Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds Updated Preview

Galactic Battlegrounds will take the best aspects of the popular Age of Empires II and apply them in the Star Wars universe. Find out how in our updated preview.

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It's like a match made in heaven: Take Age of Empires II, one of the best and most successful real-time strategy games to date, and apply its successful formula to the Star Wars universe. This bright idea occurred to LucasArts, and the result--the forthcoming Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds--is on schedule to ship around Thanksgiving. You might already be familiar with some aspects of the game, like how it will include not just the Rebel and Empire factions, but also the Naboo, Gungan, and Trade Federation factions from Episode I, as well as the Wookiees. In fact, the events depicted in Battlegrounds will span a full 5,000 years of Star Wars history--from before Episode I till after Episode VI. You've also likely heard that the game will have a lot in common with Age of Empires II, in spite of the fact that the battles in Battlegrounds will obviously be very different from those in Age II--for instance, they didn't have AT-ATs back then. This updated preview will give you a sense of exactly what to expect from Battlegrounds. You'll learn exactly which aspects of Age of Empires II will still be prevalent in Battlegrounds, but also what parts of the game will be completely new. Like Age of Empires II, Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds is a game about details. We've recently discovered just how interesting a lot of those details really are.

Battlegrounds will feature battles in deep space, and in many other Star Wars settings.

The decision to use the Age of Empires II engine for Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds couldn't have been more deliberate. Age II is one of the most popular, most accessible, most playable, and most interesting real-time strategy games to date. Battlegrounds will draw from its many good traits but will obviously feature all-new graphics and sound. Nevertheless, the game's interface and general look and feel will be very similar to Age II's, even to the point where Battlegrounds will use a lot of the same exact keyboard hotkeys, interface layouts, and design features. For instance, just like in Age II, groups of units in Battlegrounds will automatically array themselves into logical formations; cycling through idle worker units will be easy; and the game will be playable in a variety of modes. That is, not only will Battlegrounds feature six different story-driven campaigns, focusing on each of the factions, but it will also have Age II's robust skirmish mode, including a powerful, customizable random-map generator.

For good measure, Battlegrounds will also include a powerful campaign editor that will let you design your very own Star Wars skirmishes. The game will support up to eight players online or over a network, and its low system requirements promise to make it accessible to just about anyone who can read this. Battlegrounds will also have five different difficulty settings, making it a challenge for the novice or the seasoned RTS player. The game will also feature an authentic John Williams score, which comprises all the great pieces of battle music found in all the films. The resulting game is clearly being geared toward the masses--if it all pans out according to plan, just about any gamer should find something to like in Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds.

On the following pages, you'll learn more about the game's six different factions, its various unique characters, how the graphics have changed over the course of development, and plenty more about the actual inner workings of the game. Read on to learn about how Battlegrounds will incorporate the best features of Age of Empires II.

Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds will play a lot like Age of Empires II. That is, your goal will typically be to wipe the enemy forces off the map by building up your own forces, researching new technology, expanding your territory, and laying siege to the opposing bases. Much like in Age II, you'll need to harvest four different resources--carbon, nova, ore, and food--to acquire all the different units, structures, and technologies in Battlegrounds. Also like in Age II, your technology will be limited in Battlegrounds until you research certain key upgrades--especially the various tech levels, which correspond with the different ages in Age of Empires II. For instance, as the Empire, you won't be able to build your devastating AT-ATs until you're all the way up to tech level four--the AT-ATs and other extremely powerful units won't be available until late into a match.

Gungan shield generator units will deflect enemy fire.

Age of Empires II features huge skirmishes between hundreds of opposing units, and Battlegrounds will retain this same sort of feel. There will be a 200-unit limit during multiplayer sessions, and the game's huge variety of land, sea, and air units means you'll be able to control massive, diverse armies of powerful forces. Actually, the game's introduction of air units represents one of the key ways in which its gameplay will differ from that of Age II, since obviously, Age II didn't have any aerial combat. In addition to various air units, Battlegrounds will of course also have ground units designed specifically to counter these. You'll need to mix them into your armies to defend against airborne assaults.

