Take the turn-based tactical combat of XCOM, combine it with the management elements of a tycoon game, and slap a mafia skin on it, what could go wrong? Well, as it turns out, a lot of things, actually.
So let’s just start this off by saying that I’m disappointed more than anything. This is a game with a fantastic concept, a game that could have been good. However, the execution is just shallow, nowhere near enough to really sell the experience.
I have two major problems with Empire of Sin: its combat elements and its management elements. Considering that those are the two major areas to the game, we’re already off to a bad start, but I’ll talk about the combat first.
This is a strategy game that has combat done in a turn-based tactics manner, similar to the XCOM series. You get your group of gangsters, enter a building, and have to eliminate all of the opposition to win. It’s pretty simple, but the real experience lies in the depth of that combat. I will admit, my first couple hours with the game, I was actually satisfied. The combat was fun and I was having a good time going from building to building growing my empire.
However, I quickly found out that there is really nothing beyond that. The combat does not really evolve, it kinda remains static throughout the entire game, whether you be 2 hours in or 20. Despite going into different buildings, you’ll start to notice the exact same layouts, the same enemy types, the same weapons, and the same abilities used in every single fight. Sure, you unlock more abilities as your characters level up, but it’s only like four or five until they’ve maxed out, nowhere near enough to offer the combat depth required to avoid that feeling of monotony.
Due to how simple it is, the combat eventually devolves into this repetitive sequence that you can apply to every single fight and win without issue. In fact, once I had a group of six or so gangsters, I pretty much steamrolled any competition. Whether it be a simple building takeover or a boss fight – they all felt the same and this alone honestly kills the overall experience.
There is another side to the game though through its management elements. And unfortunately, those management elements are equally lacking. I would go so far as to equate them to a clicker game, as all you’re really doing is applying upgrades, switching which alcohol your establishments serve, and waiting for money to apply even more upgrades. There really is not much to do here, and it was so bad that at one point I was literally sitting there fiddling with my phone while I waited for money to come in so I could buy more upgrades so that the money would come in faster so that I could buy more upgrades and you can kinda see where this is going.
However, all of that goes out the window when you realize that the entire management aspect is kinda pointless. Why spend time upgrading stuff or changing what alcohol your establishments are serving when you can simply waltz into an enemy safehouse, kill their boss, and acquire all of their buildings with just that one battle. Do this for each boss in the game and you’ve won, without ever needing to really engage with any sort of management.
Really, the most management you get is with your characters themselves. They each have their own skill tree, a bunch of different equipment slots, and even traits and relationships. For example, a character that is in love with another gangster will not attack them even if they are on the opposing side in a battle. And sometimes a character’s loyalty to you will unlock gangsters for hire that would have otherwise been unavailable. Playing around with the characters was easily the best part of the management side to the game, but unfortunately the bulk of that side is managing your establishments – the boring part.
And all of this is even before you get to the bugs. During my time with the game, I ran into plenty of animation issues, clipping, and freezes during combat that would hang the game for seconds at a time. That and the AI is not the greatest either, oftentimes putting itself in really bad positions during combat or just acting in a manner that actively ruins their chances of winning. I was fortunate to not run into any crashes (the game has been patched up a bit since its rocky launch), but it’s still not an entirely smooth experience. The devs seem to be on top of that patches though, so these are likely to be fixed up with time.
Unfortunately though, I still cannot recommend Empire of Sin. Patches may be able to fix the technical problems, but the core to the game is just far too shallow to be worth the time. Repetitive combat, lackluster management elements, it just loses its appeal after those initial few hours. A shame, as I really like the concept here, but the execution just doesn’t cut it.
Quote: Empire of Sin has a great concept behind it, but some very flawed execution. Repetitive combat, lackluster management elements, it’s far too shallow a game to be worth the time.
You can buy Empire of Sin on Steam here. The game is also available on PS4, Xbox One, and Switch.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.