Take Control of 1920s Chicago in ‘Empire of Sin’

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In January 1919, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified. It prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol. This became effective a year later when the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act, went into effect and provided for the enforcement of Prohibition. While the prohibition of alcohol was intended to reduce crime and the negative effects of alcohol on society, including domestic abuse, the Volstead Act actually created an increase in crime as America still had a thirst that now only criminals could satiate. While every major American city had organized crime providing alcohol, Chicago became a warzone as competing gangs pushed to expand their turf and their sources of income. You have the chance to take control of one of these gangs and create your own Empire of Sin

What Is Empire of Sin?

Empire of Sin is a real-time sandbox strategy game where players take on the role of one of 14 different gangsters and create a criminal organization. The game is designed by Romero Games and published by Paradox Interactive. Empire of Sin is available on Steam for PC as well as for consoles including Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. The base game sells for $39.99. Deluxe and Premium editions add deluxe content and the season pass and sell for $49.99 and $69.99 respectively. Empire of Sin is rated M 17+ for blood, sexual themes, alcohol reference, strong language, and violence.

Playing Empire of Sin

When you start a game of Empire of Sin, you first choose which gangster boss you want to play as. Each has bonuses they provide for their rackets and for diplomacy as well as a unique special attack used during combat. The game then provides a brief tutorial to help you get started. Your cabbie walks you through tactical combat as you take over your first speakeasy and then a brewery. Finally, after a sitdown with a crime boss, you take over his territory as well as his safe house. As you continue to play and explore new aspects of the game, tutorial windows open up to explain what you can do. 

Al Capone boss screen
Choose which boss you want to be. Each has their own special ability and bonuses. Image courtesy of Paradox Interactive.

Empire of Sin features three main pillars on which you must be careful to focus. Let’s take a look at each in turn. 

Roleplay and Diplomacy

In addition to unique combat abilities and bonuses, each boss also has their own assortment of traits and skills as well as their own background. In addition, as you build up experience, you can also choose from new skills and abilities for customizing your boss.

character screen
The character screen shows the traits and skill levels of your boss and the gangsters in your employ. Image courtesy of Paradox Interactive.

Since you can’t do it all by yourself, the game also includes 55 gangsters that you can hire to work for you. Only a few are available at the start. However, as you gain notoriety, more are willing to work for you. Each gangster has their own background and works in one of five professions: Doctors, Hired Guns, Enforcers, Con Artists, and Demolitionists, each with their own talent tree. It is important to pay attention to your gangsters. They develop relationships, both positive and negative, with other gangsters. Some even have need of your help that appear as missions. It is important to listen to what they have to say to keep them happy and complete their missions or they may leave you and go over to one of your rivals. 

ability upgrades
Upgrade your characters with new abilities in the talent tree. Image courtesy of Paradox Interactive.

Other bosses are also trying to build up their empires at the same time. They may invite you to a sitdown and offer business arrangements. Often these can allow you to use their bonuses while they get to use your bonuses. Others may offer to buy alcohol from you or ask you to join in a gang war against another boss. Keep track of which gangs are friendly or hostile to one another and choose a side only when it benefits you. 

missions screen
Completing missions is a way to improve relationships as well as gain money and notoriety. Image courtesy of Paradox Interactive.

Empire Management

At the start, you have a speakeasy and a brewery as your two rackets. The brewery can easily support several speakeasies and other rackets. If you want to gain notoriety and start raking in the cash, you will need to expand. There are several ways to do this. In your neighborhood, and throughout the city, are several vacant buildings that you can purchase and then use to set up a racket. There are also some abandoned buildings controlled by local thugs. Fight them and then take over the building and set up a racket. However, both of these methods cost money to set up rackets. A third way is to take over already established rackets owned by other gangs. As long as you keep it as the same type of racket, there is no cost for setting it up. At the start, it is best to take over rackets from small gangs since you don’t want to upset one of the other main bosses right out of the gate. 

neighborhood screen
Check out all the rackets in a neighborhood to see how they are doing and which ones you might want to take over. Image courtesy of Paradox Interactive.

Once you have some rackets, you can spend money on upgrading them. Hire some additional security to keep out others who might try to take over your racket. You can improve the ambiance such as hiring a band for your speakeasy to increase the amount of money customers spend in your establishment. You can also increase the word of mouth to draw people in. You may also want to spend money to deflect the attention of police and prohibition agents. Breweries can also be upgraded to produce higher qualities of hooch to meet the tastes of your clientele. 

upgrade racket screen
Upgrade your rackets to make them more profitable and secure. Image courtesy of Paradox Interactive.

Empire of Sin features ten iconic neighborhoods from Chicago including Little Italy, Chinatown, and others. As you gain a foothold in your own neighborhood, consider expanding to other areas. As you do this, you may want to promote one of your gang members to become a lieutenant and run an area for you, using their bonuses as well as your own. The game also rewards you for synergies between your rackets. A few rackets of the same type near each other or a variety of rackets within an area make all of them more profitable. Add a hotel to the mix and watch your profits go even higher. This game lets you decide how you want to build and grow your empire. 

neighborhood view
This is a view of the West Loop Gate neighborhood with rackets shown in the color of the gang who owns them. Image courtesy of Paradox Interactive.

