For a hugely popular fictional universe centred around a constant intergalactic conflict between good and evil, you’d think that Star Wars would have more RTS games than it has. The only two currently on Steam however are Galactic Battlegrounds and Empire at War. Today I’ll be taking a look back at 2001’s Galactic Battlegrounds; a traditional RTS based on the same engine as Age of Empires – one of my all time favourite strategy games. I’d been aware of Galactic Battlegrounds for a long time, but never had a chance to play it until now.
The best way to describe the game would be as an elaborate and well executed Star Wars mod for Age of Empires II. That’s not exactly a bad thing considering the recent HD remaster of AOA II proved that there’s still a large and loyal fan-base out there for traditional RTS games, no matter how old. Galactic Battlegrounds is no different in that regard, and has amassed a significant cult following that have produced widescreen patches, custom campaigns and fully fledged expansions as late as December 2016. For the sake of purity however, I’ve been playing the game as it was back in ’01 with a max resolution of 1280 x 1024.
Similarities between age of empires and galactic battlegrounds don’t simply end with the visuals though. The majority of Gameplay is practically a copy and paste job. You start off with a Base and a few workers tasked with gathering resources needed to build military and agricultural structures like barracks and farms. Gather enough of these resources and you’ll be able to progress to another stage of technological advancement, unlocking higher spec buildings and units. It’s all eerily familiar, but the full host of Star Wars units available through all the civilizations makes for a real geeky treat if you’re a fan of the movies.
There’s a total of 8 armies to choose from so you’ll have no problem recreating your favourite conflicts from the Star Wars universe. You can pit Wookiees against the Confederacy, The Empire against the Rebels or even have the Republic square up to the Gungans… because you can. However, if you don’t like messing with the lore, there’s canonically accurate campaign modes to enjoy featuring real battles such as Hoth and Endor. The campaigns do a good job of varying the gameplay but they always seem to have you set up to win against the AI. That’s not the case in a standard game though, as your AI opponents are resource munching machines hell-bent on conquest.
I haven’t played Age of Empires in a long time, and the sexy HD version I bought during sale time has just been shamefully festering among the ranks of my ever expanding steam collection. Galactic Battlegrounds however, has reminded me like a two-sided light sabre why I loved it back then and why I don’t play it now. It’s easy to get the hang of, unlike some more modern RTS games, and it’s a true delight to witness your hard work pay off over a lengthy and hard-fought custom match. What I don’t miss though, is when your hard work doesn’t pay off and you get totally melted by the enemy after an hour of Base building because you didn’t fortify a gap in the bushes. Add to that the the awkward way in which your units insist on traversing the map; getting stuck in a movement loop because they can’t get past a house to attack an enemy on the other side, or shooting at an enemy wall when the rest of the squad are shooting stuff that might actually shoot back.
There’s not much to be disliked, but the game has aged pretty badly over the last 15 odd years, so most issues that can be found are likely attributed to that. Like I said before though, consider this a fully featured Star Wars mod for Age of Empires. So if your an Empires fan whose nostalgic goggles obscure the annoyances of the past, and you like Star Wars, then… you’ve probably already bought it so… don’t buy it again.
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