Also unlike in Age II, none of the factions in Battlegrounds will recycle graphics from the other factions. In Age II, every single civilization had the same exact villagers, militia, archers, and more. But all the units, unit upgrades, and buildings in Battlegrounds will be noticeably different, even if they're roughly equivalent. Some of the factions will also play very differently from the others. For instance, the Trade Federation won't need housing to accommodate its robotic armies, though its workers will be relatively inefficient. All the Gungan units are creatures, whereas the other factions use a lot of mechanical vehicles. Otherwise, the overall pacing and style of Battlegrounds will be much like Age II's. Units and structures will be produced quickly, and thanks to this, if you're quick, you should be able to respond to changing battlefield conditions if you're caught unawares.

Other aspects of gameplay will be familiar to Age II players. For instance, Battlegrounds will feature Jedi units that effectively replace the monks in Age II. Like Age II's monks, Jedi will be able to convert enemy units to their cause. Unlike Age II's monks, Jedi will also be extremely powerful melee fighters. To defeat them, you'll be able to employ powerful bounty hunters. Furthermore, the almighty equalizer of Age of Empires II--the trebuchet--will effectively be replaced with blaster cannons. Each faction will have its own powerful, long-range artillery piece, which can raze enemy structures from far, far away.

The blaster cannons will be new to Star Wars fans, and, in fact, about 50 percent of the units found in Battlegrounds are being invented for the game, simply because there's nothing yet in Star Wars canon about Wookiee war machines and such. But fear not, as there will be plenty of recognizable faces in Battlegrounds. Read on to learn more about the units in the game, as well as some of its most notable characters.

The units in Battlegrounds are divided up into seven distinct classes, and each of these classes has up to four different levels that are determined by your game's current tech level. Fans of the Age of Empires series will recall that skirmish matches started off in the dark ages and then progressed through the feudal age, castle age, and finally, the imperial age. Your ability to "move" from one age to the next was determined by a number of factors, including your population size and resource availability. This same system has been carried over in Battlegrounds, but instead of being called ages, these distinct periods of time that grant you upgraded units and structures are simply called tech levels, designated one through four. Let's take a more detailed look at the unit classes in Battlegrounds:

The Trade Federation won't need to build houses for its military units--because robots don't need houses.

Trooper: This class of unit is made up entirely of infantry, the heart of any army. The imperial trooper, for instance, is the stormtrooper, while the rebellion's is the blaster trooper. In the latter three tech levels, you'll gain an antiair unit, a grenadier unit, and a mounted trooper, respectively. Note that troopers in Battlegrounds cannot be overrun by armored vehicles, though they will still be vulnerable to them.

Mechanized unit: More powerful than the troopers, mechanized units are usually large, hulking mechs piloted by standard infantry. The one exception is the Gungan race...its mechanized units are actually composed of beasts of burden indigenous to Naboo. With each successive tech level, these mechanized units become larger and more powerful. The imperials, for instance, will begin with a scout bike and then move up to an AT-PT, an AT-ST, and finally, the impressive AT-AT. The rebellion's mechanized units progress from the swoop and the combat speeder to the hover tank and the juggernaut.

Heavy weapons: Heavy weapons are most comparable to the siege engines in Age of Empires II. The four different levels of heavy weapons are artillery, antiair, mobile antiair, and pummel. The pummel weapons will work like Age II's battering rams--they'll be best suited for razing structures.

Air: The addition of air units will make Battlegrounds play differently than Age of Empires II. Within the game, there are three types of air vehicles that can be built: fighters, bombers, and transports. Die-hard Star Wars fans will likely appreciate these units the most, since they include famous vehicles like the X-Wing, Y-Wing, TIE Fighter, TIE Interceptor, and other such memorable vehicles.

