Empire At War might not have stunned us with its mild innovation and even milder Star Wars battles, but it was nevertheless an engaging and time-gobbling RTS-with-tactical-campaign-map-management-stuff. For the rabid few, however, it was a godsend: a Star Wars RTS that wasn't rubbish. Imagine that!
So the towering sales figures might have been a testament more to the number of satisfaction-starved Star Wars fans than to the quality of the game itself, but I doubt many of the people who bought the game were particularly disappointed. It was a solid game. The tactical campaign maps lacked the nuance and versatility of something like the Total War maps, but it nevertheless provided the kind of challenge that keeps you wanting to push forward, defeating intransigent enemies and spreading your colour all over the galaxy. If anything it was the real-time combat sequences that really bored me. They might have been pretty, but they were also utterly unexceptional in a time of demanding, highly accomplished RTS games. Forces Of Corruption does little to change that fact, even though it has suicide bomb-Ewoks.
And no, that idea does not justify an entire game, at least not in this case. Detonated Ewoks are but a sideshow. The Forces Of Corruption expansion actually has an entirely new core premise: a third galactic faction that uses intrigue, guerrilla warfare and criminal exploitation to get what it wants. It's a splendid idea, and makes full use of the Star Wars background materials. There's always been a huge criminal underworld just beneath the surface veneer of Imperial control and Rebel do-gooding that has been underexposed by Star Wars games. Given this general air of independent villainy that pervades the Star Wars universe it's surprising how rarely we get to play with the crime-lord characters. The odd bounty hunter here and there, but not at the level of Jabba and chums. And it's refreshing not be ultimate evil or Rebel heroes, and simply a greedy bastard trying to be top dog. That is Forces Of Corruption.
What this means for the overall game is that there's a satisfyingly large new campaign to overcome and another faction to deploy in multiplayer games. The Zaan Consortium, lead by cheery crime-lord Tyber Zaan, is the new toy at your disposal. The Consortium brings with it various criminal concepts that you can deploy to make trouble on the various planets. You send out agents and perform specific missions to corrupt various planets. Once successfully corrupted the planets can be sabotaged, bribed and ultimately controlled.
It's Zaan's agents who bring in a stream of cash to keep the criminal syndicate ticking over, at least in the early stages of the game. Piratical activities abound, although I do wonder whether that many people will bother to keep the agents running after your military has built up a decent head of steam. It's cool to have options for various types of naughtiness, but this is still a game about battering the hell out enemies with flying tanks and walking death machines. Thieving a bit of technology is all very well, but why not steam-roller in and simply take what you want? It's a question that Forces Of Corruption doesn't answer satisfactorily.
What it does answer is whether people get to ride Rancor monsters: yes they do, some long as they're 'force witches'. In fact there's a stack of new units that are both intriguing and super-geeky. (It's Star Wars as we know and love/hate it.) And they aren't just additions to the new faction, there's new stuff for both Imperial and Rebel armies too. Imperials get Dark Troopers (from the ancient Dark Forces FPS) for the Imperial ground forces, and TIE Interceptors for the fleets. Rebels meanwhile have a change to deploy Yoda (oh my God it probably goes against the fiction!) and B-Wings. (B-Wings are an awesome Lego model, incidentally, and far better than the X-Wing.) The Zann meanwhile get all sorts of peculiar stuff, including those rolling-ball security droids from the start of Episode One.
Forces Of Corruption has also made a few changes to the overall structure of the game that will please players who got stuck into the original. This includes the ability to customise bases to allow better defence of key buildings. Of course there's a degree of nerdy self-satisfaction in being able to go in and tinker with this stuff, but it actually makes a considerable difference to which way the result of individual conflicts will fall. RTS gaming chums insist that the Zaan Consortium is overpowered in multiplayer, but since I got my arse handed to me every time I went online I couldn't really tell...
What did make me happy though was the two-sided galactic campaign map can now host three-sided wars. That is undoubtedly how God intended these kinds of games to play out. (See Dawn Of War: Dark Crusade for more evidence of this.)
I've also seen a few people complain that Forces Of Corruption ran slowly on anything less than a top end machine. I reviewed it on a top end machine and it was lovely, so if you struggled at all with the original be warned that his one might prove too much for your tired old circuits.
So there we have it: an expansion pack that delivers what was needed for extending Empire Of War. A bit of a boost for exhausted gameplay, and a stack of new content for those people wanted to send more crawling, floating, bleeping Star Wars things to their death. That's going to be more than enough for the thousands who were thrilled by the original, but for the rest of the world this is simply another commercial footnote.