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Friday, 14 August 2009

Star Wars: Galactic Battle Grounds

Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds will send Star Wars purists into a tizzy. Tauntauns on Tatooine? Dewbacks in outer space? Naboo Fighters tussling with X-Wings that haven't been invented yet? TIE Fighters with shields? And since when do Wookiees have tanks? The Star Wars universe already requires a willing suspension of disbelief, but most fans at least expect some internal consistency.

Galactic Battlegrounds uses the Age of Kings engine suitably well.
These are hardly grounds to dismiss LucasArts' latest real-time strategy stab at the most lucrative license of them all. But they are grounds to wonder whether this is just a cheap tug at the pocketbooks of the fans or whether any thought went into this Star Wars adaptation of Ensemble's Age of Empires II engine. Although at times it seems LucasArts was being lazy, this isn't just a slapdash skin job. Rest assured that Galactic Battlegrounds has a relatively deep design with enough twists to distinguish it from Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings.

The fundamentals of the Age of Empires II engine are so intact in Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds that veterans of that game can jump right in with barely a glance at the manual. So many elements are almost identical--the interface, the resource management, the upgradeable units, and the unit balance, for starters. The four tech levels are analogous to Age of Kings' four ages. The six sides in Galactic Battlegrounds are the equivalent of the civilizations in Age of Kings, each with minor differences. For instance, in the Age of Kings, the Turks collect gold a little faster, and in Galactic Battlegrounds, the Royal Naboo collect nova crystals a little faster. In the expansion to Age of Empires II, the Huns don't have to build houses, and in Galactic Battlegrounds, the Trade Federation doesn't have to build prefab shelters. As in Age of Kings, in Battlegrounds, each side can build a unique unit. For instance, in Age of Kings, the Teutons get Teutonic knights, and in Galactic Battlegrounds, the Galactic Empire gets dark troopers. Although each side in Battlegrounds has unique graphics for its units and structures, they're all functionally the same. In Age of Kings, each side's infantry, cavalry, archers, and siege engines have the same basic stats, and in Galactic Battlegrounds, each side's troopers, mechs, heavy weapons, and aircraft have the same basic stats. All the units can be upgraded. In Age of Kings, a militia upgrades to a man-at-arms, then to a long swordsman, then to a two-handed swordsman, and finally to a champion. In Galactic Battlegrounds, a trooper recruit upgrades to a trooper, then to a heavy trooper, and finally to a repeater trooper. There are minor exceptions. In Age of Kings, the Persians don't get champions, and in Galactic Battlegrounds, the Trade Federation doesn't get repeater troopers. And so on.



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