EMPYRE: Lords of the Sea Gates is all about water. An isometric RPG, set in a steampunk apocalypse, where the world has flooded and the survivors split up into city-states. Of course, everything would be fine if the water hadn’t stopped pumping, and all the water surrounding them wasn’t undrinkable. Enter you, playing as one of four archetypes: Magpie, Bodyguard, Soldier and Daredevil, sent on a quest to restore water to the people and save the world!
The game’s atmosphere is a mix of Valkyria Chronicles (setting), Contrast (characters) and Dragon Age: Inquisition (combat). There’s probably a closer comparison, but these are the games which spring to mind. Overall, I’ve enjoyed the story and the writing has been quite detailed for an indie game. Most characters are fleshed out quickly, and while there are some stereotypes, they are different enough. Furthermore, most background characters have some sort of story (Watch_Dogs-esque) which can be seen by hovering the mouse over them. These include some rather dark stories discussing topics such as abandonment and totalitarian governments. You even have some basic choices which influence whether you have to fight or not. This means you can avoid combat, which is good, as it’s probably the weakest feature of the game.
While I said that Dragon Age: Inquisition is the closest comparison in gameplay, it’s only in the loosest of sense. By that I mean, it’s a real-time RPG, with a tactical mode you can use via pausing. This works for something like DA:I as it has extra freedom granted by the 3RD person perspective. For something like Empyre however, I personally think a system like X-Com would have been better. The current system means you’re constantly reacting to what the enemies doing instead of tactically moving your people, and it more often than not devolves into a numbers game – who has more people attacking the same person.
This is only added to by the fact that the ‘fog of war’ obscures enemies until you move quite close to them. This is fine for a real-time strategy game like Age of Empires, but for a hybrid like ELSG, it only frustrates further. I’ve run into a room and gotten shot by a machine gun – to resolve this I need to pause the game, remove all commands, re-input the move command to another area and watch the sluggish running away play out. If you want me to plan then allow me to plan; otherwise, give me quicker control for my units.
Moving onto the graphics and sound now. They’re pretty standard block level layouts, although the detailed environments are nice to look at and it does mean there’s plenty to see. The character models and portraits are well made as well and there’s plenty of variation in weapons. The music is nice, albeit a tad repetitive, and fits well with the steampunk theme.
Some design choices are a bit odd as well. For example, I haven’t been able to find a button which allows you to split stacks of items, leaving me frequently with one character with an awful lot of healing items and everyone else with none. Another odd decision is the inability for a character to open a door without specific instruction. I’ll press a destination somewhere in the distance, wait a while for the people to move and then realize they’ve been blocked by a door. Again, this would be fine in a more personal 3rd person perspective environment, but for a tactical RPG, I shouldn’t have to guide everyone every step of the way outside of battles.
Overall, EMPYRE: Lords of the Sea Gates is fun to play with an above average script and setting. However, it is obstructed from greatness by unfriendly UI and some odd design choices.
A review code was provided by Coin Operated Games