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Forgotten RTS classic is the perfect game to play this Star Wars Day

This Star Wars Day, skip Battlefront and Jedi Survivor for the unfairly forgotten stategy game Galactic Battlegrounds - you won't regret it.

Darth Vader set aflame standing against a screenshot of Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds.

There are plenty of good Star Wars games to recommend for Star Wars Day 2024, just not many true classics inspired by the prequel trilogy. With The Phantom Menace now 25 years old, we’ve seen copious amounts of prequel spin-offs but few genuinely great games in that mix. 2001’s Galactic Battlegrounds, however, is one of the few must-plays and, unfairly, also one of the most readily forgotten. On the surface, it might appear to be a reskin of the beloved Age of Empires 2, albeit one with far less long-term official support, but it’s a fundamentally great strategy game in its own right, and its fans have made it all the more essential to play right now.

From Wipeout-style racers to traditional action-adventure games, the Star Wars prequel trilogy has plenty of videogame tie-ins. Few of them are outright poor, and some of them are even decent fun. Nostalgia certainly plays a part in overlooking their flaws, though, given that the prequel era was in many ways an era-defining cultural event. Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds is a great tie-in, then, because it offers more than a trip down memory lane and never simply rode the coattails of a specific movie.

A large-scale battle unfolding in Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds.

Anyone who has played Age of Empires 2 will recognize the core gameplay: a frantic loop of gathering resources, protecting your town, and prepping for battle. It’s no bad thing that Galactic Battlegrounds lifts many of its mechanics from a genre-defining, highly respected source; in fact, some of the best Star Wars games are firmly rooted in the megahits of their time, yet bring the budget, boldness, and passion for Star Wars’ pulpy nature to create something new and memorable.

In the case of Galactic Battlegrounds, familiar gameplay elements have excitingly received science fiction twists. Monks have become Jedi, who as well as hunting for relics are now able to decimate enemy forces. Shield generators can now help protect buildings from attack and, in some cases, even guard units as they assault enemy bases. Airborne fighters are also introduced, which can make an ill-prepared base weaker than ever. AoE 2 at its worst feels like a desperate race to gather enough forces to crush the enemy, whereas Galactic Battlegrounds gives you such a range of offensive and defensive options that it becomes a delightful cat-and-mouse experience.

A platoon of stormtroopers entering a forest in Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds.

A little disappointment can be found in the game’s thin story, which is especially unfortunate given the freedom of the pre-Disney franchise to explore the often wildly imaginative Legends content. The stories are very much minor expansions of what we’ve seen elsewhere, such as Vader trying to get revenge after Episode 4 and Qui-Gon using his species-uniting manner to lead a Wookie uprising. There is, however, quality voice acting and even some mild intrigue, reminiscent of the narrative-led AoE 2 expansion pack The Conquerors. And there’s also the small mercy of exploring familiar eras from Star Wars without needing to fudge a film narrative into a different medium.

Despite what Galactic Battlegrounds has to offer, it’s always felt truncated thanks to its only follow-up being a tiny Episode 2 tie-in. Expanding Fronts is the name of a long-gestating fan expansion that lives up to its name, so much so that the term ‘mod’ feels like a disservice. It brings in a whole host of new civilizations, planets, an expanded score, and even balances out mechanics in ways fans have desired for years. It’s an immensely exciting experience leading Gungans on Naboo in one moment and following up on Crait as the Resistance. Fans have given the game a new lease of life and made it a staggering tribute to the series at large.

A city in Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds.

It’s well worth seeking out in any case. There’s nothing in Age of Empires quite as impressive as sending your Gungan army to attack a base with your mammoth, movie-recalling mounts protecting your troops with enormous shields. There’s quite simply little else that feels so enjoyably and unapologetically like a celebration of everything Star Wars, both in being fittingly great and paying tribute to the franchise in its then-entirety. Prequel fans will have a blast and, thanks to the ongoing efforts of a dedicated fanbase, so will everyone else. It’s worth noting that a small number of players may need to use workarounds to get it running. However, if you’ve got several hours to spare, there are few more thrilling ways to celebrate Star Wars Day than by playing Galactic Battlegrounds.