Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption Updated Impressions - Story Details, Gameplay Improvements, and a Closer

Producer Shawn Storc gives us new details about this real-time strategy expansion at LucasArts' summer press event.

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LucasArts and developer Petroglyph are hoping to deliver much more than an expansion pack with Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption, the upcoming add-on to this year's hit real-time strategy game. As producer Shawn Storc told us at a recent LucasArts press event, Forces of Corruption is practically a brand-new experience for Empire at War fans thanks to the many new features being included in the expansion.

Powerful new warships are at your disposal in Forces of Corruption.
Powerful new warships are at your disposal in Forces of Corruption.

The big new addition in the expansion is the Underworld faction, which is made up of the criminal elements of the Star Wars universe. Since its foundations are in crime and corruption, the Underworld plays entirely differently from the existing Rebel and Imperial factions, and Storc showed us the cool new ways you'll be able to conquer the galaxy.

First, some background info on the Underworld. The faction is led by Tyber Zann, a criminal overlord who has managed to get on the bad side of Jabba the Hutt. In fact, his ultimate goal is to take Jabba, as well as the rest of the galaxy, down. Unlike the existing campaigns in Empire at War, the expansion's campaign will be heavily story driven to introduce the new faction and all the new characters. The campaign begins with Zann in prison (the infamous spice mines of Kessel), and the first mission involves breaking out of jail, which is a good introduction to how the Underworld differs from the other two factions.

For example, one of Zann's powers is the ability to bribe enemy units to come over to his side. So, armed with spice credits that you'll find throughout the mine, you'll be able to bribe the prison guards to serve as your soldiers. Other prisoners will willingly join your revolt, to the point that when you finally do manage to reach the Millennium Falcon (Zann has hired Han and Chewbacca to get him off the planet), you'll have a small army at your disposal. However, it's at this point that Zann and his lethal sidekick Urai Fenn will do something completely ruthless, to reinforce the point that you're not playing as the nice guy anymore. "We're trying to showcase how the Underworld is sneaky and slimy, and they'll do things that the Rebels or the Empire wouldn't do," Storc said.

Once you're off the planet, you'll attempt to conquer the galaxy the Underworld way. Since it's not a conventional faction, the Underworld can't go toe to toe with the Empire or the Rebels in terms of space battles. It can get around this by being completely underhanded, though. You'll have at least one planet directly under your control, but you can dispatch agents to "spread corruption" to other planets. Once a planet is corrupted, you'll gain income from that world, as well as have constant intelligence to its defenses. What's more, you can "slip" your fleet past corrupted worlds by paying a bribe for each planet you bypass. This means that you no longer have to advance one planet at a time (like you do as the Rebels or the Imperials), and you can have your fleet suddenly appear behind the enemy's front lines.

How the Rebels and Imperials counter this is currently being balanced. For instance, the designers may make it obvious to you that one of your worlds is corrupted, at which point you'll have to dispatch a hero on a mission to clear the corruption. The symptoms of corruption may be a lot more subtle, however. For instance, you may notice that the cost of building units on a world has quietly increased, which is a sign of graft occurring on the planet. You'll need to send a hero on a mission to cleanse the world, which will keep him or her busy for a couple of days.

In tactical battles, the Underworld will have lots of cool abilities. For instance, Underworld ships and fighters can maneuver through asteroid fields without incurring a damage penalty, though Rebel and Imperial ships would. So you may want to lure the enemy into an asteroid field for a tactical advantage. Depending on the technology that the Underworld purchases on the black market, the faction's ships can be equipped with cloaking devices or shield-siphoning weapons. In land battles, Underworld troops can plant stealth mines in strategic choke points, and these can chew up enemy forces in a hurry.

Land battles were one of the weak points of the original game, and the expansion looks to fix that.
Land battles were one of the weak points of the original game, and the expansion looks to fix that.

Land battles have also been improved from the core game. For one, they're larger than those in Empire at War. More importantly, there's a new strategic layer that gives you more control. You will be able to zoom down to the planet's surface and place where your buildings and troops are stationed. This means that you can identify the reinforcement points and then move your buildings away from them, while putting your defenses and troops in between. You won't be able to place things anywhere on the map, as you must use one of the existing placement points, but this feature gives you a lot more tactical flexibility as to how you lay out your base.

Space battles will benefit from the addition of a number of new craft. There are B-Wings for the Rebels, the Super Star Destroyer for the Imperials, and more. And if you thought the Super Star Destroyer was big, wait till you see the Eclipse-class Star Destroyer, which is larger and more powerful than anything else in the game. This part of the game is currently being balanced, but it sounds like you're going to have plenty of new toys to play with. All of this new content looks good, but the new gameplay features have us equally interested in getting our hands on the expansion. Development is progressing, according to Storc, and we should see Forces of Corruption ship this fall.

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