Impire is the latest game from Paradox Interactive to take place in Ardania, the world created for the Majesty franchise. This time you control a powerful demon named Baal, who has been summoned into the body of a lowly imp, and who must follow the orders of a wannabe supervillain named Oscar van Fairweather. Oscar’s goal? To defeat the Sovereign (your character in Majesty) and his Royal Advisor, and take over Ardania for himself — with your help, of course.
Most of the action in Impire takes place underground, where you build a dungeon to act as your base of operations. This part of the game has a lot in common with the likes of Dungeon Keeper, Dungeons, and Evil Genius. You have to order minions to dig tunnels and create rooms, you have to summon creatures to protect your holdings from invading heroes, and you have to maintain an economy so you can afford to buy improvements.
The good news is that Impire tries some new things, so it’s not a total clone. You earn dungeon points when you do certain things (like cast spells and equip your creatures), and you use these points to unlock runes, which give you bonuses, or creatures, or rooms that you can add to your dungeon. You find runes as you play through the campaign (or multiplayer games), and then you pick the ones that you want to associate with your imp. That means your dungeon won’t look or function just like everybody else’s (although there are a few “good” runes that all players will probably use).
There is also an offensive component to the game. You can put your creatures into squads and then send them out raiding on the above-ground map. You mostly do this to gather extra resources (food, materials, and gold), but some quests require raiding as well. Each mission in the campaign also has a second half to the underground map where you attack some sort of enemy. This other underground map can’t be adjusted in any way (for example, by digging), and so it’s not like attacking an enemy imp. The enemies there simply wait for you to show up, and it’s usually there that you find the boss creature that you have to kill to complete a mission.
Along with the creatures you can summon (including priests for healing, overlords for tanking, and warlocks for DPS), you also get to use your imp in the missions, and the imp gains skills and bonuses as the campaign progresses. The imp ends up being much more powerful than any non-boss creature in the game, but sadly there aren’t really any imp builds. By the end of the campaign you’re guaranteed to learn everything. You only get to pick whether you want your imp to focus on melee damage, spells, or act as more of a commander to improve the prowess of your creatures.
The best part of Impire is the humor. The dialogue is well acted by your imp and Oscar (and assorted others), and your objectives usually involve funny things like collecting Candles of Appalling Scent and defeating the minotaur boss Chief Red Bull. There’s also an amusing thread to the campaign where Oscar keeps trying to do evil things, but all of his actions end up making Ardania a better place.
Unfortunately, the worst part of Impire is pretty much everything else. The interface is a cumbersome mess, as if Cyanide Montreal, the game’s developer, had never played a real-time strategy game before. The offensive and defensive components of the missions don’t complement each other; they just get in each other’s way and disrupt each other. It takes a half hour or more to build up your dungeon so you can go on the offensive, but this part of the game is nearly identical for each mission, which is tedious. The offensive parts of the missions can be a little more interesting — there are some decent puzzles and bosses — but that’s about 5 minutes of good content versus 90 minutes of dull content that you have to slog through to get to it. There are also way too many bugs, especially involving broken saved games, that rip apart any chance you might have of enjoying yourself. I lost somewhere around five hours of playing time thanks to the save game problems. And don’t even ask about the manual, since Cyanide didn’t bother to create one.
The good news is that Cyanide Montreal has been quick to release patches. During the roughly two weeks it took me to complete the 18-mission campaign, Cyanide came out with two patches, and they knocked off some of the more annoying bugs (like the game only saving to the Steam cloud, with nothing stored on your computer’s hard drive). The bad news is that it doesn’t really matter. Even if Impire were to work perfectly, it would still be a dull mess and the least interesting game in its genre. So skip Impire and look for something — anything — better.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
This review is based on a digital copy of Impire for the PC provided by Paradox Interactive.