+Extremely well executed story
+Unique reiteration of already existing isometric RPG combat systems
+Unique art style sticking true to the steampunk vibe the game owns up to
+Very well made sound systems including music and sound effects
+Rock solid performance on all video settings
-Side quests can be skipped past, requiring no side adventure outside of the core game
-Lack of voice tracks could be problematic to some wanting to enjoy a voiced experience
Since the early 90’s, isometric RPGs have been a thing. Not a bad thing, but a thing. Games such as Fallout, Pillars of Eternity, and even Wasteland are rather large contributor’s to one such approach. They’ve all served as pivotal franchises within such a genre. Their turn-based gameplay in RPG elements almost seem like a carefully crafted approach to a genre that had once been side-scrolling turn-based games.
PC Hardware Used
Motherboard: MSI Z720 Gaming M7
Video Card: MSI’s Nividia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB Game Ready Plus
RAM: Corsair Vengeance 16GB RAM
CPU: I7-7700K | OCed to 4.2GHz
Cooling Unit: Thermal Take V8 GTS Radiator
Now here we are, 20+ years later with a rekindled genre, one that has seen games releasing with similar mechanics to the predecessors that helped get it started. With its revitalized state, we’re being introduced to some big hitters, and even some small ones that may just serve as cult classics in the upcoming years. One of these small-hitting titles is one by Coin Operated Games called Emypre: Lords of the Sea Gates.
The games setting may seem far fetched, but in reality, it may not be as our climate warms and the caps melt, thaw out, and melt once more. Unlike the game, however, we may not see it get bad enough that the ocean levels have risen to the point skyscraper’s have been reduced to mere pillars of our history. Nor will we ever see ourselves in the early 1900’s, which makes this game all the more appealing thanks to its Steampunk touches.
What makes this game all-the-more relative, however, is the fact it has released just in time due to major cities in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and other locales have been decimated by major storms. All of them have been flooded to the point of being uninhabitable due to the still receding waters.
Even with this sort of relevance, it doesn’t go without saying that this games fictionalized world doesn’t hit home. That’s because it does hit home. Close to home with its natural disasters. In the game, Emypre: Lords of the Sea Gates finds trouble in odd ways. Their world is flooded, their fresh water deliveries have all-but-disappeared and residents are beginning to find their need for water growing. In this fictional New York City setting, players are tasked with one goal: Find out why the water has stopped.
Sure, they have water all around them, but it isn’t drinkable. It’s not clean. While one such task seems quite simple and linear, it’s not. The game actually finds underlying plot lines, stories, and ways to expand upon its single-handed task. Luckily, all of this is well written, and delivers just what players would hope for. A realistic touch, one that’s not far fetched, and one that isn’t sunshine and rainbows. Other words, there’s no pay off. The future is uncertain.
For Coin Operated Games, this approach works quite well, and fortunately in their favor. It shows that their main story is solid. While it isn’t nearly as complex as say Pillars of Eternity in scope, it’s still one that’s well crafted, executed, and enjoyable. All of this is due to the games side quests, which serve as titular sequences within the games overall approach. However, I can’t state I felt this way within my early hours with the game.
During those hours I was detached for my characters. I cared little for them and at times, I was bemused when they would fall in combat, showing that they were merely human. That did, however, change. After nearly 3-4 hours, I found myself actually caring, understanding their importance, and why they all approach the games story in unique ways. While I had hoped the story would grow and evolve to a deeper importance, I didn’t feel the need for such after my time with the game.
It was well written, so-much-so that I was happy when I finally saw the credits role. From the visuals, to sound, to the combat, which we’re about to discuss, I felt like my gameplay was right out of the 90’s with a slightly modernized touch. That is because combat is truly important to bring this entire experience to totality. As the game does use a unique Steampunk style, lets not forget this means that isometric RPGs have to also deliver the same experience with its combat.
Generally, if you’ve played enough of the genre as I have, you get the gist that all combat systems will remain somewhat similar. Each of them will have actions that require “x” amount of action points to perform. You may also find yourself limited to a weapon designed for that character. Unlike those titles, Empyre does something new, a dangerous risk, and one that required tweaking of that familiar combat system. When it comes to combat, the time in the game will stop. During that time you have the chance to systematically choose your actions.
You can assign each of your party members a specific target, a weapon to use, and even strategically organize your approach to how the encounters will ensue. As easy as it sounds, I did find this subtle change somewhat punishing, allowing the game to send me backwards to an earlier point from time-to-time. At times I found myself attempting to aid those whom were injured, and even prevent those from dying that I could. Luckily, this small risk comes with high reward. This is one risk that delivers an intoxicating experience due to how well it weaves into the games overall artistic style, and makes it seem as if you are playing an old stop motion black and white movie out of the Antebellum America era, but just with you as a director.
Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates – PC
Developer: Coin Operated Games
Publisher: Coin Operated Games
Release Date: Available Now
For collector’s of isometric RPG’s, Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates is one that shouldn’t be overlooked in any form. It’s one that provides its own unique approach to an already established combat system. It also delivers home a well written story, something we don’t always see in indie tittles these days. With a $30 price point, this puts the game right at home in that 90’s era of titles, and one that deserves its place alongside titles such as Fallout, Pillars of Eternity, and Divinity: Original Sin.
Unlike the prior titles, do not expect voice acting. There isn’t any. The game will require a bit of reading, and will ensure you a well thought out experience if you take the time to read. As the RPG genre does seem to struggle a bit delivering such experiences, Empyre is a fresh breath of air, and one that’s worth having in your Steam collection, and we can only hope to have on consoles at some point.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the games publisher. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.