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Modder Superior: Star Wars - Empire At War

Something something, higher ground, etc.

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I bounced off Star Wars: Empire At War when it was new, but the siren call of modding beckoned me back. Playing a bit like a 4X strategy game in fast-forward, there’s no base building and little micromanagement to be done in Empire At War. Just assemble your fleets, kick open a hole in the enemy defences, and send down troops for a bit of terrestrial tactics. Petroglyph’s hybrid RTS is still being actively supported, and the Steam version revived online multiplayer in 2017. Here’s a few mods that are strong in the Force.

Engineering Tips From The Kuat Shipyards

The easiest way to mod Empire At War is to own the Steam version, which has online multiplayer and integrated Workshop support. Sadly, the GOG version lacks these, and while most (if not all) of these mods can be downloaded from Mod DB, this does provide a little extra hassle. It just happens that (at the time of writing) the Steam version is 65% off in the summer sale, and costs just £5.42/€5.87/$6.99. That deal ends tomorrow, Tuesday, July 9th.

All you have to do with the Steam version is subscribe to mods from the Workshop page. Launch the game (with the Forces Of Corruption expansion, when prompted), look in Options/Mods and take your pick. The game will then re-launch with the mod enabled. If there’s only one mod you want to launch each time, you can right-click on the game in Steam, go to Properties/Set Launch options and enter “STEAMMOD=XXXXXX” where X is the number shown in the Workshop URL. YodenMod 2018 would be 1172650432, for instance.

For non-workshop mods, or any other version of the game, unpack them into your Star Wars Empire at War\Corruption\Mods directory, and they should appear in the in-game mods list. If you want to force-launch a mod on startup, just add “MODPATH=Mods\XXXXXX” to your launch options or shortcut, where X is the mod directory — that would be “EAW-Remake” in the case of the Empire At War remake mod below. Lastly, if you’re not running the Steam version, you’ll need this unofficial patch to enable the game to use more RAM. Many newer mods will crash if you don’t.

More Wars For Your Stars

While it would be easy to focus solely on the most popular mods, I feel it’s better to take a broader look at what’s interesting. It doesn’t have to be polished or even complete, just worthy of your time. But let’s start out with an easy pick for would-be stellar strategists:

Empire At War: Enhanced Campaigns Mod by DarthT and crew – Steam/Mod DB

A simple pick for those dusting EAW off after a decade or more. It allows you to play the original Rebel and Empire campaigns with the enhancements from the Forces Of Corruption expansion. Going beyond that, it adds a trio of new set-piece missions to the game, with big, tough finales for both sides, and polishes up some spacecraft models and effects. It re-scales units to be a little more movie-authentic, so TIE fighters and infantry look downright dinky. There’s also a version bringing these tweaks to the Forces Of Corruption campaign.

This mod even makes some clever lore-authenticity tweaks. While X-Wings are able to hyperdrive straight into any battle, if you call in TIE Fighter reinforcements, a carrier drops them off instead. It just looks and feels a little more Star Wars. Oh, if you can’t find them, the enhanced campaigns are hiding in the Galactic Conquest menu, along with a similarly enhanced Galactic Conquest mode, including some new GC-only units.

YodenMod 2018 by (unsurprisingly) Yoden – Steam 2018/Steam 2019/Mod DB

There is no such thing as 'too many lasers'

The mod for Star Wars fans who think that ‘canon’ only matters when prefaced with ‘turbolaser’. Everything Star Wars and some kind of sentient warbling kitchen sink droid. Thought the game was messy enough with three factions? Try thirteen factions, and a hundred and fifty planets, most with distinct battle maps. While you can choose from some more restrained Galactic Conquest scenarios, why would you? Pick the one that throws every faction into a battle for every single world. Just don’t expect balance. Sith versus Empire versus First Order? Whoever wins, two factions of space-fascists lose.

Among the many questionable-but-fun decisions this mod makes is increasing the total unit cap per side to fifty, and it’s not hard to get even more troops on the field. AT-ATs can disgorge extra Stormtroopers like they’re going out of fashion, and capture points can spew out extra units in nonsensical style. Why does a crashed snowspeeder on Hoth spit out smaller snowspeeders? I don’t know and don’t care.

YodenMod has a lot of rough edges. Some units are comically powerful, some voice clips for combat barks are pretty rough, and some particle effects seem to be playing in the wrong places. There are two versions of Yodenmod — 2018 and 2019 — both of which are being updated in parallel. The former is no-holds-barred chaos, while the latter is an attempt to constrain and balance it, with just three factions (with multiple sub-factions) and smaller unit counts. But why do things by halves?

Empire At War Remake: Galactic Civil War by the Empire At War Remake Team – Mod DB

This is one of the few mods here not available via Workshop. It’s worth the extra effort though, because this is one of the more spectacular mods out there. With an aim to bring Empire At War up to modern spec, it squeezes effects out of the old game that I never thought possible. Heavier, more movie-authentic capital ship battles are the focus here, and I will never tire of seeing a smoking warship caught in a planet’s gravity, sinking down until it explodes in a colossal expanding smoke cloud.

