Empire of Sin is a tactical combat/empire management sim hybrid set in Prohibition-era Chicago. Players will control one of fourteen real or historically inspired mob bosses. To win, players must use a mix of diplomacy, economic prowess, and sheer violence to be the last boss standing.
Empire of Sin has a little bit of story in the form of optional missions for each mob boss and hired guns. Mob bosses based on real life figures like Stephanie St. Clair have missions inspired by actual events from their lives. The stories are a nice distraction from an otherwise plotless game.
The dialogue, on the other hand, is rough. A lot of the sit downs boil down to shallow and corny jabs. The consequence of each line is blatantly obvious, taking away the tension from the scene.
Empire of Sin focuses heavily on combat as the victory condition requires players to wipe out all other bosses. The combat is likely the game’s strongest aspect, but it’s not saying much. Combat is XCOM-style with limited action points, permadeath, and heavy emphasis on positioning. There is a decent amount of skill options based on each character’s class, so players will need to choose hired guns with complimentary abilities. Each character acquires traits and talents over time, so there is strong incentive to keep characters alive.
The combat is not balanced well. Mêlée is wildly underpowered and feels inferior in every aspect compared to pistols. Rifles and sniper rifles dominate, especially in the hands of a boss. A sniper rifle can easily turn the game into a walk in the park or a very frustrating experience depending on who is on the receiving end. The boss skills reflect the weapon imbalance, as those with a firearms based skill are at a significant advantage over their mêlée peers.
The maps are poor. The neighbourhoods are a predictable grid that quickly blend into a blur. The combat maps are extremely limited, making combat feel repetitive. The combat maps also have serious chokepoint problems. For the player, there is no option for busting in through multiple entrances so an early enemy grenade can severely cripple a team. For the enemy, a few maps have a very obvious choke point that players can use to funnel enemies into an easy kill zone.
Empire management feels meaningless. Most upgrades lack impact, leaving alcohol quality and security as the only serious choices. Scouting around to clear the fog of war takes forever and feels unnecessary. Police are generally useless and are a minor nuisance at best. The diplomacy AI is poorly coded, and they make a lot of stupid decisions that lack reason. I encountered multiple instances where the AI would broker a business arrangement, then break them a few minutes later. I suspect this is related to the severe relationship decay that seems unavoidable.
The game lacks polish. There are a variety of audio and gameplay bugs that plague every session. Some of them are game breaking and requiring reloading old saves. Combat AI have issues that result in AI running back and forth, which I suspect are related to enemy tracking.
The basic controls work okay, but there is room for improvement. Dead bodies are difficult to click through, requiring players to find the very corner of the tile. There are a lot of missing quality of life functions that would make the game feel smoother. There is no option to auto-resolve small time raids, yet the game offers a percentage chance of success. Combat could also use a way to speed up enemy actions, as fights with lots of enemies drag on.
Navigating the UI can be rough. The idea of using table cells as shortcuts is a good one, but the developers have taken it too far. Right now, each cell takes players to a specific page for the individual racket. Navigating all the shortcuts can be a little overwhelming, and I think having each row serve as a shortcut to the racket’s overview would be a more user-friendly option. Navigating the map isn’t much better. Finding quest location requires a lot of scrolling around the map. An easy to find shortcut on the quest log would have been a better solution. Navigating the zoom between the world view and the overview is made clumsy by a long delay. Shortening the delay or removing the ability to zoom out to the overview would feel better.
Empire of Sin’s gameplay is just unimpressive overall. The combat is repetitive. The best tactic seems to be attacking a few rackets run by minor gangs to get money and equipment for a team of hired guns and then rushing all the safe houses. Economy and diplomacy feel meaningless, requiring players to intentionally stall the game just to dabble in empire management.
The visual experience is a mixed bag. The art style is nice. The world is feels like the Prohibition-era gangster movies. There is a slight modern flair with some small aspects like haircuts. The UI’s visual elements have a lot of period appropriate design elements. On the flip side, the nameless henchmen have very little graphical variety. There’s only a small handful of models with only a few colour accents to differentiate gangs.
The audio experience is not good. The soundtrack is the only shining spot. It’s a solid mix of period appropriate jazz and swing tracks fused with more traditional video game scores. The sound effects are unimpressive. Gun sound effects are not always appropriate for the type of weapon. Sound effect volumes are inconsistent. The voice acting is poor. The game leans heavily on accent work, but many actors can’t perform or maintain the correct accent.
Empire of Sin is a disappointment. The idea of XCOM combat with a deep relationship and empire management systems is good, but the game falls short on execution. The real question is if the game is salvageable at this point. I think it is, but it would require a serious gutting and a long-term commitment from the developers. The game would need to be rebalanced to make the economy and diplomacy more valuable. Content would need to be expanded to break up the repetition, and significant polishing needs to happen, including adding quality of life features and squashing bugs. The problem is the fixes needed are so significant, it’s hard to say if it’s even worth the developer’s investment. But until these fixes are complete, Empire of Sin isn’t worth a gamer’s hard-earned money either.
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