LucasArts' upcoming real-time strategy game, Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds, is close to shipping. It should arrive on store shelves by mid-November. Between now and then, GameSpot has secured exclusive coverage of this game to bring you detailed information while you eagerly await its arrival. The focus of the game is on the continuing war between the six factions of the game: Empire, Rebel, Royal Naboo, Trade Federation, Wookies, and Gungans. Each has its own flavor, unique unit, different gameplay style, and varied complement of technologies and units.
Over the next few weeks, we'll take you on an inside tour of Galactic Battlegrounds, showcasing the unique abilities of each of the game's six civilizations. This week, we'll look at the Empire and Rebels. Two weeks later, we'll showcase two more civs, and two weeks after that, we'll conclude with a look at the final two factions.
Galactic Battlegrounds is based on the Age of Kings engine from Ensemble Studios, but it differs in a number of significant ways. The look of the game is very different, of course, since this is Star Wars, but each civilization also has its own completely unique set of art, from its ground troops and simple workers to its starfighters and armored mechs. In terms of gameplay, gamers who try to play this game like it is Age of Kings will be in for a rude awakening. While the designers retained the controls and options of Age of Kings to make Battlegrounds easy to learn, they definitely added many new features and enhanced existing ones to make this a deeper game. From our time with the game, it's clear that those who play this game like they did Age will be at a disadvantage against those who adapt to Battlegrounds' enhanced gameplay.
One immediate difference is that this game is largely based on ranged attacks. There is no distinction between infantry and archers--in this game, the infantry are ranged troopers. Right away, the dynamic shifts to ranged battles, meaning walls and defensive postures aren't as successful as they are in Age of Kings. Units here will just shoot past your walls, since they don't have to go through them in order to attack your forces. There are certainly melee units in this game, and they are much tougher than they were in Age of Kings to compensate for the ranged fire, but they're vastly outnumbered by all the ranged units in this game. Clearly, this game is about taking out your enemy from afar.
Battlegrounds also gets off to a faster start, since even in the first tech level (the game's "ages"), you can build two different trooper types. By the second tech level, you get Jedi and mechs, making this era more contentious than it was in Age of Kings. There are plenty of differences and new features in Battlegrounds, and throughout these showcases, we'll highlight those differences as we delve into detailed accounts of each civilization. So without further ado, we bring you the armies of the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance.
The Galactic Empire is an awesome force in the game. Although each civilization is well balanced against the others, there is just something about fielding an army of enormous AT-ATs that makes the Empire king of the galactic hill.
The Empire is not subtle. It is a civilization that values brutal frontal assaults. Its strengths are thus troopers--the basic military units of the game--and mechs, which are the hard-hitting armored cavalry of Battlegrounds. These two types of units generally make up the backbone of any army in this game, and with its overwhelming strength in these two categories, the Empire is a devastating opponent in battle. The Empire's civilization bonus is, naturally, a 5 percent discount on upgrades to heavy mechs. They get two civ-specific technologies--one, Walker Research, further enhances its dominance in mechs, while the other, Altered Bargains, reduces any fees for trading resources. This second tech no doubt refers to Darth Vader's famous betrayal of Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back.
In Battlegrounds, mechs are even more important than cavalry are in Age of Kings. Mechs really are more powerful than troopers, due to their higher number of hit points and better damage potential. Moreover, they can be used as troop transports. The Empire receives the full line of mechs, which consists of three lines: strike mechs, assault mechs, and mech destroyers. Strike mechs are swift units with long range and high hit points. However, they don't do significantly more damage than troopers. Assault mechs are AT-AT class armored units--they have enormous numbers of hit points, do major damage, and sport superheavy armor. In comparison, the regular stormtrooper has 30 hit points, does five damage, and has one armor for ranged attacks, while the AT-AT has 275 hit points, does 18 damage, and has nine armor to ranged attacks. The AT-AT can be further upgraded to heavy status to get more hit points and greater damage potential. Moreover, there are more tech upgrades for mechs, thus making them even better. The Empire, as befits its image in the movies, is clearly powerful in the mech category. Its AT-AT is almost unparalleled in destroying buildings and ships. The third category of mech is the mech destroyer, which are basically antimech units. They do greater damage to mechs but aren't as good vs. troopers and other units as the other mechs are. The Empire gets all mech upgrades, including all armor and attack upgrades.
The Empire is clearly strong in mechs, and it's also good in troopers. The Empire gets all troopers except for the advanced heavy mounted trooper, and it gets all trooper tech upgrades, such as increased speed, hit points, attack, and armor upgrades. Its unique unit, the Dark Trooper, drawn from the original Dark Forces first-person shooter, further reinforces the Empire's proficiency in ground forces. The Dark Trooper is researched and built at the fortress and is a resilient trooper that is better than a strike mech. It has more hit points, easily more than double than that of a regular heavy trooper, yet it retains its superior range, does more damage, and has better armor. Its upgraded version is even stronger.
