Review by devilhunterred

Reviewed: 05/09/06

With The One the Force is, but Weak It Is

Seemingly it's almost been a millennia since the last SW RTS game released, which was merely an above average contribution to this well-respected genre. Recently Lucasarts decided to give SW this perfect RTS material another laser shot with SW: EaW.

EaW is heavily inspired by numerous games in the RTS genre, as well as many others in the SW series.

It contains Campaign mode for both the Rebel and Imperial factions, although each obtains no more than 20 missions each, most latter missions require you to build up specific armries, or taking over other secondary planets first as a stepping stone for your primary missions, so the actualy playtime length of the campaign mode can be considerably long.

Besides the "always-there" story/campaign mode, EaW, just like the Battlefront series, features a Galatic Conquest Mode. Ignore its fancy and sophisticated name, it is basically a Campaign mode stripped without the plot elements, it still requires you to build armies, take over planets until you conquer the entire galaxy.

Thirdly, there is the standard skirmish mode, where players can decide specifically on which side to play as, which planet to battle in, ammounts of starting credits (money) available to initially train armies, etc. However, there are just a few options players can customized with, and time will tell if a new patch will arrive to enhance these settings.

The game is fundamentally divided into two different gameplay, space and land battle.

The Space battle can be labelled as the selling point of the game. It's most likely exactly what you expect a SW space battle to be played out in a video game as you have watched from the classic movies: swarms of X-Wings and TIE Fighters flying around, shooting colored laser shots on eachother; truly gigantic Imperial Star Destroyers blast it all out with Rebel capital ships, the entire black emptiness of space full with red, green and blue laser and misiles charging in every direction and the firework explosions of ships being blasted into pieces and debris etc. It's fun, it's intense, it's SW.

Unit capacity system seems to be the trend of RTS games these days, and EaW, inspired heavily by these counterparts, is no exception. There is a unit capacity limit on both Rebels and Imperial in space combat. Rebels is allowed 25 units maximum in battle in the same time, while the Imperials 20. It seemed as if the Rebels has a larger force with a higher unit capacity. However the Rebels is required to actually build its fighter planes such as X-Wing and Y-Wing, while the Imperial's fighter planes such as TIE Fighters and TIE Bombers automatically respawn at any capital ships (the big ships) the Empire builds. Additional units outside of the allowed unit capacity are stored as reinforcements, and can be summoned into battle anytime and virtually anywhere in the space battlefield once the unit capacity has adequate vaccancy. This actually allows room for more thought-out tactics, as a reasonable reinforcement can always change the balance of power upon the battlefield, ambush on the enemy space station, etc.

Space combat is played out in a paper-rock-scissors style. There is no single superior unit that can dominant the entire space; there is always a counter-unit against it. Yes, not even the jaw-dropping Imperial Star Destroyers can swipe the entire galaxy , they can be easily downed by a reasonable fleet of Rebel Y-Wings. However, the Y-Wings are flies when faced against the Imperial Tartan Curisers, and therefore you will most likely have some units such as the Assault Frigate or the Corellian Gunship tagging along to protect the Y-Wings. The most combatible space fleet is often a well balance of several different type of units mixed in, covering eachother's weakness.

Elements that turn the tides of space battle exist, such as the "super-weapons", space station and heroes.

The name "super-weapon" is substantially misleading. They are not space nukes or any of the fearsome destrutive weapons you would come to expect from the words. They are simply a Ion Cannon for the Rebels, and a Hypervelocity Gun for the Imperials. Ion Cannon immediately elinminate the shield of a single capital ship (the big ones, such as Star Destroyer), allowing the Y-Wings or any other crafts to damage it directly on the hull without first destroying the shield. The Impieral Hyperveclocity Gun is an assault weapon based on the surface of the planet, aiding Imperial forces in space by attacking larger Rebel ships. Both the Ion Canon and the Hyperveclocity Gun can be used unlimited times during a space battle, but it's is required to recharge after firing a shot, so continuing firing cannot be acheieved.

The "Superweapons are by no-means "uber", but they make nice aiding assets providing additional firepower when the situation becomes too hot.

EaW introduces a "Hardpoints" system on larger spaceships and space stations. Basically, the larger space units have various health bars on each seperate sections. For instance the Imperial Star Destroyers have two laser Batteries, a Hangar, a Shield Generator etc. By destroying the laser battery, the ship loses its ability to fire laser blasts; with the obliteration of the shield generator, it can no longer regenerate its shield. It requires gamers to make good tactical decisions as to which sections have the priorty to be destroyed first according to the circumstances. Although in the end by defeating all hardpoints on a spaceship or space station, it is completely destroyed.

It's no SW if the faces and voices of Darth Vadar, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, etc, are missing. In EaW they appear as either land or/and heroes heroes unit, overal more powerful than most other normal units as you can come to expect. Each hero is equipped with one or two special abilities. Some has Invulnerability, allowing immortality for a very short duaration of time, while some has the Sesimic Charge (guess who has this abiliy), annihilating a squadron of smaller fighters in style with a cool sonic-boom.

Outside of space battle on the galatic screen, smugglers and bounty hunters can be hired and perform black coverts. Smugglers is placed in enemy controlled planets to steal credits (money) to claim it your own. Bounty hunters, on the contrary, assasinate smugglers, and other minor heroes such as fleet commander. However, the smugglers and bounty hunters are infunctional in actual combat, and their purposes of stealing and assasinating are never direly needed.

