Let’s talk about why Star Wars: Empire At War was so great.
Star Wars has a long history of video games, going back to the very earliest days of the franchise. Some like TIE Fighter, or Knight of the Old Republic are hit games with a cult following. Others are Kinect Star Wars.
Maybe Kylo Ren was right after all…
Amid a massive number of games, of varying quality one game really stands out. That game is the 2006 title, Star Wars: Empire At War. Today, lets take a look at why this game is still an amazing play.
What Is Empire At War?
Empire At War is an epic large scale real-time strategy game released in 2006. The game was something of a spiritual successor to the also amazing Star Wars: Rebellion (the video game, not the board game). In it, you take control of either the Empire or the Rebellion and lead them through the events of the Galactic Civil War. You can play either in a story focused mode, or a sand box Galactic Conquest mode. Most of the game take places on the galaxy map, which depending on the mode can have over 100 individual planets.
Here you can do all the classics of a 4X game. Develop your planets, build up fleets and armies, research new tech and send characters on missions. The game isn’t a real 4X game, but more of a 4X lite, with a heavy focus on combat. Once built you can send your fleets and armies out to conquer the galaxy. Each battle, both land, and space, can be fought in real-time. To conquer a planet you normally must first control the space around it, then launch a punishing ground invasion.
The battles are where the game really shines. Capital ships deploy squadrons of fighters that can dogfight or bomb enemy ships. All the major ships have targetable subsystems, so you end up making real choices. You can go after enemy guns to stop them shooting, or bring down their shields to make them vulnerable to your attacks. Maybe you want to go after their engines so they can’t run away to fight another day. These can be deep and long battles.
Ground battles are also intense, with defenders being able to spawn more troops from their bases, while attackers must fight for landing zones so they can bring in fresh troops from orbit. With a strong fleet the attackers can also lunch bombing runs and orbital strikes. If the going gets hard you always throw a powerful hero, like Darth Vader, down to help tip things in your favor. Of course, you need to be careful, losses pile up and can leave you weak later on. All of this leads to a fun and engaging campaign.
The game also has a single-player and multiplayer skirmish mode, where you fight a single long battle. In those modes gaining control of mines gives you resources you can use to build up your fleets. It’s a fun addition, but not where the game shines.
Late in 2006 an expansion to the base game, Forces of Corruption, was released. Along with a host of new machines the expansion introduced a third faction the “Zann Consortium”. This faction is essentially a “Scum and Villainy” faction. It a conglomerate of criminals, outlaws, and rogue states out to take over the galaxy. While non-canon, they added a nice dimension to the game with new units, heroes, and gameplay options. All in all, this was a solid improvement, though some people preferred the more “pure” Rebel vs Empire experience.
How The Game Lived: Mods and Updates
All this brings us to a key question. Why should any of us in 2021 care about what is now a 15-year-old game. Surely this game is dated and dead. Maybe it’s good for a quick retro playthrough, but not much else, right? Well, there you would be wrong. Empire At War has been kept alive by a really amazing and active modding community. Over the years they have pretty much completely rebuilt the game, adding new eras, factions, units, and graphics. Take the Empire At War Remake mod. It updates the 15-year-old graphics to look like this:
Mods like Fall of the Republic bring the Clones Wars to life.
While Thrawn’s Revenge adds in all the messy glory of dozens of EU factions.
These are just a few of the many amazing mods that have kept the game alive. Not only do they make it playable, but they’ve gone a long way to making it stand up to games released in more recent years. On top of that, Petroglyph, the developers, have continued to update the game on Steam. Back in 2017, they released a large patch aimed at fixing bugs and making multiplayer work on the Steam version. Then just weeks ago they released another large patch, supporting a nearly 16-year-old game, adding more modding options and functionally. All this goes to show the game is alive and well. The Steam version, which you can get here, is not only stable and runs well, but has full workshop support, making using the mods a real breeze.
It’s rare to see a game this old still have such an active following, and all that goes to show just how amazing a game this is. So if you love Star Wars, or combat focused 4Xs or just great sci-fi games, do yourself a favor and try this out. It really is the best Star Wars game they’ve made.
Let us know if you’ve played Empire At War, down in the comments!