Turn-Based Combat

Before you go thinking this is just a business simulator, there are times in Empire of Sin where you have to get your hands dirty. Whether taking over someone else’s racket, defending your own, or driving other gangs out of your neighborhood, you are going to have to engage in combat. The game features a turn-based system of combat which is divided into rounds. Each character gets a number of action points to use for movement and fighting, with turn order determined by their initiative. 

Al Capone in combat
Al Capone’s gang gets into a street fight with another gang. Image courtesy of Paradox Interactive.

When forming your crew, it is important to consider the abilities of your gang members. A hitman is good at taking out enemies from a distance. Demolitionists are proficient at using explosives to clear out groups of enemies. It is also important to have a doctor to treat wounds during combat. Once a gang member is killed in combat, they are gone for the rest of the game. Also, patching them up before the combat is over reduces the amount of healing they may need to do after the fight and keep them ready for the next time.

Each boss has their own special combat ability. Al Capone can spray a large area with his Tommy Gun, inflicting damage within his firing cone on enemies there as well as those who walk into it during the turn. Goldie Garneau’s Killer Queen ability lets you target three different enemies in your line of sight and range and deliver high damage attacks with a 100% chance of hitting. Each of these special abilities has a cooldown, so depending on how long combat lasts, you may only get to use them once during a fight. 

Goldie's attack ability
Goldie targets three enemies and makes short work of them with her Killer Queen ability. Image courtesy of Paradox Interactive.

Each gang member you hire comes with their own weapons. Often it is a pistol. Therefore, you will want to upgrade their firepower. Take a trip to the Black Market to purchase firearms, melee weapons, explosives, armor, and even medical supplies. You also gain weapons and supplies as you win fights and take over rackets. Not every character can use all types of weapons. Therefore, check out their character screen to see what they can use. In addition, consider their skills and upgrades as you select weapons. A sniper rifle is great for long-range shots, but when up close, a Tommy Gun or shotgun can hit several targets grouped together. Don’t forget to arm your boss with some good weapons since they often go early during a round of combat and you want to try to take out enemies before they even get a chance to fight back. 

black market screen
Visit the Black Market to purchase weapons and supplies for your gang. Image courtesy of Paradox Interactive.

Final Thoughts

Empire of Sin is a fun game with a lot of depth. I really like turn-based tactical combat. Since you are controlling several characters, this gives you time to think and move your gang into positions where they receive the benefit of cover for protection against enemy attacks while also giving your gang a great line of fire on the enemy. Most gang members you hire have more than one type of attack, and you can improve and add attacks by upgrading their skills. If you want to win this game, you definitely need to know how to win a gunfight in Chicago. 

While the combat is the flashy side of the game, the management side is also extremely important. You will never have enough money, at least throughout most of the game, to purchase and upgrade everything. As you hire more gangsters, they each cost money up front and take a percentage of your income as well. While things are peaceful, you can spend money on increasing the profits of your rackets. However, if you get into a gang war or the police are starting to get hostile towards you, then spend money on security or deflection. This part of the game is quite deep and requires attention. If all of your rackets are full of customers, then it is time to add some new ones to your empire. If they are not full, then spend some money upgrading them. 

Diplomacy also factors into the game. Forming alliances with other bosses is a great way to build up your empire. Choose those that have racket bonuses that you don’t. For example, some provide a discount on upgrading ambiance or security. While you are allies, you get those bonuses and that boss gets your bonuses as well. Before going in to take out a rival boss, get some other bosses on your side, and declare a gang war. Therefore, you can set a target such as the enemy boss’ safe house and have gangsters from other gangs join you in the attack. Hopefully, they suffer the losses rather than your people. The other gangs are not your only problem. You also have to worry about the police and prohibition enforcement. Keep track of your relationship with the police and pay an occasional bribe to keep them looking away from your enterprises. In addition, as you have conversations during the game while completing missions or interacting with other bosses, what you say can make a difference. Make the wrong choice and a member of your gang may leave while correct choices can increase their loyalty to you. 

I have had a lot of fun playing Empire of Sin. It has a lot to offer, with several levels of gameplay. There is no one way to win this game. You can choose to fight your way to the top or you can sit back and be a businessperson and try to stay out of the gang wars. The many missions that appear during the course of the game add more story to the game and let you get to know your gang members better. In fact, be sure to do the missions to get the most out of the game. With 14 different bosses from which to choose and 55 gangsters up for hire, you can play this game over and over again and get a different experience each time. I played this both on PC as well as Xbox One and the only difference I noticed was in the controls of either using keyboard and mouse or a controller. I highly recommend Empire of Sin for players who are looking for something a bit different from the usual video game fare, want engaging gameplay, and a lot of replayability. 

Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes. The thoughts expressed in this article are my own and not that of the publisher or the editors of GeekDad.com.

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