With Star Wars: Empire at War, LucasArts and developer Petroglyph delivered a cool and engaging real-time strategy game set in the popular original trilogy of the Star Wars saga. Empire at War let you command the massive navies and armies of the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire as you attempted to either liberate or conquer the galaxy. Now the two companies are looking to finish up Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption, an expansion that adds new units and a new faction to play as. That's not the big news, though. There have been some major changes made to Forces of Corruption since we saw the game a couple of months ago, and they add a considerable amount of depth to the expansion. Thankfully, we got our hands on the latest work-in-progress version of the game to sift through all the new additions.
The focus in Forces of Corruption is on the new playable criminal faction. Since even the mightiest of criminal empires would have a problem competing head-to-head against the Galactic Empire or the Rebel Alliance, this new faction will require a new approach to the overall goal of conquering the galaxy. Instead of relying on brute force, this new faction must rely on a strategy that takes advantage of corruption in society. First, we should note that there's been a name change. Previously, this faction was known as the Underworld, but the developers felt that the name was too broad, since the seedy side of the Star Wars universe is so large. So out went Underworld and in came the Zann Consortium, named after Tyber Zann, the ruthless head of the criminal organization.
Playing as a criminal faction itself was originally supposed to offer the major new twist in the gameplay, as you have to rely more on guile and cunning and less on brute force and firepower. For example, while the Rebels and the Imperials rely on conquering planets outright to generate cash, the Consortium can generate money by corrupting planets. However, testing proved that this entire concept of corruption was a bit too vague. After all, when you get down to it, what exactly is corruption? To address this, the designers have expanded on the idea of corruption to flesh out the gameplay and make the experience of being a criminal more challenging and fun.
Now, when you dispatch an agent to corrupt a planet, you'll be presented with up to eight different options, each of which can have a unique effect. If you've ever wanted to be an intergalactic mobster, you can now dabble with racketeering, bribery, kidnapping, intimidation, piracy, and more. Each of these options has unique effects, and your decision may rest on the strategy you're pursuing. For instance, racketeering might generate credits for you quicker, but intimidation means that the planet's special ability is no longer available to the faction that owns it. Furthermore, three of the options will trigger a special tactical combat mission, because it was felt that there needed to be a risk-and-reward element in crime. Kidnapping, intimidation, and space piracy will drop you into a battle where your job isn't quite so much to crush the other side as it is to accomplish an objective. In an intimidation mission, this might mean fighting your way to the planetary governor and beating him up, while in a piracy mission you might have to take out an enemy vessel carrying an important official. Fail the mission and the planet remains uncorrupted, but succeed and you corrupt the planet and reap the rewards. To ensure plenty of variety, there will be approximately 30 different corruption missions, so no two corruption missions are the same.
Once you establish corruption on a planet, you gain all sorts of benefits. You get to siphon off some of the planet's income and direct it to your own coffers. And, your fleets can bypass corrupted planets and any enemy fleets defending them for a price, so you can send your fleets deep into enemy territory and attack where the defenses are weakest. And planets can have a unique black market, where you can purchase new technologies. This helps to tie corruption closely with the tactical battles, as you can unlock powerful new weapons and abilities that can help turn the tide. These can include buzz droids for your fighters. You saw these in action at the beginning of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, as these buzz droids can take apart enemy fighters and even damage capital ships. Or, in other cases, you might purchase entire new ship classes that can stand toe-to-toe with the best the Rebels and the Imperials have to offer.
The Rebels and the Empire can send agents and heroes to rid a planet of corruption, but if they do so, you can dispatch defilers and corrupt it again, perhaps with a different option. So if you previously were draining a planet of cash through racketeering and then it was cleansed of corruption, you might go back and corrupt the militia to make it easier to invade and take over the planet. Keep in mind that each planet will have, at the maximum, only three different corruption options, so you can't pursue the same tactics on every planet. Also, planets will offer different rewards. For instance, you might learn that if you accomplish a piracy mission on a certain planet, you'll be able to unlock a powerful new ship design, and so you might alter your strategy accordingly. The corruption gameplay adds whole new elements to the strategic layer of the game, but that's just part of what Forces of Corruption has to offer.
Scoundrels at WarForces of Corruption will feature a lot more tactical missions than the regular Empire at War campaign. These missions often involve no base or unit building. Instead, you have to battle through a level with a predetermined group of units. For example, a tutorial/prologue campaign will introduce you to many of the new features in the expansion, as well as walk you through a land battle where you can command Zann and his loyal henchman, Urai Fen, as they attempt to steal something from Jabba the Hutt. This prologue goes to explain how Zann ends up in prison at the beginning of the campaign. Thankfully, Zann has some unique abilities, such as being able to bribe squads to fight for him, and he has a powerful blaster that can level an enemy squad in a single shot. Urai Fen is powerful, as well, and he has a cloaking ability that lets him sneak up on enemies.
Meanwhile, the epic land and space battles of Empire at War remain just as intense as before, thanks in part to the new faction. On land, the Zann Consortium can rely on a wide range of mercenaries and war machines, such as the destroyer droids seen in the prequel trilogy. Then there are the new mobile build pads, which basically let you build turrets, healing and repair stations, and more, anywhere on the map. The new placement option lets you position buildings and units before a land battle, which can help in a defensive strategy, and you can also scout enemy planets ahead of time to see where the key structures and defenses are located. The Rebels and Imperials will also get new ground units, such as Dark Troopers, who are the elite infantry for the Imperials.
In space, Zann forces get a major advantage by being able to fly through asteroid fields without taking damage. So if the Zann can draw the enemy into an asteroid belt, they have a powerful edge. In terms of vehicle inventory, the Zann forces match up fairly well with the Rebels and the Imperials, and they have a comparable array of fighters and attack spacecraft, light cruisers, and battleships at their disposal. Again, there are new units for the Rebels and the Imperials, and for the most part, these new units replace existing ones, so the faster TIE Interceptors replace TIE Fighters on the build tree, while the more powerful B-Wings will replace the Y-Wings for the Rebels.
From what we've seen, the designers have scoured the whole of Star Wars lore for all sorts of new units, so you'll see creatures such as rancors and ysalamiri, the furry salamanders from the planet Myrkr that neutralize the Force around them. These can be used as a counter to Jedi and will play an important role in the campaign. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to see the Executor Super Star Destroyer in action, nor the Eclipse Super Star Destroyer that makes the Executor look downright puny. And, at this point, it sounds like the Eclipse is going to be limited to the campaign missions and won't be in the regular skirmish mode, since it's so large that special maps have to be built around it. With that said, we didn't get to see the Executor in skirmish mode either, so we'll have to see if it also only makes an appearance in the campaign.
With all this new content, Forces of Corruption should add plenty of interesting gameplay to Empire at War, and we're encouraged with the depth of the corruption options. Not only do these make the corruption faction feel much more unique, but they also let you play more like a scoundrel. And as we know from Han Solo's example, being a scoundrel in the Star Wars universe can be a good thing. Forces of Corruption is scheduled to ship later this year.