I am incredibly lucky to review some absolutely amazing indie games for Stoffel Presents. We pride ourselves on unbiased, genuine reviews but I have to be honest here and declare I have a long held love for Empire in Ruins and its developers Hammer & Ravens
Full Disclosure, I met Emilano and Yanis for the first time at EGX 2018. Then again at EGX Rezzed 2019 and failed miserably to meet up with Emilano for a beer at Gamescom 2019 thanks to my phone dying. We were up until this morning due to catch up again at EGX Rezzed 2020 but unfortunately Covid-19 put a stop to that.
In short I have interviewed the developers a few times, chatted constantly to them on social media and had some wonderful drunken nights with them. Safe to say I class the developers as friends and therefore my review here today may be a little biased…please forgive me.
Now that my confession is out of the way lets dive into the actual game itself. Described as a ” The bastard child of a 4X and a Tower Defence game” Empire in Ruins blends both genres together quite well whilst adding new gameplay twists. especially in the tower defence part of the game.
In a corrupted little Principality governed by spruced up popinjays, snobby clergymen and power greedy army officers, something just happened. A god forgotten borderland, the Western Marches, just got inflamed with rebellion, cutting every contact with the capital and declaring independence.
And in such a critical moment, who to send in order to quell the rebellion if not a grumpy alcoholic sergeant with discipline problems and bad bad temper?
Straight away Empire in Ruins hits you with its dark humour, profanity and uniqueness when the intro cinematic (voiced by the Witcher himself Doug Cockle) introduces you to the main character Hans Hiemer
An experienced solidier who has seen much, experienced more and quite frankly is sick of it all. He hates the locals, he hates the nobles, hell he even hates the soldiers at his disposable. I can really relate to Hans and I’m sure most of you will too.
As I mentioned above Empire in Ruins is a mash up of the 4X and Tower Defence genres. On paper it shouldn’t work but in reality it works surprisingly well.
The 4X part of the gameplay are in depth enough to warrant your attention but not so complicated that you drown in resource management and rebellions once you liberate quite a few provinces.
The addition of governors to run your provinces is a wonderful touch and frees up a lot of time that would have been spent micro managing territories. That been said to advance and reclaim more provinces you will have to fulfil certain obligations that can become quite frustrating and on a few occasions I found myself removing a governor and taking control in order to get a town producing enough food to stop the people starving and rebelling.
The 4X portion of the game is well constructed and with a little more depth could be a game in its own right. That being said the Tower Defence section of the game is where Empire in Ruins really shines!
I’m not the biggest fan of the Tower Defence genre. I find the whole process of setting out units then watching the gameplay unfold quite boring. There is no danger of that with Empire in Ruins.
The units are so diverse and the abilities so far ranging that even the simplest of battles can turn in an instant. For example, At first glance the map looks simple and it is easy to identify where the enemy troops are going to be coming from. Strategically place a few towers and a catapult or two and you have a few insurmountable choke points and the battle is won.
That is until sappers come out and dig tunnels under your defences rendering them useless, or witches cast spells upon them to stop them firing, or a glider flies in and bombs the crap out of your tower leaving you screwed.
Most tower defence games in my experience are sedate affairs where a bit of careful planning guarantees you a victory. Empire in Ruins throws that out of the window has has no qualms about letting you know it hates you as much as Hans Hiemer hates people.
All to easily you can go from sitting back and watching you victory unfold to scrabbling around desperately for resources.
Aside from the 4X and brutal Tower Defence gameplay Empire in Ruins also implements a pretty decent research tree.
With a mixture of improvements to towns and military units you will have to careful use research points to upgrade farms to produce more food or have archery towers now rain down fire arrows.
Whilst lo-res in its graphics Empire in Ruins is immensely colourful. The muted backdrops of the battlefield contrast wonderfully with units such has the glider or Tractor for instance. The sharp difference in the units and there muted backdrop had a sense of urgency and importance to defeating them.
Whilst the graphics are good and suit Empire in ruins well I cannot in good conscience write this review without mentioning the absolutely stunning bagpipe soundtrack.
The continuous bagpipes playing in the background of each battle slowly infiltrates your senses and goes from a low level background noise to an epic battle anthem that perfectly fits the chaos and carnage on screen.
Obviously in my role at Stoffel Presents I follow a lot of indie games throughout there production. Some make the light of day and sadly quite a lot don’t. This is the first time I have followed a game so closely and talked so intently with its developers.
To not only see Empire in Ruins be so close to release now but actually be a fucking awesome game that far exceeds anything I hoped for after getting hands on with the demo’s is unreal.
Friendships aside, Empire in Ruins far exceeds everything I hoped it would be and is an absolute must buy for any PC gamer whether you are a fan of the genre or not.