Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to take a pre-release look at the then-upcoming Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates, a steampunk-themed Indie title developed by Coin Operated Games, and share my thoughts with the gaming community. While the version I demoed was incomplete, I still came away impressed with what I saw the game shaping up to be, and I was certainly eager to experience the game in its finished form. As the full version of the game has been released now for a couple of weeks, it’s time to revisit it and see if it lived up to expectations. This is our Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates review.
First, we should recap some of the basics about the game. The premise of Empyre is essentially a period historical fiction that is set in an alternate past. The year is 1910 and the place is Neo-New York that has been flooded, and I don’t just me the toilets are overrunning. Only the tallest of buildings present livable spaces and the society has become dependant on neo-Victorian steampunk technology for continued existence and to pump usable water from the mainland to the various city-states that have become the governing forces of this new society. This original story, by Emmy nominated cartoonist, Paul Noth, sets the player as a representative of one of the city-states whose task is to discover what is causing the problem and fix it. This adventure takes the character across several different city-states and even onto the mainland and introduces the player to a variety of different factions while supplying multiple companions, each with their own motivations and quirks.
Gameplay is top-down RPG style that puts me in mind of Fallout 2 as far as out of combat travel and interaction go. In combat, however, is real-time with a pause function that allows the player to give specific commands or series of commands that can, at any time, be paused again and adjusted to compensate for the changing battle layout. Cover and crouching are also a big part of combat and cover are made evident as you explore the many options for movement in a battlefield. Situations in the story also provide for multiple solutions to obstacles and allow for choice making that will affect the story and even help to limit or expand combat scenarios.
One of the first differences I noticed from the unfinished version was music. Previously, music in the game had been, for the most part, absent. Now, however, I experienced the full environmental effect intended with the consistent ambiance of early 1900’s style organ music. While personally, I would have liked to have heard more of an industrial aspect to go along with the steampunk themes in the game, the music choice still went a long way in achieving a higher level of immersion. And along with music, ambient sound is also prevalent, adding another level of life to communities and environments.
The second aspect that struck me was the full range and use of color. In the unfinished version, colors were something that came across as definitely unfinished, or somewhat muted, leaving a lot of the game with a shadowy, greyish look. While this may have added to the feeling of a gritty, heavily industrialized world, I have to say the full use of colors not only brought more life to the game but added to the time period immersion, with the underlying grit still very much a presence.
Also good to note is that gameplay, too, is more polished and smoother, less glitched and easier to control, particularly in combat. Items have been relabeled with more unique names that better reflect the time and steampunk setting and item types. Tooltips have been updated to be more intuitive with more thorough descriptions to help guide the player more fully through the mechanics and provide helpful tips for mission goals.
After delving into the game in its release form for several hours, I found I greatly enjoyed the game and felt that it had lived up to the expectations set by what was available in the preview. The game is unique and enjoyable with a compelling story and diverse characters that embody a complex culmination and interaction of various subcultures that deviate from each other while simultaneously holding true to what I would imagine is the nature of New York in that time era.