Sunday, July 9, 2017

Star Wars Empire at War AEM 5.1 - Part IV

Hello friends,

I've noticed my posts have become unreasonably long. So, in the future, we're restricting ourselves to 75 screenshots in a post, maximum. I'll be aiming to have at least forty, but no more than 75.

To reach this while still progressing the campaign at a decent pace, we'll follow this format: I'll introduce units as they become available, go through plot conversations, and then we'll do our battles.

One of the reasons this is so difficult is I had forgotten just how many split-second threat assessments, reactions, and decisions are involved in this game, as well as how many things I need to be tracking at once. I'm still figuring out how much of this I should show to you, and how much would be a distraction.

So, we've reworked our army and navy. We've added four Swamp Speeders, six MPTLs, and four AACs to the army, in addition to five each of infantry, Plex troopers, and T2-B tanks. We also transferred three Y-Wing squadrons from the starfighter fleet to the Army. The Army is currently staged near Alderaan for basically no reason except to mock Alderaan's general pacifism.

The Swamp Speeders are generally useless in combat, but they're quick, they hover and can capture build pads. They're also immune to lava convection damage because they aren't infantry. All of these are good reasons to have them in the Galactic Southeast. This will be on the test.

MPTL artillery are the most damaging Rebel ground unit available in the base game. In AEM, they're less...ridiculous. This is less because they're nerfed, and more because both sides have stronger high tier ground units. In any event, MPTLs are useful to us for their firepower. They're probably stronger in defensive battles, but if it goes according to plan we won't fight any land defensive battles.

We've also assembled two defensive fleets, each consisting of ten frigates, two marauder cruisers, and a fleet commander.

Our offensive fleet contains the Sundered Heart, 11 frigates, 8 corvettes, and a surprise ship.

In addition to that, we've constructed three small fleets of a field commander and two groups of B-3 droids. These fleets can bypass Imperial space forces and attack planets directly, and this force may be strong enough to take worlds.

Our current mission is to send R2 to steal technology. This is actually really important to us.
The Rebellion gains technology by stealing it piecemeal from the Empire. When we steal all available technology, we advance to the next tech level. Because we've been aggressive, Mon Calamari is the only Imperial world still on the map.

C-3PO: I - I don't think this is such a good idea...the Imperials are sure to catch us!

Note: The Imperials can never catch the droids on the galactic map.

We have four technology theft options right now. T3-B tanks, Corellian Gunships, Planetary Ion Cannons, and Turbolaser towers. This effectively means the Rebellion's technological advancement is controlled by how quickly the droids return after taking a technology and how many technologies the Rebels need to advance.

Antilles: Hmm...I don't see any information on this super-weapon, but it looks like there's a lot of tech we could go after.

In general, you should grab the most useful technologies first. So let's rank these in order of utility, least to greatest.

Artoo: *beeps*

What's that? We should conquer Mon Calamari right after this? Sure, works for me!

Turbolaser towers, powerful as they are, only come into play if the Empire attacks one of our planets with ground units. As long as we maintain orbital control - and I remind you we have four large fleets - they will never be relevant. However, when we get them, we're probably putting them on Kuat. Kuat is on our front lines and has Empire-loyal partisans we need to be concerned with.

Planetary Ion Cannons, though useful, only come into play for defending space battles. They're also less than accurate against frigates and corvettes, and the Empire does not have capital ships yet. When we get these, we'll be putting one on Kuat. They'll be more useful later in the game.

A substantial difference from vanilla is that AEM only allows building one or two Planetary Ion Cannons on a world. Vanilla could stack up to eight Ion Cannons for a ridiculous refire rate. Ion Cannons also disable their target for much longer in AEM.

Antilles: We'll get something easy then. Let's see how this goes.

Corellian Gunships are basically Corellian Corvettes, but with six of the lasers exchanged for missile launchers. They're far more powerful against shipping, and still lethal against fighters. Long-term, our strategy definitely includes Corellian Gunships. These ships in AEM function as replacements for the Corellian Corvette.

