When it comes to Star Wars in gaming, LucasArts has it covered. Whether it's first person shooters, third person action, or real time strategy - and even some in between the three - there seems to be a Star Wars game out there for you. While not all Star Wars titles have experienced glowing reviews over the past few years, the RTS title 'Star Wars: Empire at War' did prove to be a solid game in a very competitive genre. As expected, an expansion pack is on the way, going by the name of 'Star Wars Empire at War: Forces of Corruption', and today we get a chance to check out a preview build hands-on.
In the original Empire at War, you could control either the Empire itself or the Rebel Alliance. The difference between the two gameplay wise was the Empire used research and development to produce new technology imposing their will on the galaxy, while the Rebel Alliance used the black market, espionage, information leaks and flat out theft to obtain Empire technology so they could fight the Empire on an even playing field. These two differences produced distinct gameplay for each side in Empire at War. However, what Empire at War didn't portray was the people/creatures caught in between these two forces, particularly those who take neither side but instead aim to take advantage of the situation. This is where Empire at War: Forces of Corruption comes in.
FoC introduces a new force to the 'Star Wars: Empire at War' world, the Zann Consortium, in the time period just after the Death Star has been destroyed. In a way, the Zann Consortium combines the qualities of both the Empire and the Rebel Alliance - they have selfish intentions for galactic domination like the Empire, but they steal, bribe, sabotage and intimidate their way into power and possession of weapons and technology like the Alliance rather than R&D. The Zann Consortium is lead by a human character named 'Tyber Zann' with most of the story revolving around his personal conflict with Jabba the Hutt, as well as his desire to control the underground of the entire galaxy, and secure a battleship in production rumored to be more powerful than the Death Star. On the way, you will face whoever tries to get in your path, including names made famous due to the demise of the Death Star, such as Luke Skywalker, and Yoda.
With the concept and back story aside, FoC plays very much like the original Empire at War. While the actual tasks you undertake are different, the way you do them are more or less the same as the original - for instance, to begin corruption of a planet, you first produce a 'Defiler' unit (which are pretty costly at 1400 credit) and drag him to the "spread corruption" slot of the planet you wish to corrupt. Once he arrives at the planet, which happens very quickly since the galactic travel aspect of FoC, like Empire at War, is in real time and not turn based, a dialog box then appears giving you options on which methods of corruption - which include creating a black market, creating a militia, and piracy to name a few. Not all corruption techniques are available for each planet, and they all cost you money initially, but corrupted planets add to your daily credit collection rate, and also unlock specific technologies and units - for instance, creating a black market on a planet lets you buy weapons you may not have had access to before. Unlike Empire at War, which saw your enemies instigate battles with your fleets and planets very regularly, from initial impressions it seems the Zann Consortium is much harder to target, as throughout the campaign mode I experienced very few such battles. This means you generally have a little more time to build your forces and spread your influence than in the original.
Once a planet is corrupted, it doesn't mean it is entirely under your control, it just means you have a presence there. However, a presence doesn't spell the end for your available misdeeds on such a planet - on corrupted planets, instead of 'Spread Corruption' being available, a new option - 'Sabotage' - becomes available. At the expense of one Defiler unit, sabotage lets you destroy a land structure on the planet without any conflict. This can become very handy if your current objective requires you to land on a planet and attack or kidnap a highly regarded official to spread your corruption by means of intimidation. In turn however, you can expect your enemies such as Jabba to do similar sabotage attacks on the planets which you do completely control. While on the topic of corrupted planets, once you do have a presence on a planet, a new feature only found in FoC will be available, and this is the ability to view the ground layout of a planet, showing where specific enemy buildings and units are located. Not a huge deal, but certainly a good way to plan an attack before actually executing it. On planets you control, this function will also let you organize the basic layout of your base depending on what units you dedicate for it.[quote]One of the cooler things about FoC is that the battle between Empire and Alliance forces still goes on in both space and on land during some of your missions[/quote]
Unlike in Empire at War where leaders are generally not available for use right away, in Forces of Corruption the leader of the Zann Consortium - Tyber Zann - and 2nd in command - Urai Fen - are available for use in Campaign mode and Galactic Conquest mode from the very beginning. These guys are treated as hero units in the game and are very important for a lot of missions you'll come across - for instance, Urai Fen - an elite warrior from the Talortai race - can become temporarily invisible during ground combat, while Tyber Zann has the ability to bribe units on the battlefield to your side for your own usage. Both of these abilities can be the difference between success and failure in a lot of missions you'll encounter, but on the other hand, if either one dies you'll get a failed mission, so these two leaders must be used cautiously.
One of the cooler things about FoC is that the battle between Empire and Alliance forces still goes on in both space and on land during some of your missions. Seeing as you are an underground force, you don't often take on Rebel or Empire forces head on, particularly in space where massive fleets are often out and about. What you can do, however, is hide out in asteroid fields and let the two sides fight themselves and, depending on the mission at hand of course, collect what you came to get or kill you who came to kill without being the main target. Compared to typical RTS gameplay like that seen in Empire at War, the type of gameplay seen in FoC requires a bit more careful planning and execution than flat out action, but that's not to say it is less exciting or challenging by any means - if anything, it is more challenging and, in turn, more exciting.
Star Wars Empire at War: Forces of Corruption, like most expansion packs, is not going to redefine what was already there, but it seems to do a nice job of introducing some new gameplay elements to what was already a pretty varied game by RTS standards. If you enjoyed Empire at War, then Forces of Corruption should certainly be on your radar when it is released in the coming weeks.