Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates has much what you are looking for in a top-down RPG
I was very excited when I read about this game: the often-tackled genre of top-down RPGs makes me swoon with fond remembrances of Minsc, his hamster Boo, and many hours spent on a Compaq PC that I traded for a Sega Nomad. I find top-down RPGs a comfortable reminder of yesteryear, complete with Smash Hits magazine and hollers of “get off the phone so I can use the internet!” One has an idea of what to expect with a top-down RPG, a skeleton of inherent traits on which the game in question builds upon. Nothing is going to be revolutionary; they are not going to take away audio jacks and home buttons, trying to reinvent the wheel; instead, you simply have a different world to explore filled with new characters to love (or hate). Empyre: Lords of Sea Gates takes place in 1911, in an alternate history where New York is flooded and now has run out of water. The developers call this a “Neo-Victorian” setting, however unless Queen Victoria didn’t die in 1901, it’s really the Edwardian period, though that really doesn’t make much difference in the game (more of a pet peeve of mine).
I fired the game up and I was dismayed there was no music — only the sound of the whipping wind making the title screen sound like a barren moonscape (upon further loads a jaunty tune played so it could have just been a one-time hiccup). A player has a choice of four characters, after the tutorial. Thaddeus is the standard military type, armed with a single-shot rifle and rapier. Beatrice is what I gather to be a sort of ranger class, quick and armed with a pistol. Lok perhaps is a ninja, or rather, the Chinese equivalent, though he’s armed with Kunai. Alva, I thought would be a social inventor type, being she was named after Thomas Edison, but she is the only character that can stealth. I love female protagonists, so I used her for my playthrough.
I feel that punching maybe the greatest weapon of all
The character sheet serves as both inventory and stats, of which you get the standard six present in RPGs since men rode mastodons. Some of the names were changed (Charisma = Personality) but nothing outrageous. The game’s historical setting is emphasised by a real location as the first mission takes place at the Tombs (the Manhattan Detention Complex located in Chinatown) and the loading screen between missions seems to be a nineteenth century surveyor’s map of Manhattan. As the game progresses, the player builds his or her party, collecting people as well as clues into who turned off the water.
Gaining levels seemed random and I didn’t realise to add to a primary stat one had to drag a bar under it, leaving my main character with unplaced points five hours into the game. Combat is on par for what you want in a pause-and-plan RPG. Firearms feel ineffectual, while getting a sneak hit on a dagger seems to kill someone instantly — but I feel that punching maybe the greatest weapon of all. As you progress, a melee character is presented and during a mission brass knuckles dropped for him to use as a primary weapon. After that is was like going from Bronze Age to Iron, I felt like the Assyrians chomping through Scythians, like it was my job. Every time a punch landed, a massive chunk of the antagonist’s life dissipated and I killed him in three to four hits.
By no means did I finish the game; what I played, I enjoyed. However, the game feels like it could use something more, as parts of the dialogue felt clunky, the lack of musical and ambient sound diversity I noticed more than if it was overt. These are all minor complaints, not even a complaint — more written musings that really boil down to opinion. I would have loved to have read a full history of the story, where they ceased to be us and became their own world. At the end of the day, Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates completes exactly what it set out to: create an entertaining addition to the top-down RPG genre.