In vanilla, Corellian Gunships are best interpreted as anti-shipping versions of an anti-starfighter corvette. They deal more damage over time than Y-Wings, but...Y-Wings cost less money and population, have an Ion Cannon, deal more damage in one instant, and critically Y-Wings are far less likely to be killed by Star Destroyers. I always liked the Gunship, but it's not very well suited to fleet battles.

However, we still lack a general assault ground unit. That's what the T3-B is. So, it's what we're picking. Right now, we can handle ourselves in space, which reduces our immediate need for Corellian Gunships or Ion Cannons. But as we face more AT-STs, we're going to have substantial difficulties taking those worlds without T3-Bs.

T3-Bs have several advantages. The biggest one is they are tougher and deal more damage than T2-Bs. They can also crush infantry, and retain the ability to fire on the move. There's not a great deal more to say about the T3-B. Ironically, Rebel tanks are much more of the "Smash em! Smash em hard!" school of warfare than the Empire's walkers.

And of course, since we're doing very well in space, right now we have no use for Turbolaser towers.

C-3PO: Artoo will acquire that data. I will let you know when he's finished.

Despite what C-3PO is saying, we actually have the data immediately and can start training T3-Bs right now. Or we could, if we had more than one population point available.

Antilles: Great. In the meantime, we'll see what else the Empire is up to in this sector.

Note that the droids' icon in the upper right corner has turned blue. This functions as a timer so we know when we get R2-D2 back.

Ah. I forgot to mention - the T3-B has a missile secondary weapon, but it can only fire forwards and it's hard to use properly. Mostly I just stick with the lasers for this tank.

I want to point out something AEM does more right than Empire at War did. Our mid-tier tank costs 700 and one population point. Our tier II frigate costs 2,800 and two population points. Ground units are far cheaper and more expendable than space units, which actually makes complete sense.

That said, we're in an interesting position now. Since we had to send the droids to Mon Calamari, we got a peek at the defensive fleet. 20 population points spread across three ship types, with the strongest being an acclamator.

Canonically, or, pre-disney canonically, Mon Calamari was occupied by the Empire for the crime of building luxury liners* and also doing other Rebel-aiding things. The setup here mirrors that kind of occupation - large Imperial fleet keeps things ordered OR ELSE while a small garrison occupies the planet, relying largely on the threat of orbital bombardment to suppress any uprising.

Sensible plan. Compensate for widespread sentiment against you on a planet of billions using orbital troop movement and space-borne weapons platforms. Unfortunately, their plan hinges on one critical assumption:

That the Rebellion cannot or will not perform a full-scale planetary assault in order to protect those who helped us.

*Liners which may or may not have been designed to be quickly and easily converted into capital ships rivaling Star Destroyers. Just kidding, they were expressly built to be used in war. We'll use them later.

I am mildly nervous. This is our first real battle against the Empire.

Let's be real here for a second: The opening space battle can't really BE lost, so it doesn't count.

Kuat had no defensive fleet.

One pirate frigate and two fighter squadrons does not count as a defensive fleet for Korriban.

Kessel was a scripted mission that forced the Empire to use a lot of sub-standard tactics, and ended before we took on the Star Destroyers.

The Alliance's ground troops are bloodied veterans by this point - Kuat taught them to fight to the bitter end. Korriban taught them the basics of combined arms tactics, Wayland to think on their feet, and Fresia that victory belongs to those with air support. There's more to learn, but our troops are experienced and confident and can handle anything the Empire throws at them.

Our fleet is...not the same. Given the difference between the strategic importance of ground troops and that of space units, this isn't acceptable. The most decisive battles in Star Wars, and most other space operas, are in space. Empire at War is the same way.

The offensive fleet. Even if every ship is destroyed here, our worlds are still safe. We aren't experienced, but we are numerous.

The fleet contains:
11 Rebel Assault Frigate Mk.1
8 Corellian Corvettes
The Sundered Heart
1 Quasar Fire Carrier
and a Fleet Commander.

As a result of our capital ships, we're deploying these starfighters:
13 X-Wing squadrons
11 Y-Wing squadrons

The Empire doesn't have a fleet commander this battle. We'd have a decisive advantage, even if we didn't outnumber them.

