During one of our E3 appointments, we sat in a tiny, packed room to observe a 20-minute gameplay demo for Empire of Sin, the upcoming 1920s-themed strategy game slated to release Spring 2020. Surrounding us were no fewer than five developers, including John Romero, famed creator of the original DOOM and Quake series, just to name a few.
After the demo was complete, we were desperate to ask one particular question. We needed answers. We blurted it out as soon as we were able.
“So... do you think ‘John Romero making a prohibition strategy game with Paradox Interactive' is the most unlikely headline at E3 this year?” One of the developers immediately added, “Also ... announced on a Nintendo Direct!”
Thankfully, we were given some much-needed context. The lead designer on Empire of Sin is none other than Brenda Romero, long time game director and also John’s wife. In fact, this game is her passion project of over 20 years gestation, finally pitched over two years ago to Paradox Games as a single-player strategy game. It’s been in development ever since.
Hear that, Nintendo fans? This is a game built with the Switch in mind since day one of development. If you want a beefy, bells-and-whistles type strategy game that isn’t a warmed-up port released on Switch years after other systems, well, here it is.
“When we got the pitch, it was right up our alley,” Paradox told us. “It’s deep, complex strategy, it’s a historical setting. I mean, it’s mod-friendly, it just clicks so well with what our players love. It’s a match made in heaven.”
In Empire of Sin, you play as one of 14 mob bosses. (For the purposes of the demo, we were shown Al Capone). The goal of Empire of Sin is to defeat all other mob bosses; to do this, you need to take over their rackets. Want a short run? Create a game with a single neighbourhood and one or two other bosses. Or if you want to go all out, select six or seven neighbourhoods with a boss apiece, which Paradox figures would take anywhere between 6-to-10 hours of gameplay to complete.
Neighbourhoods are essentially the overworld map; zoom out and it sort of looks like a Monopoly board. Rackets owned by different mob bosses are coloured in that team’s colours. (The influence from games like Civilization and other old-school strategy games is evident here.) The level of complexity runs deep; the process of taking your units to other portions of the map is impacted by whether or not you choose to drive or walk – walking, of course, being the more dangerous of the two options.
Yep, Romero Games isn’t kidding around when they say this is a nuanced strategy game. Let’s take the units themselves, for example. Accomplishing any of your goals means effective management of your team of mob members, which are collectively your units. Each recruitable unit has different personality traits, which interact in various ways – both positive and negative – with whoever you pick to lead your crew. One example: if you take over a bar and choose to assassinate injured NPCs who can no longer fight back, you might just gain the “serial killer” moniker. Great for killing, not so great for making friends.
In terms of the gunplay gameplay, the obvious comparison is XCOM. The combat portion is a game with units on a grid, like a chess board, and each level is littered with different bits of environmental detail to fight around. Brenda’s history with the classic strategy game Jagged Alliance is obvious here, as characters can not only use different abilities and different weapons, but also form relationships with one another that impact their effectiveness in battle. Paradox warns that lovers who end up on the opposite side of warring factions are very likely to put down their weapons and leave the fight. Perhaps fans of the Fire Emblem series will find this element of relationships between units especially appealing.
Another cool wrinkle in the gameplay? Those who choose to sort out their differences with other mob bosses through constant battle are likely to attract the attention of the police, which are independent units who join the battlefield. We asked if this might include, say, prohibition special agent Elliott Ness, but Paradox isn’t saying. To that point of whether or not Empire of Sin is made up of events and characters factual or fiction, we were told it was both. There are characters influenced by the era, as well as lots and lots of historical people, places, and events.
Speaking of history, Brenda’s personal history plays a large role in this game’s existence as well. “She loves this time period,” John Romero told us. “Her grandfather used to run alcohol across the state lines, between the United States and Canada... during prohibition, and she used to live in the town that had the only bar that wasn’t shut down during prohibition in the United States.”
That’s as unique an origin story as you’re gonna get for an E3 reveal. “It really stood out during the Direct announcement,” Ian O’Neill of Romero Games emphasized. “You could tell a lot of people were taken aback by it... you had Luigi’s Mansion [and] Al Capone! It really had its own place [and] really got people talking about it.”