The Empire is also immensely strong on artillery and siege weapons, although its fully upgraded heavy AT-ATs make such weapons redundant. Where the Empire is weak is in air units. Its TIE fighters and TIE bombers are weak, lacking the shields that other civilizations have to shore up the inherently low hit points of starfighters. In addition, the Empire does not get the final tech level-four upgrades to their starfighters. Yet what the Empire lacks in air power, it more than makes up for in Force power.
Sith vs. Jedi
Since this is a Star Wars game, the Force is a strong component of gameplay. The wielders of the Force can turn the tide of any battle and are available as early as tech level two. Those who use the Force for good are the Jedi, while those who pervert the Force for evil are the Sith. Unlike all the other units in the game, the Jedi and Sith are universal and constant. This means that when a Gungan, Wookie, Naboo, or Rebel player builds a Jedi temple, the same Jedi comes out, no matter which civilization built the temple. In essence, the civilization is putting the call out to the Jedi to come and assist them, at which time a temple is built and the Jedi Council send Jedi to help the civilization in need. The Empire and Trade Federation are the two civilizations that use Sith instead of Jedi.
The capabilities of the Jedi and Sith are the same; they are melee fighters. Despite their lack of a ranged attack, they are devastating in combat, provided they survive to engage the enemy at melee range. The Jedi/Sith that can be built in tech level two is the Jedi/Sith apprentice. They have quadruple the hit points of a trooper and have high armor against ranged attacks owing to their canny deflection ability with their sabers. Although they do roughly the same damage as troopers, they also get a huge bonus against troopers, able to cut down troopers in one or two blows. At tech level three, they can be upgraded to Jedi knights and gain even more hit points and a better attack. Also in tech level three, you can start researching Jedi/Sith tech upgrades.
In tech level two, Jedi/Sith are simply melee units, but starting at tech level three, they can gain new abilities. They can now convert other units, much as the priests did in Age of Kings. Jedi/Sith can also be upgraded to move faster and recover Force power faster (Force is the energy used to convert enemy units). At the fourth tech level, you can further enhance your Jedi/Sith. The Jedi/Sith master becomes available. It is not an upgrade to the knight, but rather a new unit that complements it. The designers basically wanted to be able to field both cloaked masters and armies of knights. At tech level four, even more upgrades become available, letting masters gain stealth capability, detect stealth units, convert buildings and heavy units, and increase turning range. Moreover, at the Jedi/Sith temple, you can research 50 percent resistance to the Force (and thus conversion).
The Empire is one of the stronger Jedi/Sith civilizations, almost as good as the Naboo, which are the strongest in terms of Jedi/Sith. The Empire gets apprentices, knights, and masters, as well as all but two Jedi/Sith upgrades--the ability to cloak and the ability to make its non-Jedi units Force resistant. However, one ability that the other civilizations don't get is "Sith purge," and this kills any unit that you convert, rather than keeping it as a slave.
Jedi do change the dynamic of the game, becoming powerful melee units that can not only convert enemy units and buildings as in Age of Kings, but also decimate enemy forces quickly. The only thing Jedi need fear are air units, which they obviously cannot hit.
The Rebels aren't all that different from the Empire. Their strength is their troopers as well, but their other strength underscores one of Battlegrounds' departures from the Age of Kings gameplay model: air units. Along with the Naboo, Rebels field the best air force. In the movies, the Rebel X-Wings often made short work of the shieldless Imperial TIE Fighters.
The inclusion of air units changes the game dramatically, because it adds another dimension to think about when fielding armies. In Age of Kings, you have to think on only one plane, and all troops (if you discounted ships) can engage each other. However, in Battlegrounds, if you build all mounted troops and Jedi--anticipating taking down the enemy's workers and armies, only to encounter a few tie bombers--you are dead. Only certain units can attack air units, and they are clearly spelled out in the interface, but players will have to be mindful of air capability in this game.
Starfighters are built at the air base and are split along three lines. There are air transports, fighters, and bombers. There is only one transport, but fighters and bombers can be upgraded. The air base is available only in the third tech level, so it is definitely a late game feature. Fighters can attack both ground and air units and are the most mobile of units, able to traverse any terrain and at high speeds. Despite their ground attack, fighters are really designed to attack other air units. It is the bomber that is geared toward mass destruction of ground troops. They cannot attack air units but can lay down area effect bombs that damage all units in a radius underneath the bomber. They can be further upgraded to triple the area of their bomb blasts. The Rebel Alliance's starting fighters are Z-95 fighters, which can be upgraded to X-Wings, which in turn can be upgraded to Advanced X-Wings. The Alliance bomber begins as the light Y-Wing, progresses to the Y-Wing, and then can be finally upgraded to the Advanced Y-Wing. The bombers are perfect for taking out buildings and walls quickly, but they have to contend with antiair turrets and units. LucasArts is definitely putting in ample countermeasures to air units in this game.
Air units might add a new element, but they still must be managed properly. They are a component of a well-rounded army, not the sole ingredient. Air units have low hit points--the advanced X-Wings and Y-Wings have only 30 hit points without upgrades, so they aren't invincible. But as stated earlier, against an unprepared foe, they can end the game. To make up for the low hit points of their starships, Rebels can get shields, which can be researched in tech level four. Shields effectively double a starship's hit points and then regenerate. Proving their air superiority further, Rebels get all accuracy upgrades and are thus able to improve the accuracy of their starships' attacks by 40 percent. They also get full speed and armor upgrades.