We fly towards one of the Mon Calamari space construction docks. A flotilla of Tartan corvettes swarm out to meet us, accompanied by some TIE Interceptors.

Tartans may kill our starfighters, but garrison fighters are free. Let's match six Tartans against 11 Assault Frigate Is.

Oh, and 13 X-Wings against a single squad of Interceptors. Pilot heroics unnecessary.

One of the ways we know this isn't a tutorial battle anymore is the northernmost Tartan overcharging her guns.

The X-Wings, clods they are, group together in one spot instead of covering their motherships against bombers.

For their part, the frigates make a point of splitting fire between multiple corvettes instead of just knocking one out.

Meanwhile, the Tartans and their +5 Imperial Cojones concentrate fire and take down the shields of one of our frigates.

Our frigates have a power to shields ability. That makes shield recharge ludicrously fast. And which we now can't use until the shields return normally. So...that frigate now vulnerable.

Also, the Y-Wings are conducting torpedo runs on the Tartans, IE, ships explicitly designed to shoot down Y-Wings.

Finally, Captain Antilles gets off his ass and brings the corvettes in to bail out the rest of the fleet.

Also, some glorious Grand Admiral of the Alliance to Restore the Republic bitches at the Y-Wings until they attack the Acclamator that just showed up.

I am thankful for the TIE Bombers, though. The way they're attacking our X-Wings, it's clear the Rebel Alliance does NOT have a monopoly on terrible tactical training. It's the thought that counts.

Note the Acclamator is super-powering her weapons too. Ships with overcharged weapons are vastly more dangerous due to how much combat here is focused on dealing damage.

Incidentally, Acclamators are one of three frigate class ships in AEM armed with shield piercing weapons. Acclamators have both proton torpedoes and concussion missiles (The other two are Pirate Interceptor Frigates, not to be confused with TIE Interceptors, and Venator-class Star Destroyers). Canonically, Acclamators were designed for troop transport and planetary bombardment while Venators were designed for space combat. So it makes total sense that the frigates here are Acclamators.

I don't know why I bothered to check on the X-Wings right now. There clearly isn't anything wrong.

The Rebel capital ships are starting to get things in order. By focusing fire, they start eliminating Tartan corvettes.

Yeah. More of this right now.

Winning ground battles in AEM is about having the right terrain and right plan for the situation, though the right unit certainly helps.

Winning space battles in Empire at War or AEM is about keeping your forces concentrated, focusing your fire, and wiping out most or all of an enemy's counters to a specific unit type and then just throwing a bit of a party.

The Empire has too few Interceptors to threaten our starfighters, so destroying the Tartans means the fighters can attack with relative impunity.

On the other hand, the Empire also has too few bombers and frigates to threaten my frigates, so we might just be overwhelming them. This is also a valid strategy, as is overpowering them with stronger individual units.

I'd forgotten how many micro-decisions and reactions go into this game.

Gold Squadron does a number on the first Acclamator and comes around for another pass.

The game goes ahead and reveals the map to us because we significantly overpower the Empire.

A ridiculous number of TIE Scouts fly in. They're no match for X-Wings, particularly supported by Corellian Corvettes.

I think I have the system in my mind now - the TIE Scouts ping the planet surface, looking for stuff the Empire doesn't like. Then the Acclamators destroy it or threaten to destroy it. The Tartans and TIE Interceptors are probably responsible for controlling the civilian traffic.

Rebel frigates mount twin laser cannons, which are accurate against starfighters. They don't deal very much damage, but they are accurate. Three or four squadrons of TIE Scouts will probably overwhelm a frigate eventually, but they will take casualties.

And in a large group, frigates have a lot of firepower.

We concentrate fire on one of the Acclamators. We need to wipe those out before they think of bombarding Mon Calamari.

Power to Shields can restore the shields of a Rebel frigate from basically nothing to full in about ten seconds. In normal battle, use it when your ship's shields are low.