Their hope? That people stop talking about just the fact that John and Brenda Romero are making a historical strategy game and start talking about how much fun and complexity Brenda’s game jams into a single, portable title, all in its own right.
How will this massive concoction of gangster influences coalesce when it hits the Switch early next year? Until we find out, the only safe thing we can say is with almost three years of development before its eventual release early next year, Empire of Sin is de facto one of the most ambitious strategy games you’ll be able to try out on your Nintendo Switch. Like Al Capone himself, all they’re trying to do is supply a demand that’s pretty popular.
Cool cool cool
I am pretty hyped about the potential of this game. I just hope it doesn't become too complex for its own good. I kind of prefer simple to play strategy games that put fun first. I am hoping this will be one. The headline of the article worries me though.
Looking forward to this and Commandos 2 Remaster. Gritty strategy games is probably the final piece to make Switch complete for me.
"...this game is her passion project of over 20 years gestation...
Hear that, Nintendo fans? This is a game built with the Switch in mind..."
@RazumikhinPG You missed: "Pitched over two years ago to Paradox Games as a single-player strategy game. It’s been in development ever since"
It was pitched two years ago, and development had Switch in mind from the beginning.
@Damo if it's a Switch exclusive, then surely the development must have the Switch in mind. But the project and its creator certainly didn't have the Switch in mind when conceiving it.
Sounds like this should have been called Hands Off, but I do appreciate the additional information about this title.
It felt out of place when this game was announced in the direct compared to the other titles that were given time, and seemed like something that would have been a better fit in the sizzle reel near the end.
@RazumikhinPG It's not a Switch exclusive, but the Switch was in the frame from day one, rather than being an afterthought. It will launch at the same time as the other systems.
@Damo I'm not 100% sure what point you're trying to make. There's a lot of Switch games that had the Switch in the frame since day one...
To be honest, I found that to be one of the least interesting parts of the direct. However, reading the additional information in this article has definitely sparked some interest. Too bad that there was no tree house presentation (or did I miss it? )
The number one game that caught my eye during E3. Can never get enough XCOM type of games on the Switch.
I was curious about this game in the direct just because of the setting & it seemed to have some kind of strategy going on. This definitely sounds interesting although it remains to be seen how much fun it'll actually be to play.
I am definitely buying this one when it comes out. I sure hope it has a physical release. This is one of those games you want to buy, play, and collect. It's not just "another" game. It has potential to be one of those few great games.
I just hope, nay demand, that with a whopping 12 different bosses to pick from they have a wide selection of genders, races and non-binary individuals to choose from. It's 2019 and there is literally no reason why femayles are not equally or greater represented and there are many, many different gender choices to make. If it's literally only white men, honestly I will scream as loud as possible. Let me be clear, if this game showcases majority cis white men... they WILL have a problem. The cover picture, with one single femayle sitting behind and to the side is very troubling. I hope that was just some kind of mistake but it's already looking bad here. Two out of three also appear to be white. Uh? What? Someone needs to tell these individuals making this game and let them know there is more than just white people in this world.
John Romero's game ?!? 1st day physical buy for me. Especially i'm fan of Syndicate and Commandos too.
Great article. I'm now way more curious and excited about this game. It really sounds like it could be an addictive and fun strategy game. I know it's impossible to believe, but I hope this game runs at 60fps : )
The game manages to be rather simple graphically and create a nice atmosphere at the same time.
I love when games do that.
@graysoncharles he never wrote or mentioned the game being multi-platform on this article tho. That's just you implying what he meant. It's not clear and honestly sounds like unnecessary information. Would have made more sense to say this game had multi-platforms in mind since day 1 of development.
I can tell this is a game made with passion, and i always appreciate that, but i really don’t see anything for me here.
Anyone else remember The King of Chicago by Cinemaware from 30 years ago? It was stylish for its day with great narrative but actual gameplay was poor, limited by the old Commodore Amiga platform.
