When we got our first PC in 2008, I played a lot of flash games, though most of them were either Simulation or Tower Defense Games with the occasional puzzle or strategy title thrown into the mix. Naturally, that turned me into someone who’d get attracted to any management, simulation or strategy game I found and hence, I find the occasional interesting title and wanna give it a go. This time around, the guys, gals and nb pals over at Hammer and Ravens provided me with a key for their newest title Empires in Ruins which is an attempt of unifying the Grand Strategy, Tower Defense and Management genres into one solid game but it doesn’t only do that but it also tries to be “the most offensive defensive Grand Strategy game” out there. Do they succeed in that? Find out here!
Developer: Hammer and Ravens Publisher: Hammer and Ravens Genre: Medieval, Grand Strategy, Management, Tower Defense, Plot-Driven Release Date: March 25th, 2021 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC Copy was sent by the developers.
Empires in Ruins is mainly plot-driven, meaning that you get to step into the role of Sergeant Hans Heimer who’s a very foul-mouthed and washed out drunkard. You’re supposed to quell the rebellion, tame the Western Marches, drink, and disobey orders. The dialogue so far has been quite offensive but I found it rather over the top and edgy at times as if the writers were having way too much brandy and way too much fun with the main character. I mean sure, he swears like a sailor and makes fun of everyone equally and there is some black humour in the plot but I didn’t find it offensive really. I mean, I didn’t find it so bad that I would stop playing it like in Beat Cop where they hurl slurs everywhere and try to excuse it or whatever.
The gameplay though is a lot more refined and very interesting. The overworld stuff is similar to Crusader Kings in a way but less complicated. You have territories that you need to develop to satisfy the population and reduce the chance of rebels attacking you. You build up farms and other buildings while you deal with choices that will influence your relations to other factions. At the same time, you’ll also scout lands to find out information about the lands you haven’t conquered (yet!) and you move your headquarters around to command your units more efficiently. Meanwhile, you also can research new technologies and head into battles… The battles are Tower Defense based. You have a castle that you need to defend against units by placing down different turrets and buildings. Honestly, it first sounded weird to me when I heard about “Grand Strategy” and “Tower Defense” in one pitch but it surprisingly works very well and is quite fun. Obviously, if you’re not into a lot of swearing, reading, and/or Management, TD, or Strategy, this game won’t be for you… but I’ve had a lot of fun.
What bothered me initially was the art style. The characters very much remind me of Crusader Kings characters while the style in the battles is more akin to Stronghold Crusaders and Heroes of Might and Magic – which are great inspirations honestly. Sure, it may look “old” but it’s supposed to look like that as it’s inspired by those games (style-wise) and as the developers used a 90s technique of prerendering 3D models and implementing them into the 2D visuals of the game. It works well and is a great homage to “the classics”. So, it bothered me at first but it grew to me over time and especially when you zoom into the battlefield, you get to appreciate just how lovely it looks. Similar to that, the music is also quite interesting: The soundtrack consists of some “quasi metal” tracks that feature a bagpipe that works for the setting and sounds good. Lino Pastorelli who played the bagpipe for this title is actually the lead dev’s father and Red Dew Hellpipes (an Italian band) wrote the battle songs specifically for the game. At the same time, the band Tribauta provided the Celtic Folk music you may hear in the empire management part of the game – Really fitting, too. It isn’t the catchiest music in the world! Sure. BUT it works nicely for the grim atmosphere and the European setting, so that’s a win.
What bothered me at first is the difficulty, though. The game can be punishing and while the tutorial is there… and explains a lot of things… it doesn’t actually help you too much with the game. You may skip it if you want to but I tried that and failed miserably, so I started a new file and played on Easy Difficulty and still got surprised by new enemy types that invade through underground pathways or the sea. Some enemies sabotage and/or attack your buildings and overall, the tutorial did explain those things but I didn’t have the option of learning it as I encounter it. Instead, information was front-loaded, I felt overwhelmed, and it didn’t help too much in the end. It takes some time to get used to and I would have enjoyed it a lot more if the game had more of a “learn more as you encounter more” approach. But as time went on, I learned from my mistakes and got a bit better, partly due to a video on YT and starting a new save file but it wasn’t as complicated as CK3 so, I still enjoyed the difficulty curve. It would have also been cool if I could click on units and learn more about them… or if I could cancel research or re-arrange the priority/order of the queue like in other strategy games.
Overall though, I did enjoy Empires in Ruins. Little touches like the bagpipe, the retro-style or the intro voiced by Doug Cockle (why am I only mentioning him now?!) make this title stand out but more importantly, it has an interesting mix of genres that can mesh well but probably would be boring if Hammer and Ravens didn’t develop them. I mean, I liked Headbangers in Holiday Hell and the developers’ take on the arcade-shooter genre. I feel like they could mix some other genres together and it would work well even if it’s a card-based ARPG or whatever. Hence, I recommend this game to anyone looking for strategy games with interesting twists to them! And, if you want to, you can also just try out the demo on Steam if you haven’t yet!