Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates Review
Emypre: Lords of the Sea Gates had one of the coolest ideas I’d heard of all year. A concept in which 1900s New York had its technological Golden Age washed away as the city drowned in a massive flood. What remains are those skyscrapers that stood tall enough to weather the storm, as well as those people lucky enough to climb above the waterline before it was too late. With a little bit of Fallout and a little bit of Bioshock, Empyre could have been a unique IP worth diving head-first into.
Unfortunately, unlike the rising water levels of this apocalyptic setting, the depth to Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gate is barely knee-deep. In a hollow world where decisions, interactions, and allegiances do not matter, I found myself counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds until I could take no more. If you read my preview of Empyre, you’ll know that my concerns have been lingering for a month now. Off the bat, I was off-put by the lack of design, story, and audio, and I’m sad to say all of those factors remain in the full release.
Empyre starts out by providing the player with four characters to choose from, then it’s on to The Grand Tower, a City-State that arose from the flood. You, the player, represent the Grand Tower on a mission to restore water for the City-State after someone’s gone tampering with the water main. This leads to a drawn-out campaign across the entire floating remnant of Manhattan.
“Unlike the rising water levels of this apocalyptic setting, the depth to Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gate is barely knee-deep.”
Like a paper boat careening through the flooded streets, you’ll bounce off of NPCs with very little care of what they’re even saying. The main reason; everyone speaks a universal dialect of saltine, boring, nonsense. In my initial preview, I mentioned that your closest relationship in the Grand Tower is with your little sister… named “Little Sister.” They’ve since given her an actual name at least, but the dialogue stayed completely the same. The interaction is best described as robotic.
This is a commonality within all of Empyre. While the events of Fallout turned most NPCs into character-rich personalities, for better or for worse, the events that shaped this world seemed to rob every single person of their personality, of their very life force. The bland dialogue is a direct reflection of that. You’ll wander through towns, skimming over NPCs with the generic name of “Resident”, trying to find someone with a quest, and when you do, all you’ll find is a husk of a man who needs some boxes moved or a beggar in need of a few coins. You’ll find no characters in Empyre, only ghosts.
To add insult to how uninteresting everyone is, I would say a third of every interaction includes spelling errors or simple punctuation mistakes like missed periods or incorrect uses of the possessive. I’m not even nit-picking here – there are some serious, elementary mistakes here that make some portions of dialogue completely unintelligible. This is occurring in a game that claims to have a “superb story” written by a “distinguished author.” Where was he?
The city of New York is the most vibrant and rich place in the United States. Even if this game takes place one-hundred years ago, they established this setting to be advanced and teetering on steampunk. Rail cars coasted through city streets while elaborate subways webbed underneath. The places you explore – though it’s all very linear, so that word doesn’t work – are drab, and at many times, completely empty. It’s very common to be engaging in a fight that takes place in a room without a single object in it. Sometimes, you’ll find a safe that can be cracked if your stats are high enough, other times you’ll find a safe that can’t be interacted with at all. You’ll see signs of life in certain areas – a chair here, a bed there. You’ll then see the same chair and bed for the rest of your playthrough as they’re tossed across the world.
“I understand no voice acting, but what little audio is provided is hauntingly bad.”
Empyre’s strongest feature is its combat, which happens in a stop-the-clock kind of way, allowing you to plan and give orders before watching it all execute to your liking. I found times where the pathfinding would break during skirmishes, or my orders would glitch, but for the most part, it was Empyre’s only enjoyable quality.
The audio was the final nail in the coffin. Silence is not only what you’ll find most of the time, but it’s what you’ll beg for when you hear the elevator jingles that Empyre has for combat interactions, or even just walking around. I understand no voice acting, but what little audio is provided is hauntingly bad. I muted it and filled my ears with music of my own choosing instead.
There’s only one thing I can say; Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates is not a finished product. It’s not even close. Things are hollow, broken, and un-freakin-readable. I love the premise for this game, but that’s the only affection I can have for it. So, so badly, I wanted this to be a fun experience, yet it’s anything but. In every aspect of the phrase, this game lacks the depth it needs to be called an RPG. The final rating can only reflect what’s presented, and that’s not much.
*** PC code provided by the publisher ***
- Functional combat
- Unique world with potential
- Poor writing
- Weird, jarring audio
- Empty levels