Fortress units: These are the game's unique characters and units. They include the dark trooper from LucasArts' Dark Forces for the imperials, as well as the air speeder for the rebellion. Likewise, this class of units also includes the bounty hunters that are available to all six factions...yes, Boba Fett is available as well.

Jedi: Jedi are the most powerful infantry units available in Battlegrounds. While they lack any real ranged combat ability, they are absolutely deadly in melee situations against other infantry. They can be trained only from temples--the four good factions will receive actual Jedi units while the imperial and Trade Federation will have Sith warriors. Like most of the classes in Battlegrounds, the Jedi units will advance with each tech level. New Jedi units will be padawan learners, and they'll eventually become Jedi knights and then Jedi masters.

Naval ships: Naval combat has never been a popular aspect of the Star Wars canon. Nonetheless, LucasArts has devoted an entire class for naval units. The ships--utility trawlers, transports, frigates, cruisers, destroyers, and antiair destroyers--vary in size, shape, and functionality, and yet the entire class will be uniformly balanced. While the large cruisers that specialize in shore bombardment might look intimidating, the quick-moving destroyers will be capable of neutralizing the cruiser threat.

There are two notable aspects about Battlegrounds' units. The first is their scale. When the game was demonstrated to the public at E3, the one constant piece of feedback received by the development team was that the units were disappointingly not to scale with one another. AT-ATs were only marginally bigger than stormtroopers, and X-Wings were smaller than rebel infantry. Fortunately, the designers at LucasArts intended to redo the graphics in the game, and the first thing they did upon returning from the show was to redraw a majority of the game's units. The end result? AT-ATs actually tower over everything on the map, and X-Wings and TIE Fighters are made to proper scale with infantry. It's worth noting that the AT-ATs and other large units are actually bigger than anything in Age of Empires II.

It's also worth noting that many of the movies' memorable characters will appear in the game. Many of the hero units in Age II were modeled after real people throughout history--people like Joan of Arc and William Wallace. Battlegrounds follows a similar path by focusing on such key characters as Darth Vader, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca. Many additional hero characters, such as Yoda, will also be available for use with the game's scenario editor.

There will be roughly 200 different units in Battlegrounds, and the game's technology tree will be deep enough to challenge the most grizzled Age II or Starcraft player. Battlegrounds' director Garry Gaber says that one of the reasons that he wanted to be able to display so many units onscreen at once was to re-create the epic battles as seen in the movies. This, along with the inclusion of notable characters and properly scaled units, helps make Galactic Battlegrounds all the more believable.

Gaber describes the game's multiplayer component as very similar to Age II's. Galactic Battlegrounds will support a maximum of eight players over a LAN or Internet connection, and like Age II, the game will grant special bonuses when players team up. As allies, you can also tribute and trade with each other (if you have space ports, that is). According to Gaber, the game will primarily use Microsoft's Zone as its server-browsing medium, although Battlegrounds will also ship with support for the popular GameSpy service. Couple this with the inclusion of the aforementioned campaign editor, and it's clear just how robust the game will be.

Incidentally, the Battlegrounds wanted to help clear up a few misconceptions. First, the game will indeed ship this year--there's no truth to the rumors that state otherwise. Second, the designers behind Galactic Battlegrounds are actually not the same people who worked on Star Wars Force Commander, as we previously reported. In fact, Gaber and two others are the only ex-Force Commander members on the Battlegrounds team--no one else had previously worked on that game.

When we first saw Galactic Battlegrounds a few months ago, we were impressed with the concept--yet we were mindful of the changes that needed to be made before it would become the definitive Star Wars real-time strategy game. From what we saw of Battlegrounds recently, it's clearly headed in the right direction. For instance, the designers are working directly with Ensemble to properly tune and balance the game. For this and many other reasons, Galactic Battlegrounds is shaping up to be a Star Wars real-time strategy game worthy of that name.

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