The Space battle is, on most occasions, is balanced with the advantage/weakness aspects of the units. And the addition of superweapons, hardpoint system and heroes units increases its tactical value somewhat, making it in the least content as strategy required as it is fun to play.

In comparison to space combat, the land battle is pale and appalling. Firstly the scale of the land battle is decreased considerably to a small skirmish, with only up to 10 unit companies available for each side, hurting the fun factor and intensity of combat badly. Unlike space battles, beacons called reinforcement points are needed to be in possession to increase unit capacity in a land battle.

Secondly, the paper-rock-scissor unit mechanism system is no longer in existence back on land as it is up in space. Most land units' power balance is blown out of proportion all over the galaxy, especially the Rebel forces.

A company of Rebel artillery on land can almost oblierate any hostile forces with ease and wide outside of enemy's retailating range. The Rebel infiltrators can pick out infantry units so fast that creating any Imperial troops (Stormtrooper, Scout Troopers) when these insane Rebel snipers are around seem practically pointless. The Rebel T4-B Tanks can virtually take on any Imperial land forces can throw at them with its high health points, infantry crushing weight, rocket launchers for taking out turrets, and double laser cannones poweful enough to go against an entire Imperial armored division. Other Rebel land units such as the Plex soldiers, speeders, are designed to make the supposingly Imperial's most powerful land unit, the AT-ATs, weep and cry as it is brought down to its four lumbersome steel feets without ever reaching its intended destination.

Natives, or indigenous forces are sometimes present in planets. However, most of the time they are simply blaster-equipped humanoid units that are either politically against the Rebels, Empire, or both. Unique and cool-looking indigenous units such as the Rancors appear too few and only at specific planets. And disappointingly, naval units are completely absent, and the sole air unit in land battle is the Rebel speeder.

Virtually, the Rebels can "own" any land battle with ease. The land units' balance in EaW is rigged, period. Absurdly, it seems the Rebels are actually more technologically advanced than the Empire.

The add-on of Weather Effects such as rainning and sandstorm on planets attempts to increase the strategic gameplay of land battles, but its effect on the performance of the land units is minimal and unsignificant.

Turrets can be built on build pads on a planet. Turrets are seperated into Anti-infantry, anti-vehicle, anti-aircraft, healing, etc. While the healing turrets certinaly have some strategic value, the assault turrets do not. Most of the time they are under-powered, low HP and with a very short attack range. The anti-vehicle turrets is practically useless when faced against AT-AT or a more heavily armored unit. More powerful turrets, the turbolaser turrets, also have too low health points, slow firing rate, and its defensive significance is questionable when swarmed with mere infantry.

Nonetheless, the absolutely worst part of structures system in land battles is that locations of build pads and strategic building structures are placed according to a pre-planned scheme by the designers. In other words, players can choose what structures to be built on a planet, such as barracks, factories, turbolaser turrets, shield generator, etc, but they have utterly no say as to where these buildings would be located on the planet.

Occasionally, a turbolaser turret you ordered to be constructed on the planet can be built on a point on the map with no strategic significance whatsoever, isolated and useless in the cause of defending the base against invading forces; or power generator can be located miles away from any turrent cover or base, seemingly asking to be destroyed by the enemies and resulting your energy shield and turbolaser turrets to be infunctional.

Sometimes it questions whether the designers have any logic or strategic sense at all.

Nonetheless, fortunately, EaW has quite a fanbase with an admirable size, and modifications (mods) are constantly being written by fans attempting to enhance the game or diminish its shortcomings.

Being a Lucasarts game, the production value and quality in EaW can be seen conspicuously. Graphically speaking, EaW does not push the benchmark for the RTS game genre, but it still packs a lightsaber of a punch. Audio-wise, it is again exactly what you would come to expect from a SW game. Every now and then you would constantly be hearing the distinguished, famous and splendid orchestra score from renowned conductor and producer John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Voice acting in the game is done superbly, most of the time the dialogues spoken by Han Solo, Vadar and others are so authentic and true to the movies that you would think Harrison Ford, David Prowse and James Earl Jones (Vadar was voiced by two different voice actors seperately in the episodes 4, 5 , 6) came to the actual reccroding studio and did the job, which of course they didn't.

Although suggested by the name as Empire at War, it would be welcoming to have units from the Clone Wars or other SW time settings. Frankly, the game's time setting of simply Episode 4 ,5 and 6 is too short, and the variety of both space and land units, too few.

However, again, this shortcoming is attempted to be fixed by fans, writting modifications.

EaW is a decent try of converting the SW universe into the RTS genre, but the developers aim high, wanting to put in too many elements into the game although most of which are poorly designed. Sure the space battles are fun, but it was possibly the only thing that was done above-average and well in the game. Strip down EaW's Star Wars cream coating and music, replace its SW units with ordinary infantry units, spaceships, tanks, and EaW is no more than your everyday-average RTS with nothing truly special or remarkable to stand out from the pack.

EaW isn't a terribly deep and highly strategic RTS game, but again, it was never meant to be one. EaW is intended for more casual gamers/SW fans wanting some RTS action, but would turn away hardcore RTS fans seeking depth and decisive strategies in a SW RTS game.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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