The Arrestor loses shields in the face of a fleet's worth of firepower. Naturally, every ship in the fleet short of the X-Wings concentrates their attacks on it.

X-Wings finally finish off the scouts and can deal with the TIE Interceptors.

Our corvettes are doing good work here. They're adding their firepower without being vulnerable to counter-attack.

Amusingly, Acclamators break apart into several pieces and quickly fall straight down.

These Imperial forces have been staying out of the battle. If they want to come at us one at a time, they're free to.

Something the Empire should have done as soon as this battle began was retreat. There was no way this force was surviving against this Rebel attack, and they would have been better served getting some ships, any ships, out of this.

We vaporize the Tartan.

This is almost sad. But not sad enough to get us to stop.

Our frigates form a mini line of battle and just tear the poor enemy to pieces.

At this point, our X-Wings have dealt with all the fighter squadrons.

We get as close as possible. There's no friendly fire in Empire at War and ships can shoot through each other, so getting closer with a large group of units like T2-Bs or frigates allows more units in the group to fire at once, killing the enemy faster.

It's a poor plan if the enemy really is that much more powerful than you, but if you can push them around, do it.

The battle isn't without casualties. A few dozen of our brave pilots have died, though none of the squadrons have been destroyed. Additionally, there's scratches all over most of the frigates even though they kept their shields up because of the TIE Bombers and Acclamator shield-piercing weapons.

This should be a demonstration as to why I say the Quasar Fire Carrier is useless. The frigates, with their firepower and defenses, projected force into the battlespace, became the inexorable rock combat swirled around. The scratch damage our frigates have taken would be lethal to Quasar Fires, not to mention the latter would not have had enough firepower in general.

And these particular frigates only cost $400 more than a Quasar Fire. The carrier ships in this mod simply do not launch enough starfighter squadrons to justify their cost. If they were substantially cheaper (Say, half the price or a little less) or launched more fighters, they'd be worth it. But they're not. This is directly counter to lore, by the way. Canonically, most factions prefer battle-carrier type units, line ships like frigates and star destroyers that also happen to carry starfighters. Carriers are cheap, light units used mostly when frigates and capital ships simply aren't available right now (With one notable exception).

We won't sell this one, though. I won't be selling space units in this campaign.

We overran them with our numbers. Our units were about as good as theirs, we just had so many more frigates the outcome was inevitable.

We have orbital control of Mon Calamari. The ground force is just reaching Kessel orbit. It was probably unnecessary, but I have a habit at this point of not ordering non-combat fleets to jump to contested planets until after we've actually won the space battle.

Let's go protect our friends!

Our Field Commander is down first. This is a risky move. If the Empire rushes the landing zone immediately, they can destroy a very expensive unit.

On the other hand, three units of SpecForce infantry are probably the very best unit for maintaining control of landing zones no matter what, and those are the Field Commander's bodyguards.

Our actual strike force is a Field Commander, some Swamp Speeders, a bunch of T2-B tanks, and some MPTL units.

Now, let's talk about partisans in more detail. On certain planets, the civilian population has structures. These structures indefinitely replace civilians as they die.

Some partisans - Wookies in particular - are rather powerful and very scary to fight with anything short of Tier III ground units.

But most partisans share statistics with human partisans. They have blaster pistols. They're slower than infantry, deal less damage, have less attack range and can't take cover. In AEM, these differences are amplified and partisans come in much smaller squads. Typical exchange rate between partisans and infantry is about 8 partisan squads to one infantry squad in vanilla, and I've never seen partisans defeat an infantry squad outright in AEM.

In AEM, several squads of infantry working together can kill unlimited numbers of partisans before they can even fire.

In general, partisans are for tactical maneuvering and cannot be relied on in direct combat. Use appropriately.

The Empire gets moving immediately. Their first squad of Stormtroopers comes tromping out of the base area.

Since partisans respawn infinitely, there are no consequences to throwing them en masse against the enemy stronghold. It's rather a good idea - it ties the enemy down, gets you some battlefield intelligence, and there's no point to even having the partisans if you're not using them.

