In Replaying the Classics, StarWars.com revisits Star Wars games of yesteryear, examining why we loved them then and why they stand the test of time.
In this oft-forgotten gem from the golden age of Star Wars gaming, you command whole armies as they charge into battle. Released in November 2001, Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds is a full-fledged real-time strategy (RTS) game, developed in-house by LucasArts using Ensemble Studios’ renowned Genie engine, the same technology that powered Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (1999). It’s a gorgeous, richly detailed tour of the Star Wars universe with a strong focus on all-out warfare.
Featuring robust single-player campaigns, multiplayer, and a training mode — along with easy, moderate, and hard difficulty settings — there’s no end of replay value here. With the addition of the Episode II Clone Campaigns expansion, included in the Saga edition available on GOG.com and Steam, Battlegrounds gives you access to eight story-based campaigns filled with variety and narrative depth. During each campaign, you’ll be issued mission-specific objectives that fit the settings and stories you already know and love, including iconic planets from the original Star Wars trilogy as well as Episodes I and II: Geonosis, Hoth, Kashyyyk, Naboo, Yavin 4, and more. Here’s your chance to explore the geography of your favorite locales with a bird’s-eye view of the action, or see even more of Theed’s baroque architecture than you might have glimpsed in The Phantom Menace.
Each Galactic Battlegrounds campaign puts you in control of a unified faction from a galaxy far, far away — the Confederacy, the Empire, the Gungans, the Naboo Royal Guard, the Rebel Alliance, the Trade Federation, the Wookiees. You’ll also fight alongside special characters like Attichitcuk (Chewbacca’s father in the Legends era), a Jedi Master named Echuu Shen-Jon, Princess Leia Organa, and of course Darth Vader. By fighting for territory and managing resources, the game raises your army’s “tech level,” granting you access to new kinds of units, such as special troopers, vehicles, and more powerful weapons.
You can amass up to 200 individual units this way, so prepare for a large-scale assault, with hundreds of warriors battling it out for victory. But it’s an inviting experience; start out on easy mode for a while, learn to manage individual groupings of troopers, and get a feel for how different units function. Each trooper has their own individual health bar, and medical droids can assist in the field by healing wounded allies in real time. There’s a lot happening on-screen at times, but the game gives you plenty of opportunities to learn the ropes and ease into the flow of combat. The more forgiving difficulties also make it easier to crush your foes, and therefore showcase just how exciting Battlegrounds becomes as you grow more adept at interstellar conquest.
With its destructible enemy environments, aerial isometric viewpoint, and charming sound effects like the Gungan battle cry, players will be drawn into these worlds for hours at a time, eager for mastery. Simply click (with the left mouse button) and drag to highlight your ground forces, direct them outward into the unknown (by right-clicking), and discover the thrill of marching a legion of droidekas on the city of Theed, the voices of wicked Neimoidian schemers guiding your strategy. Or control Lord Vader himself as he cuts down the rebels still stationed on Yavin, and enjoy the Sith-like satisfaction of revenge.
Uncover Legends-era Easter eggs like Mara Jade, or an Imperial trooper designated “THX-1138,” and find hidden levels to explore along the way. Using the game’s clever scenario editor, you can even sculpt terrain, create your own custom levels and campaigns, and see how the Separatists stack up against the might of Darth Vader and the Empire. Throw Shadows of the Empire’s Dash Rendar into the mix, if you like. This is your playground.
Alex Kane is a journalist based in west-central Illinois. He has written for Polygon, the website of Rolling Stone, Syfy Wire, Variety, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @alexjkane.