Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds: A Retrospective On An Underrated Classic

As the future of Star Wars video games gets just a little bit brighter with the announcement of a new open-world game being developed by Ubisoft and the news that EA has lost exclusivity rights, we take a look at one of the most underrated Star Wars games of all time.

During the 1990s and the 2000s, the Star Wars video game franchise was undergoing a form of renaissance. From X-Wing in 1993 acting as the first truly authentic Star Wars interactive experience, to Knights of the Old Republic in 2003 capturing the passion of fans via its unique and in-depth character writing and world-building, LucasArts produced countless titles that now hold a deep place in the heart of many Star Wars fans. However, there is one game that always manages to slip past “Top 10” lists: Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds.

TIE fighters square up in Galactic Battlegrounds

A “Similar” Formula With A Fresh Coat Of Paint

Galactic Battlegrounds was released in November of 2001 and, while the game received general critical and commercial success, it is not often brought into conversation when discussing the best Star Wars games of the LucasArts era. Perhaps the greatest reason for this is its uncanny resemblance to another exceptional real-time strategy game, Age of Empires II (1999).

For all intents and purposes, Galactic Battlegrounds was a straight up carbon copy of AoE; the user-interface was positioned identically, the resources were essentially the same, the units followed the same general archetypes, the buildings had the same functions, even some of the skill trees and upgrade paths were lifted almost word-for-word. But there was so much more to Galactic Battlegrounds.

The moment the game was booted up, the iconic LucasArts logo appeared and fell down to reveal a Battle Droid taking at aim at you and you knew you were in for a true Star Wars experience. Every inch of the game was oozing with fan-service, as disgusting as that might sound. With six factions to choose from (and an extra two with the Clone Campaigns expansion), players had a whole host of iconic Star Wars heroes, villains, vehicles, and units to choose from. As first-time players progressed through the game and new units became unlocked, the wave of nostalgia that washed over them during their discovery is something that would not be felt again until 2004’s Star Wars: Battlefront.

Galactic Battlegrounds had a lot to offer Star Wars fans. The rather lengthy campaign allowed players to drop in to six different stories at any time, following the six different factions of the game. While some campaigns were certainly better than others (yes, I’m looking at you, Chewbacca campaign), each one offered a surprisingly varied set of objectives for an RTS and delivered a solid Star Wars story over the course of five-plus missions. The voice-acting for both the original Star Wars cast of characters and the new characters was also unexpectedly high-quality, allowing fans to really immerse themselves into a game genre that they may otherwise struggle to do so with.

Galactic Battlegrounds campaign

The “Skirmish” mode was where Galactic Battlegrounds really stood out. Choose your faction and set about creating your perfect Star Wars settlement; Set Stormtroopers to patrol your gates, send TIE Fighters to wreak havoc on your opponents, and watch as enemy units attempt to frivolously breach your shielded walls. While it’s true that much of the mechanics have been taken directly from Age of Empires, the Star Wars skin breathed a completely new life into the already-perfected formula.

A New Hope

Although Galactic Battlegrounds gave the Star Wars license its first truly great RTS game, there was undoubtedly plenty of room for improvement. In 2006, Star Wars: Empire at War blasted onto the PC, offering a whole range of new features and improvements which built upon the foundations that Galactic Battlegrounds had laid five years before. From squad mechanics to a fully-fleshed out space combat and fleet management system, Empire at War felt like the true successor to Battlegrounds.

With Disney acquiring the Star Wars license and LucasArts’ shut-down in 2013, the Star Wars video game renaissance came to an end. Despite Empire at War developers (Petroglyph) pitching a sequel to EA, no RTS Star Wars games have been released since 2006.

With the seemingly sudden reappearance of Lucasfilm Games and a promise that more unique and diverse Star Wars games are coming in the future, a new Star Wars RTS game may not be too far, far away. At least, we hope so.

Words by Cameron Swan

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