LOS ANGELES--Earlier today during a visit to LucasArts' E3 booth, we were treated to our first look at Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption--the upcoming Empire at War expansion pack from Petroglyph. There's so much to tell you about the expansion that it's difficult to know where to start, so we'll kick off by throwing a few numbers at you and go from there: New factions? 1. All-new units in new faction? 40. New planets? 13. Number of Executor-class starships we saw in action? 1. Number of players who can skirmish simultaneously with expansion pack content? 3. Seeing Yoda kill dozens of stormtroopers with his berserker lightsaber attack? Priceless.
Our presentation got underway with an introduction to the expansion pack's new underground faction, which was also referred to by LucasArts representatives as "the corrupt side [of the force]." The underground faction comprises undesirables serving under a leader who is both ruthless and cunning, and he will go to any lengths to achieve his goals. To give you some idea of what we're talking about, the new faction's tactics will typically include sabotage, bribery, extortion, and corruption. During a ground battle on the new planet of Felucia, for example, we witnessed a force-using nightsister armed with a lightsaber whip using her powers to confuse a large group of stormtroopers and then send them into the sights of a bounty hunter who swiftly killed them by spraying them and their surrounding area with deadly radiation.
Underground players will also have the ability to corrupt enemy units and make them their own, provided they have enough cash at their disposal to bribe them. During our demo, we saw one of the new Imperial troop transports get corrupted in this way, and the player was then able to load it up with his own units and use it to get past the Imperial base's new rocket cannon defensive towers--not because the towers weren't firing at the transport, but because its armor looked to be near-impenetrable. If players using the new faction ever find themselves in a situation where they need to use the retreat command, they'll find that their penalties for doing so are far less severe than those imposed upon Imperial and Rebellion players, since hit-and-run tactics are very much in keeping with how the underground forces operate.
The new faction will also employ a lot of units purchased on the black market, and those that we got to see in action during our presentation included destroyer droids and plasma-cannon tanks. Cooler still were the Imperial forces that we got to see them killing--two of the three different types of jetpack-wearing dark troopers, which will be introduced in the expansion, including one that had rocket launchers mounted on its shoulders. Staying on the planet surface for the moment, we got to see the underground forces unleashing one of the new orbital bombardments that will be available to all factions, as long as they have a capital ship orbiting the planet in question. When activating the bombardment, you'll get to place a gigantic crosshair on your target, and you'll then see all of your forces retreating from the surface before it hits. The bombardment that we saw comprised two projectiles--an EMP to knock out the Imperial base's shield and defenses, and then a plasma blast that essentially killed everything on the planet. How often you'll get to use this incredibly powerful weapon remains to be seen, but we doubt that it'll be very often.
Other new features that we got to see on the ground included maps that are some 40 percent bigger than those in the original game, an advanced base-layout screen that lets you rearrange the buildings in your base, bunkers that can be garrisoned simply by ordering troops inside, terrain types that can only be negotiated by units on foot, and the new Luke and Yoda hero characters in action. We saw both of the new heroes wiping out large numbers of stormtroopers with a minimum of fuss--Luke with his lightsaber-throwing move and Yoda with his berserker lightsaber attack. We were told that mobile defense platforms (turrets that you can move, basically) will also be featured in the expansion pack, though we didn't get to see any of them in action on this occasion.
High above the planet's surface, we got to see some of the expansion pack's new space units in action, and we're pleased to report that they were every bit as exciting as those that we saw on the ground. Imperial players can look forward to taking command of not only Vader's gigantic Executor-class starship, but will also find that the Death Star II is operational and able to fire upon enemy capital ships. TIE Phantoms and TIE Interceptors will be added to the Imperial arsenal in Forces of Corruption, as well, though these were nowhere to be seen in the version of the game at the show. We didn't get to see the Rebellion's new B-wings in action, but we did get to check out a ship belonging to the underground faction that was able to stealth and move through asteroid fields without taking damage, which promises to alter the game's space battles quite dramatically.
Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption is currently scheduled for release this fall. We look forward to bringing you more information on this very promising expansion pack in the coming months.