Last week, we discussed how Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens eagerly explored the potential for the new Star Wars timeline, but what game best matches that love in the original Expanded Universe? How do you embody such a massive, weird, expansive spread of storytelling, distilling it into a single product? One team of developers, Petroglyph, found a way with Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption. And my gosh did they do so with gusto, in what remains easily the grandest celebration of the original Star Wars Expanded Universe, by far.
Set during the tail end of the original Star Wars trilogy, the Forces of Corruption expansion for Empire at War had players settle into the throne of Tyber Zann, wannabe intergalactic gangster, rival of Jabba the Hutt, and all-around delightful scumbag. Accompanying him are some of the most ruthless cutthroats the galaxy has ever seen, all on a journey to subvert both the Rebellion and the Empire across the entire galaxy. Welcome to the Zann Consortium, motherkriffers.
The attention to detail is astounding. Obscure short stories like IG-88A hacking the Death Star II are the basis for gameplay mechanics. Units, planets, and heroes you might have never heard of like Tie Phantoms, Honoghr, and Senator Garm Bel Iblis take center stage. Everything from the Thrawn trilogy to Knights of the Old Republic and Rebel Assault II gets a mention or a nod somehow. It all beautifully knits together into a cohesive experience, rather than simply a boatload of fan service.
Whether managing one of the game’s three factions or taking the lead on battles across over 50 star systems, Petroglyph distilled every ounce of potential out of the setting. Dathomir is a nightmare to navigate without a heavily armored task force just because of the flora and fauna, let alone Nightsisters riding on rancors. Jabiim’s constant thunderstorms and hostile isolationist natives make for a tough trek through mudslides. The Maw’s countless black holes and lack of cover make you completely rethink naval engagements, especially if you rely on missile boats for naval artillery.
This all layers together to make for a meaningful and immediately accessible real-time strategy game. The user interface is slick and polished, with responsive inputs and highlighted keybindings. Battles are kept to compact yet still dramatic sizes, and units fit into comfortable niches you can immediately identify. Starfighters zip around to ambush weak points on ships and space stations, corvettes are perfect for quick ambushes and crushing starfighter attacks, and capital ships are the closers who can tank to cover everyone else but are vulnerable to bombers and torpedoes.
Ground forces rely on a similar three-pronged approach, with various infantry, light mechs, and specialized heavier assault units. Combine this with the freedom to customize your base layouts and deploy trump cards like heroes, orbital bombardments, and bombing runs, and you’ve got a fast-paced, easy-to-read battlefield. The Empire relies on overwhelming numbers and the Rebellion on agile forces and clever tactics. It’s all incredibly intuitive.
The one problem was that the gameplay became repetitive quickly in the original Empire at War. The pool of units and heroes just wasn’t quite there, which is where Forces of Corruption’s starring Zann faction and pool of Expanded Universe elements shine.
Zann’s pirate armada leans into special abilities, powerful hero units, and trump card units that can demand careful planning. Sure, a starship with no shields or starfighter support is risky, but when it has massive cannons that tear through shields and can self-destruct so that nothing goes to waste, it’s hard not to see the value. Likewise, Bossk and IG-88 might just be bounty hunters, but they’ve (ostensibly) stayed alive longer than Boba Fett and have decades of tricks up their sleeves. Best yet though is the Consortium’s Defilers.
You see, in Forces of Corruption, Zann can commit all manner of illicit deeds across the galaxy in every mode. Bribery, racketeering, and black markets open up new avenues for the management side of things. Slavery and piracy unlock new units like Wookiee warriors and ships from opposing factions. Corrupting a planet’s local militia makes the population uproot their current rulers, leaving the planet neutral for a quick and easy conquest if you play your cards right. Some of these tasks even have unique scripted missions with preset units, presenting clever tactical challenges, like dueling Manda’lor’s warship with Tyber’s flagship, or assassinating a troublesome governor with *checks notes* yes, those are in fact Ewoks with bomb vests. That is either a major selling point or turnoff based on what sort of Star Wars fan you are.
It’s all just so flexible that you can tell Petroglyph had a ball designing it all — the flourishes are evident in every corner. Along with the story campaign, there’s a full multiplayer component (now restored and fully functional via Steam) and offline Galactic Conquest campaigns with great scenarios like conquering the Outer Rim or taking over The Maw’s research facilities. Add on top of that some of the most extensive mod support ever, with new content still rolling out for it by fans with even more deep-cut Expanded Universe elements.
Seriously, look up “Thrawn’s Revenge” on the Steam Workshop — it’s bigger than some official RTS games. At a time when one might feel starved for new Star Wars content, the Empire at War community is tirelessly rolling out new maps, heroes, units, and more.
In every way that you could hope, Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption is the Star Wars RTS game of your dreams. It embraces the weird and awesome universe we once had to the fullest, and it is a game even those not typically inclined toward the genre can get a lot out of. It even has good voice acting, which is not something typically brought up with RTS games, but goodness do you notice it. Hell, there’s an alternate cinematic camera mode where you can sit by as the game dynamically captures your battle like it’s a movie that you can just turn on at any point. That’s amazing. If you like Star Wars at all and would love to get a taste of all it has to offer beyond the films, you’re in for a real treat.