Empire of Sin is a strategy and roleplaying game developed by Romero Games Ltd. and published by Paradox Interactive. The publisher has a history of producing great strategy games. Released in 2020, it had a great 1920s-era Chicago gangster setting. When it comes to Empire of Sin, it falls short of the mark. It does show some promise and ambition, but repetitive map layouts, combat, and some other small issues dilute what could have been a solid experience.
Developer & Publisher // Romero Games Ltd.
Platforms // Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
MSRP & Release Date //$29.99, Dec. 1, 2020
Reviewed On // Xbox Series X
Empire of Sin puts you at the heart of the ruthless criminal underworld of 1920s Prohibition-era Chicago. You can use around 14 historically inspired mob bosses. Such as the famous Al Capone, Stephanie St. Clair, or even Goldie Garneau as you attempt to take over the neighborhoods of Chicago.
They took the time to give you the true feel of this Chicago era with the way the cobbled roads looked. We get to see the Chicago food stands line the streets along with trash and many different kinds of people. Players also got to see the details in the neon signs as well as the globed streetlights. The details in showing off how cars of that era looked also worked well here. The fonts and lettering of all the signs on shops and buildings feel well-researched and authentic and beautifully portray 1920s Chicago.
Inside buildings, Empire of Sin allows you to see and feel what there were like as well. Speakeasies could be crowded with NPCs and dimly lit bars bring atmosphere. The old pictures on the wall as well as the stiff-looking chairs also add to the overall ambiance. Brothels give a more lowly purple hue that attempts to make them feel more inviting and welcoming for what they were used for. Throughout the casinos, you get to see the different types of gambling tables as well as the people you would think would frequent these establishments. Mainly people gangsters, mobsters, and other people with money. They choose to make casinos look more decorated and cater to the rich with the decorations like paintings, statues, etc.
Other buildings such as your safehouse and breweries follow the same theme for 1920 Chicago. Just like the rest of the interior decorations for the other buildings, it doesn’t disappoint here either. It provides that authentic vibe of Chicago from back then. Allows you to kind of put yourself in that era and enjoy something we weren’t alive to see. They did a great job here.
Repetitive Map Design and Unbalanced AI
One of the biggest shortcomings in Empire of Sin is the map design which not only makes the game look repetitive, it affects combat as well. When you are attacking one of the other mobsters’ buildings, the maps seem to emulate the same formula. There are always 1 or 2 entries/exits followed by the same choke points. I found myself entering combat and taking cover while the enemies continued to funnel in and die with no regard for themselves. Then in other instances, the AI tended to be a lot smarter and use a grenade or bundle of dynamite to blow up my group of rag-tag criminals before the fight even really begins. One of the unbalanced or overpowered abilities used on me was this weird mind-control agent that was a pain to deal with.
Then there are times when you die and reload and the AI doesn’t use the unique abilities and just gets slaughtered. Although the poor map design and unbalanced AI lead to some bad feelings in combat the fact your underlings and yourself having some semblance of a skill tree helps add life to combat. For example, I used Daniel McKee Jackson which has the Last Rites boss ability that allows him to shoot a target, and if he kills them he moves to another target and does the same. All of the bosses you get to play as have a boss ability like Daniel which is more powerful than the regular class abilities like Al Capones Rain of Fire ability.
Empire of Sin also has other abilities like throwing a time bomb, marking a target, shooting kneecaps, run & gun, a bullet shield, as well as others. With these abilities just seeming overpowered in some instances, things just don’t mesh well together. The repetitive map design and combat overshadow the little semblance of good here.
Average Character Development
As you progress in Empire of Sin, you develop your character and your underlings. The skill tree is just kind of average. There are choices you get to make here like which gun you can use or picking up a healing skill. Even though the healing skill is useful, doctors also have that ability, which takes away uniqueness. But there are only 5 tiers of abilities, so at most, you might get to make 5 choices. As you recruit more people to join your criminal empire, they might already have skills selected. This causes a lack of variety in the choices you can make. So you get to make even fewer choices for them. The one saving grace here is that as you gain notoriety your characters build some relationships.
I started with 2 ladies as my first 2 crew members then as time progressed I recruited their love interests as well. Then someone else in my network of underlings developed feelings for one of the females, so it caused some animosity. Empire of Sin wants you to try and keep all your people happy while taking over Chicago. There is a log when you go check out each character. These logs show you where you lost or gained favor with your people. The more loyal your underlings are the less likely someone else can steal them away. The way they implemented this system was deeply engaging and remained so even after one playthrough.
