Strategy & War
Binding the Galaxy TogetherGameplay proceeds in Empire at War a little differently from your standard RTS. Action is always live on the galactic map. Itís not as if once a level is cleared you can catch you breath and relax until the cinematic explaining the next level ends. Once a battle is done, itís critical to secure your planets and put your feelers out into the rest of the system to continue your conquest. Because the game map is always active, it also becomes really critical to conserve units on the ground, as they can be used to fight and win battles all around the galaxy.
Battles both in space and on the ground are handled in a more or less rock/paper/scissors format. AT-STs beat ground troops, but lose to Flex Troopers, which lose to TIE Maulers, which are weak against T2-B tanks, etc. Because of this method of play, some would argue that Empire at War isnít a true strategy titleóbut Empire at War includes a few elements that give an extra nudge in that direction.
The constant need to manage the galactic battleground is part of that, but the space battles are where strategy in the game really plays out. The enormous capital ships that both the Empire and the Rebellion control are just that, truly enormous. As such, theyíre not just simple units you can click on to destroy. You can, but that will mean continual losses for you. Each large spacecraft in the game has a series of targets on it, indicating the various hard points and systems on the ship. An Imperial Star Destroyer, for example, will have a shield generator, engines, concussion missile launchers, ion cannon batteries, a TIE-fighter hangar, a tractor beam, turbo-laser batteries, etc. Each of these items can be targeted independently by units to slowly cripple a ship. Not paying attention to the proper method to attack a ship (or a space station, for that matter) will mean almost certain failure.
Managing the action in Empire at War is made manageable through the pause feature in the game. After pausing, the gamer can still select and group units (hugely helpful), issue orders, call in reinforcements, or even call in air strikes from allied ships in orbit. This makes conducting battles far more manageable, and far more cerebral at the same time. Itís not just a matter of zerg rushing your opponent with all your combined forces in an attempt to clobber them. You can take the time to pick the right tool for the job.
Not Yet Fully OperationalEmpire at War became surprisingly addictive for me. That darn Empire would keep making little gains against my growing Rebellion that would continually suck me in for just one last skirmish to retain control over Endor, or Hoth, or Kessel.
Like all RTS titles that aspire to greatness should, Empire at War features a multiplayer skirmish mode, but it is the fate of beta players not to be able to jump on and give these things a go with their buddies. For that, dear reader, youíll need to wait for the full review.
All in all, though, the Empire at War is fun to play, features spectacular sound and music and some quality visuals to back it up. Even in beta the game exhibited very few quirks, so expect a pretty solid gold master to be available for purchase from your beloved MacGameStore.