Impire Review: Deviously Dull

There is a special place reserved in my heart for Dungeon Keeper. Unfortunately for me, no other game has successfully replicated that polished experience of dungeon carving and minion management. A few have come close, like Evil Genius, but none have made the cut. Impire is, to my dismay, one of those games. While it initially appears to be a great resemblence to Bullfrog’s masterpiece, it quickly drowns out the fun with tedium and boredom. It’s not terrible, but it’s not good either. In that respect, it commits the one cardinal sin of gaming: it’s not so bad or so good that it’s worth talking about. It just is.

Impire
Platforms: PC (Reviewed)
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Released: February 14, 2013
MSRP: $19.99

Impire follows the demon Ba’al-Abbadon after he is summoned to Ardania by a nasty human advisor named Oscar van Fairweather. There he finds himself trapped in an imp-like body instead of his normal, far more imposing form. Fairweather commands Ba’al – now nicknamed “Death Slayer” – to set out and do various acts of petty evil against those that have wronged him. Eventually Ba’al breaks from Fairweather’s control and begins to reconstruct his evil empire beneath Ardania, with heroes challenging him at every turn.

For those familiar with the Majesty series – another franchise of fantasy management sims – the name Ardania might sound familiar. That’s because Ardania is the setting for Paradox’s Majesty 2 and spin-off titles such as Defenders of Ardania. As all other titles in the IP have revolved around heroes, Impire is left to the task of depicting the more unsavory and evil aspects of Majesty’s lore. Much like Majesty 2, though, it addresses those elements with a nod and a wink to the player.

If there’s one aspect of Impire that genuinely succeeds, it’s the writing. Fairweather is a petty incompetant hack of a sorcerer, Ba’al is droll and sarcastic, and the parade of tertiary characters range from straightforward to comically inept. It’s not perfect, though. Cutscenes drag on in order to tell more jokes, and they lack the punch of a well-written scene. Sometimes it feels like the developers were more interested in me hearing their characters than playing their game. And I am. Despite dragging on a bit at times, Impire really hits home with the writing. I continued to play because I was interested in the characters and listening to more dialogue, not because I was enamored with the mechanics.

The visuals succeed at what they set out to do as well, as they match the comical tone laid out in the writing. Minions are stumpy and stylized, and heroes are obviously heroic. It’s just dark enough to be obvious you are evil, and just cartoonish enough to be obvious that you shouldn’t take that evil too seriously. It still needs more polish, though. Character silhouettes are difficult to distinguish at a glance, which makes character identification in combat more difficult than it should be. A lot of minions share the same basic outline, after all, and color identification is impossible thanks to the muted tones.

So it’s pretty and well-written, but is it fun? Well, not really. Impire sets you to the task of building up a dungeon to maintain a stable of minions, with the eventual goal of sending those minions out into the world to pillage some farms and kill some heroes. Hallways that lead around the dungeon, rooms that add some variety to your evil ecosystem, and traps that snare curious heroes all figure prominently into your dungeon design. However, room sizes are set in stone and space in your complex is extremely limited, so you have to manage hallway and room placement in more granular detail than in comparable titles.

This extreme limitation of space, coupled with the obnoxious restrictions on hallways (you can’t remove them), means that your base layout quickly gets out of control. While organic base design can be interesting and fun, Impire’s static room layouts prevent the player from making interesting configurations. They also have annoyingly constrictive doorways and room borders. The end result is that you don’t feel like you are carving your dungeon out, which is the most essential part of any game in this style. This lack of potential dungeon variety means there’s no use discussing and sharing layouts with other players, which severely hampers the replay value.

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