Empire of Sin: XCOM meets Grand Theft Auto, set in 1920s Chicago

Romero Games' upcoming crime syndicate strategy game "Empire of Sin" represents one of my personal biggest surprises of E3 2019.

Set in a dynamic and gorgeous recreation of 1920s Chicago, Empire of Sin puts you in the shoes of various famed crime lords of yesteryear. Your goal is to build your very own empire of sin, from the grassroots street hustler level all the way up to state-wide prohibition-dodging smuggling ring, while dodging all of the pitfalls and perils of gangster life.

At E3 2019, we were able to talk to the team behind the game, and learn more about this intriguing-looking strategy game, set for a Spring 2020 launch on PC, Xbox, and other consoles.

Build your own Empire of Sin

Set in 1920s Chicago, Romero Games has done an incredible job evoking a seedy noir atmosphere from its environment. The reflections in the rain-soaked cobbled streets look gorgeous, with a fixed 3D, but zoomable isometric camera view.

Empire of Sin, like many Paradox-published strategy games, allows you to tailor the size and complexity of the maps, as well as the amount of competing criminal gangs you'll have to contest with. Building up from local gang to criminal empire will take time, perseverance, and delicate management of various intersecting systems as you build up your cash and influence. To that end, Empire of Sin amalgamates various different genres into, what appears to be, a cohesive whole.

Starting out, you'll be asked to choose a crime boss from fourteen options, including big names such as Al Capone, while also choosing a racket focus. At launch, you'll be able to pick between speakeasies, casinos, or union activities, but Romero Games told us that they also plan to support the game with more content post-launch in typical Paradox style.

You'll share the city with various other criminal empires of all shapes and sizes, as well as regular citizens and local and federal law enforcement. All of the game's systems and NPCs overlap and intersect, with individual NPCs having their own goals and motivations, which can both help or hinder your empire's growth.

Empire of Sin's Dynamic Events and "RPCs"

Empire of Sin

Empire of Sin (Image credit: Romero Games)

There are two types of a non-player character in Empire of Sin. Regular NPCs such as citizens and enemy crime bosses form part of the game's world. You cannot kill civilians uninvolved in the crime world, but there may come a time where you have to lock and load against rival gangs. To that end, Empire of Sin has an XCOM-like turn-based grid combat system, complete with progression systems, special abilities, and violent execution moves.

Al Capone, for example, can do a wide-angle bullet spray sweep with his Tommy gun. The damage seems a little bit more realistic when compared to other XCOM-style games. Direct bullet hits and close-range shotgun blasts seem to always outright kill or incapacitate enemies out of cover, although there are some mild field-medic abilities some gangsters can use to stave off death.

You're not alone in Empire of Sin either. Contrasting against NPCs, Empire of Sin has what Romero Games calls "RPCs," standing for recruitable player characters. These RPCs can be found out in the world and might have a mission or other conditions in order to join your gang. Once they're in, you can put them in your combat squad, which you'll build up alongside your various nefarious criminal businesses. However, just like in the movies, crime is never that simple.

Empire of Sin

Empire of Sin (Image credit: Paradox Interactive)

Your recruited RPCs have their own motivations, hierarchies, and relationships, sometimes with rival gangsters. If you make your followers mad, they could even turn on you or betray you down the line, creating cascading problems you'll have to deal with if you're to survive, or stay out of prison.

You can also deal with enemy crime bosses in various ways, either via assassination, bribery, tribute, or coercion, building allegiances might help in the early game, if your plan is to take down the big kingpins later on. A range of Paradox-style dynamic events can emerge at any time, too, throwing a wrench in the works. Some of them include movie-style cutscenes too, complete with dialogue options and plenty of dynamic storytelling.

Become the lord of a criminal underworld

Empire of Sin appears to be shaping up nicely. Despite having almost a year of development time left, it already seems incredibly polished, with great visuals, a huge amount of intersecting systems, and intriguing story beats.

Simulation strategy games are increasingly common, particularly on PC, but one that blends XCOM-style combat with an overworld business management system, complete with support for home consoles makes Empire of Sin a bit of a rarity. Rarer still is the setting, which is arguably an under-utilized time period in gaming, particularly so when it comes to strategy games.

Empire of Sin is targeting a Spring 2020 launch on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch, and we can't wait to find out more.

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Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!