When Empire of Sin was first unveiled during the E3 Nintendo Direct, my mind first jumped to the lackluster Omerta: City of Gangsters by Haemimont Games, the team behind Tropico. Not many games have tried to straddle the line of both a strategy game and one that focuses on early 1900s crime. The trailer we saw left something to be desired. Sure I knew the game existed. I also knew that a few aspects of it piqued my interest, but I knew next to nothing about it.
In short, I wasn’t very hopeful just based on my past experiences. But during E3, I got to see a behind closed doors presentation of about 20 minutes of gameplay and came away pleasantly surprised.
If I had to summarize Empire of Sin, I’d say this. Think XCOM. There’s a combat system with cover, half cover, etc. It also has action moves, melees, grenades, executions, and the like. Fans of XCOM know that the combat mechanics are just the icing on the cake, however, and that’s true for Empire of Sin as well.
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You take on the role of one of 14 different crime bosses during 1920s Prohibition-era Chicago. You start off with a just a single racket. You’re an up-and-comer. There are plenty of other established gangs throughout the city and it’s up to you to decide how you want to take them all down. Do you take over control of the speakeasies? Build a monopoly on the sale of alcohol? Or maybe you decide to just control the alcohol production itself. You could also turn to the casinos or charge all businesses for protection.
There’s a lot more to the systems of Empire of Sin than the one-note trailer let on. While Chicago and its building locations stay the same, each round the gang safehouses and building types are randomized. You’re in full control of how many gangs inhabit the city. Will it be a rivalry between just two gangs or an all out war between a handful of organizations?
During your time you’ll have to decide which gangs to attack, who to be diplomatic with, and how to deal with unwanted attention from the cops and FBI. You’ll encounter recruitable NPCs throughout your story who come with their own character sheets complete with traits, stats, equipment, relationships, and more. These 60 or so RPCs, as COO John Romero calls them, are handcrafted at the start but will evolve based on how the game plays out. As a result, while some may have ways they tend to lean, it’s entirely possible for games to play out differently.
As the mob boss, you also get to decide your gang’s structure. You’ll also decide who gets to be the underboss, which lieutenants to put under that boss, and which individual mobsters to position under them. Based on their leadership skills and game events, things can change drastically. Loyalty and respect matters more than anything. If an underboss lacks important traits of the cosa nostra, for example, they might defect or even try to overthrow you. These relationships play out depending on where the other RPCs are as well. If an RPC’s lover is in an opposing gang and you encounter that person in combat, they may both decide to defect. Their relationships may also make others more or less likely to want to join your gang or your opponent’s gangs.
Your actions may result in summons from other crime bosses. How you choose to handle these can drastically affect the game. In our demo, Capone met up with a rival boss, whom he had just stolen a speakeasy from. We could have given in to the boss’ desires or we could have just pulled a gun and shot him on the spot. In the end, he told his goons to take us out back and we had to defeat them. The relationship was entirely soured by this one meeting.
All of this takes place in a world of permadeath. One false or careless move and your entire empire can crumble. If your crime boss dies or your safehouse is taken from you, it’s game over.
What Romero Games showed me left me feeling like the game might just be one of the biggest sleeper hits announced during the show. Paradox Interactive is really well known for publishing damn good strategy games. Empire of Sin does not look to be an exception.