LucasArts released Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, a real-time strategy game based on the Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings engine, late last year. It didn’t break any new ground, but it faithfully reproduced the Star Wars universe, and LucasArts did a nice job of converting the Age of Kings engine to a modern setting. Now, six months later and just in time for the theatrical release of Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones, comes an expansion pack for the game -- Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds: Clone Campaigns (it can’t be Stars Wars unless it has a really long name).
Clone Campaigns is sort of an odd expansion pack. It adds about what you’d expect -- new factions, new units, and a couple new campaigns -- but it doesn’t really feel like an expansion pack. It feels more like a library of useful things for modders and scenario designers to play with. For example, in addition to units from the new movie, the expansion pack comes with a bunch of units and eye candy from Tatooine (the planet where Luke started out in Star Wars). Sand people, Jawas, womp rats, the Hutts -- including, as far as I could tell, Jabba’s entire entourage from The Empire Strikes Back -- are in the expansion pack, and even though both campaigns make obligatory stops on Tatooine to showcase the additions, it’s more like LucasArts was just making sure that scenario designers could create campaigns based on the first hour of Star Wars if they wanted to.
That’s not necessarily bad, except that LucasArts seems to have spent all their time adding artwork to the expansion pack, and they forgot gameplay. Consider the two new factions: the Confederacy and the Galactic Republic. Each one is fleshed out with new buildings and units (and presumably look just like they do in Attack of the Cones), but the campaigns they star in are awful. LucasArts did a nice job with the campaigns in Galactic Battlegrounds, but here they’re dull and lifeless. The missions -- all 14 of them -- use almost no triggers or events, and most are simple variations on “destroy all your enemies.” You might as well skip the campaigns entirely and jump right into skirmish mode or multiplayer. Worse, LucasArts only used about a third of the CD for the expansion pack, and so they had plenty of room for more (and better) campaigns if they had wanted to add them. But instead they treated the campaigns like a chore best finished as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Besides adding purely new things in the expansion pack, LucasArts also tinkered with some existing things. For example, instead of just building power cores to power your buildings, you can also buy power droids to do the same thing. The problem is, after playing the campaigns I still can’t think of a situation where I’d want to use a droid rather than a power core (power cores are fairly cheap after all), and so I’m not sure how worthwhile the addition is. Each faction also gets a new siege weapon called an air cruiser, but the cruiser is so powerful it’s almost no fun. It comes with lots of hitpoints and shielding, it can hit air or land targets, and its splash damage is so wide that it effectively has longer range than any air defense system in the game. The only downside is that it takes a long time to reload, but it makes up for it by killing most things in one or two hits. The air cruiser is probably the most notable change when it comes to multiplayer games (the new factions, like the old ones, are essentially identical to each other except how they look); I’m just not sure if it’s a good change or bad.
So I hated Clone Campaigns, right? Well, yes and no. I was certainly disappointed in the campaigns, and the tweaking of the original game didn’t impress me much, either. But Clone Campaigns runs on a pretty good (although old) engine, and it’s still fun to play. And if scenario designers out there take advantage of all the new units and buildings, then it might be worthwhile just for all the fan-created scenarios you’ll eventually get to play. But if you’re only interested in the campaigns or in multiplayer mode, then you might be better off just sticking with Galactic Battlegrounds and spending the extra money on watching Attack of the Clones three our four times.