Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates Preview
As Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates reveals its rich world to the player, the imagination goes wild. Through a series of newspaper clippings, accompanied by a raspy voiceover, I came to understand that a Turn-of-the-Century New York City was in the middle of a technological Golden Age when a vicious flood turned the city into a half-submerged warzone. City-states rose from the waters and a new era was born. This concept was tantalizing, and the fact this experience was a modern squad-based RPG had me drooling for more.
What soon followed after this compelling intro was nothing like what was marketed. Empyre starts out not with a customizable character creation, but a tutorial that features four characters, each with their own strength. You know the drill: shooting, stabbing, sneaking, tinkering–these characters speak to each kind of player imaginable. And if they don’t, well tough luck, because you have to choose one of these four characters as your main PC.
It really didn’t matter, as I came to realize that my character was just the piece on the board I would move from Point A to Point B to Point C, and on and on. Interacting with NPCs was like reading from an instruction manual, so I didn’t really care who I was in this world. One such interaction that affirmed my indifference was with my little sister, who would probably be the closest relationship the character has in the game. My mission instruction read as follows: Go say goodbye to your little sister. Okay, easy enough. When I arrived in her cookie-cutter apartment, guess what her name was? Little Sister. She patted me on the back and wished me luck on the journey ahead. Then, I left.
“While I cannot say that Empyre is without A/B decisions, there is no consequence to either side of them.”
The dialogue was bare-bones, saltine, and even error-ridden. I’m not a grammar Nazi, but the fact that these interactions were so boring and without character made the mistakes that much more noticeable. RPGs, regardless of sub-genre, thrive on the ability to make the player feel like they’re having an impact on the world in which they exist. The world-building is key to making the player want to have an impact, and without interesting characters, that goal is unmet almost always.
Bad NPCs aside, the other part of making the player feel like they’re making a difference is actually giving them decisions to make. While I cannot say that Empyre is without A/B decisions, there is no consequence to either side of them. Choosing to go for boring choices like causing a distraction without explaining to the player what that may mean, the developers missed some places where fun decisions could have been made.
The squad-based combat in Empyre has the needed effect. While time is stopped, the player can move characters to strategic locations to best inflict damage upon enemies, but the actions feel disjointed at times. Ultimately, what I played showed that the job can get done, you just may need to rely on items heavily. There are healing items that can fully regenerate your character’s health, even in the middle of combat, so every fight can be won if you fall back to your resources accordingly. Playing without them, I found myself in more treacherous situations.
However, the lasting bad taste I have in my mouth is the sound, which by the end of my experience was pure silence. The voice-over work at the beginning was the only voice you’ll hear in the entire experience. There is ambiance, but it’s the creaking of boards and the cawing of gulls. I understand that voice talent is expensive, but you’re telling me the biggest American city, even in disarray, can’t have some hustle and bustle to it? And I can’t say there’s not music, but what music there is can only be described as elevator bossa nova. It’s not fitting of the environment and ultimately led to me muting Empyre entirely.
I’m really worried about the final release of Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gate because the experience that was promised would have meant this RPG could join the likes of Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity as a modern classic. I understand that the final release in about a month’s time may differ from what this preview contained, but unless the dialogue is completely rewritten, the decisions made to bear weight, and someone takes a look at the damn sound, I don’t know what can possibly be done.
This game has a lot of potential. I encourage those of you who are attracted to its aesthetic, or love this revamped genre to stay tuned and see what our final review has to say. Things could change, I suppose. I promise to show you everything when the time is right, here on COGconnected.
*** PC key provided by the publisher ***