The unique unit of the Rebels is an air unit; in fact, they are the only civilization that gets a unique air unit. This unit is the snowspeeder, although in Battlegrounds, it is effective on all terrain types. It has better hit points and range than those of the Z-95 and X-Wing, but also a weaker attack. It's thus better suited to scouting than air-to-air combat. But it is very effective against enemy mechs, getting a bonus against such units. Playing up to the movies, the Rebels with their airspeeders are thus natural opponents of the Empire and are strong AT-ATs.
More Rebel Strengths and Weaknesses
The other strength of the Rebels is their troopers. Troopers are cheap and basic ground troops. They cost only food and carbon, and even then, only in modest amounts compared with mechs, Jedi, and starfighters. The Rebels get full access to all troopers throughout the four lines of troopers: regular trooper, mounted trooper, grenade trooper, and antiair trooper. Regular and mounted troopers are available starting with tech level one. While troopers provide ranged support, mounted troopers have flamethrowers and so attack at close range; but they have massive hit points, compared with troopers, to enable them to take shots while closing with the enemy. Grenade troopers hurl area effect grenades that damage all units in a given area. They are good for taking down other soft targets (organic units) but are ineffectual against buildings and mechs. Antiair troopers are highly specialized (they can't hit ground targets) but are very much necessary in this game, since normal units cannot target starships.
Regular troopers in the Alliance are called trooper recruits, blaster troopers, heavy blaster troopers, and repeater blaster troopers through the four tech levels. Rebel Alliance mounted troopers ride taun tauns. They are available in tech level one and can be upgraded to heavy taun taun riders and then advanced taun taun riders. Grenade troopers are called thermal detonator troopers, while antiair troopers are called missile troopers. Rebels also get the armored missile trooper upgrade. In addition to getting the full complement of trooper units, Rebels get every trooper upgrade in the trooper center, as well as all relevant upgrades in the war center. The Rebels, unlike the Empire, get only one unique technology. It is called "Tougher Armor" and gives all troopers +20 hit points, making the Rebels' troopers the hardiest troopers in the game.
The Rebel Alliance civilization bonus is rather modest at first glance and improves production, not the military. Rebel droid workers have an increased carrying capacity of 5 percent when farming. It doesn't seem like much compared with the other civilizations, but in the long run, it lets Rebels gather food faster. These workers get full access to farming, animal husbandry, and resource-harvesting technologies and thus are strong in resources. Interestingly, they also have a strong contingent of mechs, getting all mech destroyers, both regular and heavy assault mechs, and all strike mechs but the final upgrade. However, they lack the full upgrade capabilities for mechs that civilizations such as the Empire and Gungans get. As you'd expect, the Rebels do have a strong Jedi presence, missing only two Jedi upgrades: the ability to convert other Jedi and the ability to kill on conversion, as the Empire's Sith can do. However, aside from those deficiencies, their Jedi are strong.
The Rebels are weak in heavy assault vehicles, such as pummels and artillery--Battlegrounds' version of siege weapons. They lack not only all the siege weapons, but also most of their upgrades.
From our experience with the Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds beta, this game is very fun and a great departure from Age of Kings. It is instantly familiar but also very different. After only a few games, we encountered many differences in gameplay, such as air units, the powerful Jedi, the enhanced "cavalry" units in the mechs, as well as the more pronounced differences in style between the civilizations. Shields, power generators, and even the fact that most units are ranged instead of melee really make this game play differently from Age of Kings.
The Empire and Rebels really do showcase the new changes in the Age of Kings engine, beginning with the beefed-up mechs, which now occupy the dual role of troop transport as well as heavy-duty ground destroyers. Few things in this game can withstand an AT-AT. At the same time, the Jedi and Sith are a great dynamic to the game. Whereas in Age of Kings, priests were sometimes neglected by all but the best players, in Battlegrounds, odds are that players will gravitate toward Sith and Jedi and use them in abundance. They are easily the most expensive units in the game, but they are also very powerful. Moreover, their conversion abilities are more effective--but only because they now reside on a unit that has the hit points and the attack power to withstand defensive barrages from enemies that try to thwart the conversion attempts.
Air units likewise change the gameplay by adding yet another element to consider. Granted, we had naval ships in Age of Kings, but they were restricted to water maps and couldn't sway the course of most games. But in Galactic Battlegrounds, starships are unfettered by terrain and thus provide huge scouting and tactical advantages. Although LucasArts has balanced the starships (perhaps too much so), they should still prove decisive, especially against the unprepared.
This week, we looked at the diametrically opposed Empire and Rebels. In two weeks, we'll return to Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds as we explore the Royal Naboo and the Trade Federation, the nemeses of Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. And two weeks after that, we'll conclude with a look at the more peripheral civilizations of the Wookies and Gungans. There is still a wealth of information to be learned about the marshaled forces of the Star Wars universe in this upcoming strategy game. So join us in two weeks as we continue our tour of Galactic Battlegrounds.