few variables in construction, layout, and research, there are even fewer variations on warfare.
Empire at War's multiplayer games are disappointing. With bland maps and virtually no opportunity for base customisation, the land battles are really only interesting when hero characters join the action. It's cool to see The Emperor blow through squadrons of soldiers with his force lightning, or corrupt enemies to fight for the dark side.
The weak ground-based element offers you a pre-built base with several nearby structures already situated. Scattered around strategic zones are generic "build pads", which allow you to choose from among six different emplacements, including defensive turrets, repair stations and reconnaissance nodes.
Thankfully, Empire at War's space-based warfare is a far more compelling and strategically satisfying experience. During combat, you're able to target specific systems on capital ships and space stations, like missile launchers, shield generators and engines. This gives the game a tactical aspect not seen since the X-Wing series. The ship-to-ship combat is far more visually impressive, although the game forgoes the majestic wonder of those gigantic capital ships by never letting the camera get down to fighter level, even in battle cam mode.
Hardcore RTS fans will rapidly grow bored, and even fans of the franchise are better served with Battlefront for its galactic conquest games, or Galactic Battlegrounds for a Star Wars RTS experience that's actually an RTS.
Verdict: A disappointing game that fails to live up to its massive potential. Nice graphical touches and satisfying space battles
don't outweigh the mediocrity of the ground-based and multiplayer elements.
Score: 3 out of 5