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Empire of Sin Lets You Be Your Own Mob Boss – E3 2019 Preview

Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of E3, between the Los Angeles Convention Center’s West Hall (usually home to Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo) and South Hall (which usually contains publishers such as Activision, Bethesda, and 2K Games), there is the much quieter Concourse Hall. To the unsuspecting visitor, it looks like a banquet hall-sized room filled with cubicle-like meeting rooms. But what you don’t see is what’s inside these seemingly innocuous rooms. Indeed, it was inside one of these temporary rooms that we walked in, and got our first glimpse and Romero Games’ upcoming strategy game, Empire of Sin.

Earn However You Can

Empire of Sin takes place in Chicago during the roaring ‘20s, smack-dab in the middle of prohibition. This was a time when, although buying alcohol was technically illegal, plenty of hooch could be found if one knew where to look. The Mafia was an especially notorious source of this liquid gold during this time period, with some infamous mobsters who gained notoriety as they did whatever they could to get ahead. During our demo, John Romero and crew showed us what it was like to play as Alphonse “Al” Capone, one of the biggest names of the era.

The thing is, in Empire of Sin, you start out as a local nobody with a small amount of starting money, and not even any businesses under your, ahem, protection. The first order of business for Al to do was recruit some members for his newly-minted gang. This was easily accomplished, and soon Al got his eyes set on his first target business to take over: a local speakeasy, where the liquor flowed easily as long as the cops weren’t nearby.

One does not simply walk into a speakeasy and declare it theirs, however – you have to shoot the joint up first! It was within this building that we got our first glimpse of gameplay in Empire of Sin. It’s a turn-based affair, where characters have a set amount of action points, and can use them to move, fire weapons, reload, or perform other actions. If a character is standing near a wall or an object which can be used as cover, they will automatically crouch near it, and a shield icon will appear above them to indicate to the player that this character has increased defense from their current location.

Some Complications

While we only saw one type of business takeover, there are others that fit the era that cover the gamut of society’s vices: casinos, brothels, along with other activities such as union skimming offer means to pay for the life of a gang boss. Once a business is taken over, naturally the now ex-owner will be angry with the mob boss who committed the takeover. We were shown one such encounter, between Al Capone and the boss who just lost his speakeasy business to Al. In this case, the enemy mobster called Al to meet at the opposing gang’s HQ. While this may sound like an imposing location, it did in fact reveal this opposing gang boss’ stupidity, since in this world if a gang’s HQ is taken out, the entire gang is eliminated.

So, Al met with the opposing gang boss, and a choice-based conversation took place whereby the enemy boss asked Al for a favor, in exchange for not starting a gang war over the speakeasy that had been “acquired” by Al. Al flatly denied the request, and after a couple of rebuttals by the enemy boss, the cutscene ended and battle commenced. Al’s gang only had three members, as did the opposing gang. So, things were bound to be close. Indeed, Al almost lost one member when her health became dangerously low, and in Empire of Sin, permadeath is very much in effect – once someone dies, they’re dead for the duration of the game, and if the player character dies then it’s game over entirely.

People are complicated. This is reflected in Empire of Sin, where hirelings have relationships with one another. Some have lovers and will refuse to attack those they care about. How players deal with such insubordination is of course up to them, but all actions have consequences. Other NPCs will have alliances with other factions or bosses and will act accordingly. Furthermore, people are influenced by what actions they perform. During our demo, for instance, Al Capone ruthlessly executed an enemy, and was then given the attribute of brutal. Mercilessly killing too many people may turn a character into a sociopath, which may help them make quicker kills, but may also make them uncontrollable.

Make Your Own Difficulty

While this may all sound like it makes for a complicated game, Empire of Sin can be as easy or as difficult as players desire. The layout of Chicago’s businesses available for takeover are randomized every play through, but the number of enemy gangs can be customized. This can be as few as one, for those just getting used to the game and genre, to many, many more for those looking for a challenge (an exact number was not given during our demo). John Romero said that accessibility has been accounted for in Empire of Sin, while an average gamer should expect each campaign to take around ten hours to complete.

Empire of Sin seems to be a strategy game that gives players many paths to take towards the same goal. Dominating the city will take wheeling and dealing, planning, and perhaps a bit of luck. Tweakable game options should help to keep the game accessible to players of all skill levels, so those who rarely play strategy games can get their feet wet in a game that they stand a fair chance to win, while grizzled veterans can amp up the difficulty to ensure winning will be a real challenge. Empire of Sin is currently set to ship to your local speakeasy console in spring 2020.