Steel yourself, soldier! A rebellion threatens the entire Western Marches and all that stands between them overthrowing your empire is your carefully placed towers. Empires in Ruins is an interesting addition to the tower defense genre by adding some 4X elements and city-building gameplay. The narrative adds a comical (and foul-mouthed) story to liven up the campaign from your run-of-the-mill tower defense game. Additionally, you can enjoy a sandbox mode that frees you up from some of the restrictions of the campaign mode. Still, while bringing in new mechanics like city building helps liven things up, much of the campaign becomes repetitive by the midway point.
Tower Defense, Now With More Swearing!
One of the best parts of Empires in Ruins is the one-liner heavy campaign mode. You play as Sergeant Hans Heimer, a foul-mouthed military man looking to squash the rebellion that's popping up in the Western Marches. While Sergeant Heimer is more interested in drinking, he still manages to find enough time to insult everyone he comes into contact with. As you progress to the later parts of the campaign, Empires in Ruins manages to weave in elements of betrayal and political intrigue to its impressively detailed story.
Empires in Ruins does contain moments where you're able to choose between two binary options in conversation; however, the choices don’t seem to give meaningful opportunities to impact the world around you. Occasionally it does deliver, such as when you’re given a choice to work with the rebels or to squash them. Mostly though, the story feels almost like a visual novel with larger than life character art and significant dialogue that carries you through seamlessly between each big fight.
For this campaign playthrough, I played on the medium difficulty, but I was rarely challenged beyond a few tower defense encounters. At various points, it felt more like I was on autopilot with few challenges to overcome in the management and city-building parts of the game. Random events popped up, but they didn’t affect much in the way of gameplay. Rebellions always threatened to loom, but they continuously backed off as I completed chapter objectives. Throughout my time with Empires in Ruins, I ended with only one or two rebellions, and I quickly dispatched them.
The tower defense gameplay is certainly one of the more solid elements of Empires in Ruins. With a significant research branch you can upgrade, you can expect to see many more options than your typical tower defense game in terms of tower types and bonuses. Many of the upgrades you can research though are blocked behind your chapter progression in the campaign. One frustrating element of research is that it forces you into a loading screen anytime you want to adjust or change your research queue.
When engaging in tower defense combat, there were a variety of different maps that offered different strategic opportunities based on each different province you played in. If you enjoy tower defense games, you will probably feel right at home in Empires in Ruins. One intriguing addition to the tower defense mode is that you can place resource gathering structures to help increase the rate at which you gain a variety of resources during combat. With these additional resources, you can funnel them into new towers and upgrades.
Management and City Building
Unlike the standard tower defense game, Empires in Ruins offers you the chance to engage in significant city-building opportunities. Building in your provinces is technically out of your control though unless you pack up your headquarters and move it to the province you wish to build in. This might be a balancing mechanic to keep you from progressing too quickly, but it mostly just ends up bogging down your progression. If you need to build in a province on the other side of the kingdom, it becomes a waiting game until your headquarters moves to the opposite side of the map. I found out quickly in my playthrough that money and resources became no obstacle for building up my cities. Before too long, I had a massive sum of gold and other goods that I couldn’t spend nearly fast enough.
While 4X gameplay is one of the promised features for Empires in Ruins, it falls short in providing the nuanced diplomacy, trade, or exploration. Currently, there are no methods to enact diplomacy beyond a rare binary conversation choice. Exploration is a linear progression of scouting different provinces and then conquering them. Ultimately, fighting and conquering is the only real method of expansion over the course of the campaign.
Unfortunately, Empires in Ruins does seem to teeter toward repetitiveness over the course of the campaign. While there is some variation in each province due to the different natural resources available, I found myself building the same structures in each province repeatedly. At no point in my playthrough did I feel threatened or worried that I wasn’t providing for my citizens’ needs.
One of the more disappointing aspects during Empires in Ruins is the lack of customization options. Whilst playing, the only settings you're able to make are sound adjustments. If you want to adjust the resolution or the graphics settings, you will need to exit and modify those options in the launcher prior to launching the application. As far as graphic settings, you're able to select from just six different graphical levels ranging from fastest to fantastic with no other options available for tweaking.
Empires in Ruins Preview | Final Thoughts
Empires in Ruins makes a grand attempt at layering more depth into the traditional tower defense game, but it falls a bit short. City building, resource management, and working to fight off a rebellion are interesting features; however, these parts become repetitive or trivial to manage as you progress throughout the campaign. While labeled as a 4X game, it really delivers mostly in the area of expansion. You will progress in a somewhat linear fashion taking one nearby province after another by force until more unlock the next chapter.
TechRaptor previewed Empires in Ruins on PC via Steam Early Access with a copy provided by the publisher.