Just don't tell the Mon Calamari. Or Mon Mothma, now that I think of it. As far as any of us are concerned, the Mon Calamari are heroically holding the Empire in place while the Alliance armor gets into position.

Yeah, the Mon Calamari civilians are accomplishing exactly nothing against the Empire. Aside from killing a few Stormtroopers, of course.

Let's get our tanks rolling for the traditional Rebel tactic!

You think you're so awesome? What's your racism against me and all my friends?

There's a constant stream of Stormtroopers here, but we're taking care of them.

The blue dome-like thing in the left is a shield. We covered planetary shield generators in an earlier update, so note this is the battlefield impact of such a thing. The shield stops laser fire from coming in and slows down enemy units crossing the barrier, but doesn't stop laser fire coming out.

There's an optional upgrade to block rockets too, but no one ever needs that!

Behold, the bringers of light.

It's actually really hard to catch all the rockets in flight. Suffice to say that Stormtrooper was over-killed.

Our rockets scream as they arrow in, arcing towards the poor unfortunate soul at the center of hell -

What? Ugh. Oh, right. I don't need the rocket defense upgrade because I'm the Rebellion and the Empire doesn't use rockets. The Empire needs the rocket defense upgrade and is very likely to purchase it because MPTLs.

Fortunately, if we just back up a few dozen meters, we can use their false sense of confidence against them.

You kill my fun, I kill you!

2-M Repulsor tanks are fast. Fortunately, MPTL missiles track their targets to a degree. MPTL warheads also ignore normal shields.

Lots of exploded enemy units as a result of our rockets.

I like the way the rockets seem to randomly twist and turn in flight. It makes sense when you consider it's impossible to shoot down rockets in this game.

These are what deployed MPTLs look like. They're almost better as mobile turrets then they are as artillery.

More Repulsor tanks! Either the Empire had a large garrison of hovertanks (Sensible, on Mon Calamari) or we're fighting garrison units. Also sensible on Mon Calamari.

Imperial bases on this world should have shield generators, turbolaser towers, and as many light vehicle factories as possible.

The last of this wave of tanks. MPTLs are one of the few units that do splash damage, so they can destroy multiple units at once.

There's really only one way to deal with a Shield Generator. Sooner or later, you have to have the lady-balls and unit consist to charge through the shield and destroy things until you find the generator.

Our T2-Bs are not designed to do this. T2-Bs are designed to murder infantry and perform hit and run attacks over water. But right now, we don't have a lot of options.

Generator down! The other option is blowing up the power generator, which depending on the planet may or may not be inside the shield.

We pull the tanks back. T2-Bs are cheap and easy to replace compared to MPTLs. But not very. The real reason to do this is we only have six MPTLs in this army. We lose all our MPTLs, we've lost a lot of tactical options. We have 15 T2-Bs, so we can afford to lose a lot more of those before we can no longer use T2-Bs.

With MPTLs, the entire screen is your engagement range! At this point, we've completely stopped using partisans.

We can now complete our assault! Attack attack attack!

Anti-vehicle turret?!? Oh wait. I don't have to take this. I have Y-Wings.

Let's try this again. We've passed by tons of build pads in the past few screenshots. If I was more on the ball, I'd have had our swamp speeders capturing them and building anti-vehicle turrets.

Also, there's the power generator. Let me show you something interesting.

In both the north and the south, the base on Mon Calamari has a ramp to the sea. We could have had our T2-Bs go around via the north and end up right next to the power generator.

I tend to prefer very direct, brutish kinds of attacks. But there's a lot of potential for flanking, maneuvering, and hit and run strategies in this game.

We bring up the MPTLs, largely for the hell of it.

There's a barracks to the south. This is why we've had a constant stream of Stormtroopers and Scout Troopers. We didn't need the MPTLs. I just like the rocket barrages.

Turns out they also have a light factory.

MPTLs may be powerful against units, but they're really intended to destroy buildings. Bombing Runs may be the fastest way to blow up buildings, but MPTLs are the second-fastest.

Of course we are victorious.

That ends this update. Next update, we'll compensate for Mon Calamari's liberation, and move to our next target.

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