Diplomacy Shows Promise
One of the most important things you will realize as you play is diplomacy helps. If you want to slaughter everyone and take over everything you can. I will say you are more than likely going to have a difficult time with that. As you build your empire, you will have cops lurking around ready to arrest your people. Prohibition agents will be trying to shut down your establishments. Then to top it off, you have other precincts and other mobsters that can get mad based on how you develop the neighborhoods you control. To quell some of these things using to diplomacy feature helps a lot. You can bribe the cops, so they might look the other way or even get some protection. Multiple options to set up a trade contract could prove beneficial to help your empire’s finances.
Some personal experiences for me were when I expanded my districts fast and the cops kept bothering me. So I spent around $10,000 bribing the cops to leave me alone. Then later on down the road, I didn’t bribe the cops and they destroyed one of my buildings and I lost access to it for a long time. I also allied myself with another faction to help defend while I expanded, then they also helped me when I went to war to take over certain areas.
Then of course you have the option to declare war on others or call for a truce or sit down to diffuse tensions. Options such as providing a tribute to someone or helping an ally you made in a war on someone else prove useful as well. Your decisions can provide more respect and trust from allies or anger other factions. It might even help bring an enemy from hating you to liking you. There were plenty of times when someone declared war on me and I started to attack all their buildings. Then after taking out some of their areas they would want a truce which was how I utilized the system well. Empire of Sin provides a deep and intricate diplomacy system that was well realized.
Difficulties Of Running An Empire
At times, running your empire can be monotonous in Empire of Sin. It can feel like a drag while waiting to get your weekly funds of money and alcohol-based items. This is all based on real-time so not being able to speed up often leaves you waiting for certain things. There were times I would find myself having to wait until money came. So I would be on my phone checking social media at times waiting. This can be annoying depending on how you are playing because you might be at war with someone while waiting to upgrade something.
I tried to bide my time while doing quests or something else but this left it still feeling it was very tedious. If you aren’t careful and don’t manage properly certain quests properly, things can get messed up. Brewery goes down and you can’t afford whatever the worker wants and fail the check you lose access to it. When funds were low and I was trying to do some quests it was a little frustrating not being able to finish them because we had to wait for the money.
There can be a time you upgrade a building and if you aren’t careful you can upset the police or prohibition agents and they can easily destroy the establishment. This causes you to lose access for an extended time. To me, the lack of diversity in what you can build and the repetitiveness of doing the same thing over and over hurts the game here.
To add, moving around your empire as you control your characters outside combat isn’t intuitive. While moving my character around the streets, it was painfully common that a character would get stuck. Other times, they would glitch out completely. There were a couple of times a character would just randomly run off or disappear.
For one instance I was in combat defending one of my buildings. I moved one of my characters behind. Then suddenly, he just up and disappeared. Luckily, that was the only bug I faced while playing. Despite these issues, I did enjoy the depth of neighborhood management. Keeping track of outputs and your finances provides a layer of strategy I enjoyed. All the underlings you hire require to be paid, so I did find the aspect of managing that fun. The diplomacy system can come into play here if you have trade contracts and other things set up too. The uniqueness of trade contracts or other business propositions was a ray of sunshine in the neighborhood management system.
Final Thoughts On Empire Of Sin
Empire of Sin has plenty of good ideas from the great 1920s Chicago setting and atmosphere. From a great diplomacy system that can make or break your playthrough at certain times in the game, to turn-based combat which I love in games shows some promise. But the game is mired by lackluster map design, bad AI, unbalanced abilities, and some clunky controls. I did enjoy the roleplaying aspect of being able to lead a criminal empire as a historically inspired gangster. Empire of Sin manages to capture ambition beautifully in its empire management systems, and its allure of everything is strong.
But it has an ominous cloud cast over everything it does well. I will say I didn’t have any of the expansions when I played through Empire of Sin. I also played a little over 2 years after it originally launched. If you can get by all the issues and flaws it has, there are aspects you can enjoy. Especially if you like strategy and role-playing games. Even with the issues I could see myself playing it again though. Empire of Sin is also currently available in Xbox Game Pass.