@RazumikhinPG - This game is not a Switch exclusive, but when I spoke with the dev team, they were very upfront with the fact that Switch was a target console before development began. That matters because development has to accommodate the Switch's specs from the preliminary stages onward, as opposed to being scaled back and losing core features, like many ported games often do.
The more important thing is that Paradox has been in communication with Nintendo for a long time. They announced this game to the world through the Nintendo Direct, keep in mind. It's a big deal to them that it's on a Nintendo console and this is evident if only through them personally reaching out to Nintendo Life for PR. If you like strategy games you should look into this one.
Day 1 buy for me! i like the setting and the gameplay described. Tnx for the hands on!
On the Switch? Doubtful.
Looking forward to how this will turn out. Definitely intrigued so far. The gameplay innovations seem solid and they have a perfect atmosphere going judging from the trailer.
This is right up my 1920’s Chicago back alley!
Ugh, I wished we had more gameplay so I could understand it more. I never bothered with XCom or whatever...
Is this an RTS or something? >.<
This reminds me of a pc game I used to play, Legal Crime. God that was fun, and this looks soooo awesome, I can’t wait!
I know this is single player focused, but is there any chance for couch vs? Would be fun as hell to go head to head with my gf as she’s a HUGE fan of the era and setting. Her fave movie is Untouchables if that says anything.
This will do nicely.
@Bucky how did it feel out of place? It's nice to give something different the spotlight instead of the same old franchises over and over again.
Finaly a cool, new, non 8/16 bit game. Need more of this.
I haven't played a strategy game in YEARS, but for some reason I'm really interested in this one. Fingers crossed it's a good 'un.
@Pandaman all of what you wrote should be in the article.
This really caught my attention, partly because it was one of the few ‘new’ announcements and partly because it reminds me a little of Gangsters 2. Looking forward to it.
This looks mighty fine. When it comes out, I’ll play it in a darkened room with a bottle of whisky.
@Patron The game is being very up front about being based on a historical setting, maybe my American crime history is just lacking, but I don't know about any prominent female mobsters, let alone non cis mobsters.
This is what? 40's 50's America? This may come as a shock for you, but that wasn't exactly a golden period for diversity.
@bozz you should keep an eye open for Mutant Year Zero Switch release next month.
Just finished it on PC. I enjoyed it, and Switch comes with the expansion
My big takeaway from this is that the trailer they showed was pretty terrible, I thought this was a shoot em up or something.
You get to have vague teasers when you have an established franchise, this isn't an established franchise. They really should have been clear on what the game is about.
@graysoncharles Starlink as well
Now, this is a nice Nintendo Life article. More of this, please.
So we've all forgotten about John Romero's disaster project Daikatana....hope his wife has better luck.
...oh cool an XCOM like-
Sees John Romero...Gets Flashbacks from Daikatana
I'll wait until reviews hit.
This is sounding cooler the more I hear about it. And having a relative who used to actually do that sort of thing? And it being a choice and consequence type of thing? I don't even like strategy based games and I want this.
I would like to see more before committing, but looks promising.
I took note of this during the Direct... Looks cool.
"Hear that, Nintendo fans? This is a game built with the Switch in mind since day one of development."
Lol what a stretch. How can you say that when the trailer itself shows PC, PS4 and XBOX One. Also the Switch is not around for 20 years; the game was thought up in a time when PC strategy games were the thing. Cmon.
What that truly means is that they are developing lower-specced assets for the Switch version up front, instead of scaling them down from the PS4/PC assets I guess. That is really nice and how things should be. But that is different than saying that the game is a project build with the Switch in mind. That would be the case with Project Arms, or Mario Party.
@Agramonte Absolutely, already on my wishlist and rushing to finish up Phantom Doctrine before MYZ comes out.
@Patron Not sure if being ironic.
If not then, you know this is set in the 1930s when white Italian American men were the defacto antagonist?
If it says "Jagged Alliance", im on to it. Take my money
Tap here to load 49 comments
Leave A Comment
Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...