EMPYRE: Dukes of the Far Frontier is a game with potential marred by an incredible lack of polish. There’s a nice sort of janky charm the game has but it just feels unpleasant to play.
Dukes of the Far Frontier is essentially a real time strategy game with a steampunk-ish setting. You are living in a land overrun by monstrous plants so people have taken refuge in the hot deserts where the plants cannot thrive. The rich live in well kept cities maintained by automated robots while the poor and outcast live in slums outside. You start your adventure by arriving at the entrance to a new city, only to have your ticket into the city stolen.
Things are further complicated when you get yourself involved in a plot involving stolen blueprints for the robots. It’s a very hot item and everyone is out to kill you for them. The only problem is you don’t actually have the blueprints.
The game has two phases, one is the exploration phase where you can move around freely and talk to all the NPCS. Interrupting this explorative phase is a clunky combat phase, where the game will restrict your movement to certain areas and you must either kill all enemies or be out of sight for long enough. I personally thought the combat phase was implemented poorly. It just feels very unresponsive. I click on the unit and then click on a location for the character to move to and it either takes too long for the character to start moving or you have to click multiple times before it registers.
Let’s compare this to games such as Shadow Tactics and Partisans, and even War Mongrels. Movement in those games is buttery smooth, even when switching between multiple characters and executing a combination of abilities between those characters. In EMPYRE, it’s hard enough just controlling one character. It’s not something I really got used to and made the combat more frustrating and less enjoyable than it could have been. The combat is one of the main portions of the game and for it to feel this rough is not a fun thing for me.
It’s not just the movement that feels unresponsive, the actual combat feels the same way. There is a noticeable delay between issuing an attack command, and the character actually attacking. Not to mention you must manually reload after each combat phase is over, making it feel tedious on top of everything else.
It’s not just the feeling of unresponsiveness that sours the combat for me, it also feels intrusive as well. As you’re exploring the city, the game will force you into the combat phase. Once you are in the combat phase, it will pause the game, will not let you run into buildings, and will not end until you kill everyone nearby or you hide for long enough. Once the combat phase is over, it inexplicably fades to black, and reloads the city in exploration mode. This is very jarring and interrupts the pacing of the game, especially when you just want to explore or talk to people. This could have been implemented to be way more seamless.
Negative impressions aside, the game does have some things I enjoyed. The combat is actually fun if you can get over how unresponsive everything feels. The game is definitely not balanced so you can create hilariously overpowered characters that feel actually fun to play. I put all my points into fire arms, pistols, and dodging and the resultant character was able to just stand there and dodge all attacks while pumping bullets into every enemy.
The narrative is actually interesting as well. While the quality of the writing itself I found to be mediocre, the overall world building and characters I did find very interesting. The more you play, the more you get pulled into the world and it’s such a shame that the lack of polish will potentially put off many players and prevent them from giving the game a chance.
Overall, EMPYRE: Dukes of the Far Frontier desperately needs more polish so the game can live up to it’s full potential. The lack of polish is severe enough that I can see the average gamer giving up on the game before it can draw them in. The unresponsive, intrusive combat phase needs to feel more seamless and smooth because there’s some fun to be had here. I would definitely recommend waiting for any updates to smooth out the game before giving it a chance.