Star Wars: Empire at War is a computer strategy game released in 2006 that allows players to play land or space battles as either the Galactic Empire or the Rebel Alliance in the Star Wars “Galaxy Far, Far, Away”. In terms of chronology, the original game (as opposed to its expansion pack) covers a short time before the destruction of the first Death Star at the Battle of Yavin and could go as late as the Battle of Hoth, more or less, three standard years later.
Earlier this year, after not playing it for some time (probably a few years, minimum), I installed my copy on my Windows PC and rediscovered it.
After moving back in with my parents last month and getting my Windows PC set up again, I’ve been playing Empire at War again sporadically for the last, oh, couple of weeks or so.
After finishing the Imperial “Galactic Conquest” game I had started in May, I decided to try my hand playing as the Rebel Alliance. It has gone… poorly.
As of right now, I control only a few planets and have a meager credit income, while my AI-controlled Imperial opponent can bury me in Stormtroopers, AT-ATs, AT-AAs, Broadside cruisers, and Tartan patrol cruisers.
So, it’s pretty accurate to the “canon” Galactic Civil War!
I’ve been getting increasingly frustrated of late, and earlier I was thinking that, instead of continuing to play and getting increasingly mad, I could instead abandon that game and start a new one at a lower difficult level. Instead of “medium”, I could try “easy” and attempt to learn from my various mistakes. Originally, this blog post was going to be a pseudo-fan fiction ‘after-action report’ from the perspective of a Rebel officer discussing the failure of this particular simulation and lessons learned.
Among my mistakes, in hindsight, has been a failure to play in accordance with the differences between Imperial and Alliance doctrine and strategy.
The Galactic Empire, of course, follows the Tarkin Doctrine of “fear keeping the systems in line.” Aside from relying on intimidation and using the fear of force to quell any potential opposition, the Empire also enforces conformity in its personnel. While the clone troopers of the Clone Wars were allowed to customize their armor and use nicknames, their Imperial stormtrooper descendants all wear identical white armor and refer to each other only by their designation. In space, the Imperial Navy relies on capital ships and the firepower of their heavy batteries as the main component of their strategy, while starfighters are regarded as expendable auxiliaries- TIE fighters are short-range and lack shielding and life support.
The Rebel Alliance, by contrast, lacks the industrial resources of the Empire. Rebel starfighters are more durable than their Imperial counterparts and have longer range since most Rebel starfighters are capable of hyperspace travel, which allows Rebel starfighters to engage in hit-and-run raids and other irregular tactics. While the Rebellion does have some capital ships, these are resource-intensive and precious. It does, after all, take less resources to maintain a flight of starfighters than, say, a frigate. Additionally, as shown by the Death Star, the resources used to create one large ship could also be used to create and maintain a number of smaller ships, like the debate between the Imperials who wanted to build superweapons like the Death Star versus the Imperials who wanted to use those resources for conventional ships, like Star Destroyers. Given the choice between 200 starfighters or 1 cruiser, the 200 starfighters can be in 200 different places instead of 1.
On the ground, while the Empire can rely on numerical superiority and heavy vehicles such as the AT-AT walker, the Rebellion has to rely on superior tactics and individual quality. Imperial stormtroopers may be better formally trained, but Rebel troopers are more motivated (due to the freedom fighters that they are) and have higher morale. For every atrocity committed by the Empire, the Rebellion gains more support.
In my recent Empire at War campaign, the problems I’ve been running into (aside from general numerical disparity) include the Tartan patrol cruiser (the Imperial anti-starfighter corvette) making mincemeat out of my starfighters, Imperial artillery and bombing runs devastating my ground forces, and of course the general gulf in resources available. I can’t see what the AI is doing, but I can only imagine every Imperial planet in this game is currently churning out stormtroopers, AT-AAs (why, again, is the computer bringing self-propelled anti-air artillery everywhere when… I don’t have that many aircraft? I wish I had bombing runs available on every one of my planets!)
After reading a strategy guide for Galactic Conquest mode online last night, I think moving forward (or, in general, playing as the Rebels) I’ll have to keep the difference between Imperial and Rebel strategies and doctrine in mind. I’ve definitely played more of this game as the Empire than as the Rebellion.
I have figured out that tactics are important- if a flight of TIE bombers is heading your way, you can scatter your forces, and maybe you won’t lose everything when the bombs start to fall. If your infantry are getting slaughtered by artillery, you can disperse your forces rather than having a few artillery shots wipe out your infantry squads. This seems really obvious to write, but maybe it just took me losing a few battles for me to be open to learning from my mistakes.
Sadly, the AI is not making the same mistake as the Empire in canon, and refusing to believe that starfighters pose a threat in space. If the AI was building more Star Destroyers instead of anti-fighter ships, I probably would have a slightly easier time, if only because each squadron of Y-wings costs about 200 credits against the Star Destroyer costing several thousand. I’m not as familar with Imperial mistakes on the ground, but I’m sure there’s something similar- probably relying on numbers and/or firepower instead of tactics.
As a result of all this Empire at War playing, I’ve thought that playing some kind of Star Wars tabletop game as a Rebel sounds fun, though at the moment I’m not aware of anyone I know playing any Star Wars tabletop games. Alas, and oh well.