Video Game Thoughts: Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds

Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds was a 2001 real-time strategy game by LucasArts for the PC. One of my favorite real-time strategy games growing up was Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings. Galactic Battlegrounds was Age of Empires II with a Star Wars skin over everything. I loved Star Wars, and Age of Empires II was a great game, so Galactic Battlegrounds was a must-buy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t perfect.

There were four unit types in the game: troopers, mechs, ships, and starfighters. Troopers were mostly cannon fodder units, cheap and strong in numbers. Mechs were strong against troopers and buildings, but too expensive to mass produce. Ships were required to rule the seas. Starfighters were support units to back up the mechs with anti-air raids or bombing runs. The strategy was in building the right counter units. Every unit type had counters to the other unit types. For example, Grenade Troopers were strong against mechs, despite mechs usually being stronger than troopers. The trick was in building the right combination of units to counter the enemy players’ army.

Strategy wasn’t too important in the main campaign though. During most missions, the player faced a heavily entrenched computer player. Usually, the player would get an undeveloped base to start with. Then they had to harvest resources, build up their base, train an army, and slowly clear the map until they could complete the mission objectives. Sometimes it got tedious because many, many levels had this same premise. Sometimes I just wanted to get to completing objectives but had to spend a long time building up. The game had an annoyingly low unit cap as well. It was hard to defend the base while at the same time going out on the offensive. Sometimes I couldn’t do both effectively. Ultimately, the campaigns were too tedious for me. The campaigns had around six missions each, but I would always lose interest after the first few. I only finished two or three of the campaigns out of the six available.

The mechanics were basically the same as the ones in Age of Empires II, but times had changed by the time Galactic Battlegrounds came out. In the time between Age of Empires II and Galactic Battlegrounds, strategy games had moved to 3D graphics. Games were now running at higher resolutions too. In comparison Galactic Battlegrounds was low resolution and pixelated. The graphics were passable to me, but I never played the game for graphics. I had other games with much better graphics.

Another problem was the science fiction setting. Age of Empires II had a medieval setting. The game engine didn’t translate that well to science fiction. Age of Empires II didn’t have air units, so the developers coded the air units internally just like ground units. The result was that air units didn’t actually fly; they just hovered. The player would have a bomber just floating above a building dropping bombs. Lasers sometimes would shoot at weird angles to hit a target because the 2D graphics in the game didn’t always allow the unit to exactly face the target. In Age of Empires II they only had arrows and cannon balls flying through the air. These projectiles were small enough that the player wouldn’t really notice this flaw in the graphics, but it was obvious when big lasers were flying all over the screen. They did have some of the great Star Wars music in the background, but it was only twenty minutes or so. When the average mission took an hour to complete, I definitely got bored of the music.

Overall, I found the game to be good, but not great. It was a game I sometimes played for a weekend, but then I was done for a long time. It wasn’t a classic, but it was fun at the time. I mostly see it as a reminder of the times, when the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy was all new. Only the first movie had come out. It wasn’t great, but I hoped the remaining two movies would be good. I remember all the wonder I had about what new stories and characters would be created. Despite the movies being disappointments, the anticipation was enjoyable. There were limitless possibilities.

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