Unfortunately, as much as this mod does to overhaul EAW’s space combat, its ground combat side is a little under-cooked. There’s more planned, but what changes there are seem a little buggy. I admit that it’s funny seeing a scout trooper T-posing into battle as he bails from his speeder bike, but probably not intended. Still, there’s plenty more work being done on this one, with a less-than-popular patch recently being rolled back in favour of a more ambitious v3.0 release in future. My advice: Play space battles, auto-resolve ground stuff for now.

As dramatic as this mod is, I consider its greatest improvement to be a simple one: a cleaner UI. Gone are the chunky opaque overlays taking up huge chunks of the screen. Instead, you’ve got transparent backing art, and sometimes just floating icons. More clean screen space means more fighting on screen without using the pretty (but useless) cinematic camera mode. I want every mod to do this now.

Thrawn’s Revenge: Imperial Civil War by the Thrawn’s Revenge Dev Team – Steam/Mod DB/Official page

Thirteen years in the works, this is one of the most enduring (and still actively developed) EAW mods around. Adding a huge slab of new factions, units and graphical improvements, it’s almost on par with YodenMod for scale, but vastly more coherent. Thrawn’s Revenge is almost fanatically adherent to Star Wars extended universe lore, and covers the two decades following the battle of Endor. This is the mod for the Star Wars fan who eats up every little bit of tangential storytelling. Yes, even the part where they dropped a moon on Chewbacca.

On a strategic level, the biggest change Thrawn’s Revenge makes is ditching tech levels in favour of fixed, era-specific unit sets. There’s a variety of scenario-style Galactic Conquest maps based on notable events in Star Wars history, and a few rolling timeline campaigns where everyone advances in tech level at fixed points. Tactically, there’s a focus on large but clear space battles, with very little fog of war, and enormous fleet sizes. My CPU creaks a bit when two large forces collide, but it’s a treat to watch.

They team are aiming to roll out a big update on July 11th, just a couple days from now. The new version will include the capitalist Corporate Sector Authority, as well as begin a planned overhaul of the ground combat.

Republic At War by The Republic at War Mod Team – Steam/Mod DB

Republic At War made its debut in 2011, but it’s still actively updated and is probably the most popular of all EAW mods. Simply put, it’s a Clone War era total conversion, which means a whole lot of comedy robots versus vat-grown New Zealanders. Skewed towards larger battles than the vanilla game, this could almost pass for an official expansion. Space and ground combat are given equal love, and are a little more polished (even if they don’t look wildly different from vanilla).

If I had to complain about anything in Republic At War, it would be that the messy nature of the Clone Wars era makes for a messy Galactic Conquest map. Whichever side you pick, you’ll have enemies on every single front, which means a lot of plates to spin. The other grumble is that the Confederacy’s voice clips, while authentic, clean and crisp, are annoying. Comedy droid babble, stuttering fighter engines and loudly humming STAPs make not for a pleasant soundscape.

Stargate – Empire At War: Pegasus Chronicles by the Stargate Modding Group – Steam/Mod DB

Based on Stargate Atlantis rather than the original film or TV run, this is one of the more comprehensive alternate-universe mods for Empire At War. The current ‘Pegasus Prelude’ version only offers space combat, but it features a large semi-scripted campaign with missions based on the events of the TV show. Right now it can be played as Tau’ri (humans and pals) and Wraith (space vampires), with some Goa’uld around to cause trouble.

The unusual choice of TV show is a double-edged lightsaber. Some of the chunky Stargate ships look a bit goofy compared to the gloriously greebled Star Wars designs they’re replacing, but it’s authentic to the setting. They’ve even done what they could to snap appropriate bits of voice from the show for combat barks — although they couldn’t entirely remove the original background music.

As with Stargate, this mod does a lot on a shoestring budget, and is an impressive and still-growing project. The Mod DB page is full of work-in-progress footage from the ground combat layer. I’m quietly hoping that half the planets look suspiciously like Canadian forests, and the other half look like an old quarry.

Also worth a brief mention is Halo: Covenant At War by Apex Studios (Steam/Mod DB). No longer in production and limited to space skirmish battles, it’s still a fun opportunity to see spaceships from the Halo universe kicking ten shades of glossy purple out of each other. Others have sung praises for Mass Effect At War by Gürteltier (Steam/Mod DB) – not quite a total conversion (there’s chunks of Star Wars in there still) but it lets you play out battles from Mass Effect with units from Cerberus, the Alliance and the Reapers. Still buggy and rough, but I’m hoping it’s not the last we’ve seen of it.

Assuming you play half of these mods for as long as they’ve been designed to be played, that should keep you going for a few years. But I’m sure you’ve got some personal picks to share with us in the comments below. Do, or do not; there is no try.

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Dominic Tarason

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