Empire of Sin is a Welcome Change of Pace for Romero Games
Empire of Sin may be different from John Romero's usual fare, but it still looks like an extremely enjoyable strategy game.
The reveal of Empire of Sin, the latest title from Romero Games and Paradox Interactive, was quite surprising because of where it was revealed and what kind of game it is. One of the last things I would have expected to learn about during this year’s amazing Nintendo E3 2019 Direct was a strategy game set in prohibition era by John Romero, one of the masterminds behind classic id Software shooters like Doom, but lo and behold hear we are.
After hearing about the game’s concept, I was interested in seeing the game in action not only because I got to meet John Romero, but because I wanted to see how this change of pace for Romero Games would work out. Fortunately, Empire of Sin looks like an enjoyable strategy game that follows through in all of the right areas while capitalizing on one of the most interesting periods of American history.
Strategy games are definitely a change of pace for John Romero, but he explained to DualShockers that the strategy game genre is something that his wife Brenda is really passionate about “Well, Brenda Romero is the lead gameplay designer on this, she was the lead game designer on Wizardry 8, which has tons of systems in it, RPG systems. She’s worked on Jagged Alliance, lots of personalities and lots of writing when putting those characters together. She’s played XCOM, loves XCOM, loves the Civilization series and she loves this time period. She wanted to put all of that together into an amazing strategy game. Having been players of strategy games for a really long time, being designers for decades, and Brenda having all of this experience, it just kind of made sense for us to make [Empire of Sin].”
A more grounded, realistic setting is also something quite different for one of the creators of Doom to tackle, but the team seemed to revel in researching the prohibition gangster era, specifically around Chicago. He also commented on the fact that because Empire of Sin is a historically-based strategy game, it was a “perfect fit” for Paradox Interactive, who are known for games like Europa Universalis IV, Crusaders Kings II, and Hearts of Iron IV.
As for how it plays, Empire of Sin is a mix of a narrative, choice-based experience and an XCOM like strategy game. Various factions and gangs duke it out over the course of the game with the player’s ultimate goal to become the top dog of the Chicago underworld. Players choose a character to personify themselves as, with my demo specifically featuring Al Capone. As you’d expect, Chicago is filled with tons of rackets and locations that players not only have to run, but defend as well. At the same time, it is wise to take over other gangster’s rackets as well, which is how my demo kicked off.
Taking over a specific casino, I got to see the XCOM-like combat in action for the first time. It looks polished and fleshed out, and is embellished further by the special ablities every gangster has. For example, Al Capone used his infamous Tommy Gun to rain down widespread fire on his adversaries and their death animations reacted accordingly. This, along with the emergent storytelling the game allows, means Empire of Sin should really scratch that gangster role-playing itch that surprisingly few games cover.
After taking over this casino, Al Capone recruited to RPCs and named him lieutenants. These lieutenants have special personalities and relationship that will impact how the act in battle, which should add some neat Darkest Dungeon-esque micromanaging to every encounter. While that was great, it also pissed off the another gangster, who asked for a sit-down to negotiate. There were to options to get over there. I could either walk all the way there through the streets of Chicago as the entire map is planned out, or I could zoom out to the world map briefly seen at the end of the announcement trailer that players can use to quickly move character or manage things on a broader scale.
The negotiations inevitably feel apart, but as this boss had disclosed his base to Al Capone in the process the player could have backup prepared and a massive shootout emerged in the back alley. While this fight was exciting, noise levels still had to be kept down so the cops were alerted as quickly to what was going on. While Empire of Sin may not be wildly different from other strategy games in how it plays, little moments like this show how the emergent nature of its premise will likely keep the game fresh for a long time.
Before E3, I would’ve been surprised to hear that John Romero and co. were working on a strategy game set in Prohibition Era Chicago. That being said, I am totally on board after seeing Empire of Sin in action. The setting is not only unique within the genre and Paradox Interactive’s lineup, but the various options or strategies players can use to take over Chicago seem like they will give this game immense replayability. Even in an E3 full of great strategy games, Empire of Sin still emerged as one of the most ambitious and unique titles.
Empire of Sin is releasing for PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch in early 2020. All versions are being developed simultaneously and are checked up on every day and at every major milestone, so hopefully it is just as fun on consoles as it will be on PC.