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Empyrean

by Kyle Marquis

flying ace, dieselpunk
2016

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A deep dive into a tech-based future with cool vehicles, December 14, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
This is a pretty long retro-future game where you play in a post-apocalyptic world where deep mechanical tech underground is spilling up and a city is split between a corrupt government, a struggling revolution and outside infiltrators.

It has some rough patches and the narrative arc didn't feel well-defined, but its intricate worldbuilding and strong characters pushed it up to a 5 star rating for me.

My introduction to Kyle Marquis was through Vampire the Masquerade: Night Road, which (in addition to many excellent features) had a surprisingly detailed flight of vehicles.

This game also follows that pattern, with multiple advanced flying vehicles described in intricate detail (including the eponymous Empyrean, an experimental airplane that most of the game revolves around) and several motorbikes as well.

This game has deep, deep worldbuilding. There are multiple layers to the government, each with their own agents (often embedded into each other). There are multiple versions of tech, between the revolutionaries, the city itself, the rival city, your father, and the deep underground. It comes with numerous references and explains itself in game.

I was a little disappointed that the stats stayed relatively low, but I think that's because I accidentally spread them out too much early on. Also, I didn't invest anything in physical stats (instead focusing on cunning and leadership), and there are numerous areas where you have to be fast, strong, or a good shot. Fortunately, the game was graceful with failures and I was able to adapt.

Apparently, from reading older reviews, the game has gone through a big revamp. Originally, there were half as many main stats and they were opposed (like cunning vs leadership). Many people felt it didn't work that well, so the game was changed and re-released. That explains the proliferation of stats and the oddities of which ones are used when. I definitely think the current system is better than the old, and I can't help but wonder if the experience with a ton of diverse stats helped the author in writing VtM: Night Road.

The narrative arc could have been stronger. Instead of a long rise and climax, it felt like it plateaued after the first couple of chapters, with events of similar direness and complexity occupying the middle parts until the very last chapter or two. The game felt long, and the final chapter for me felt like a good wrap-up.

Overall, I was pleased with the characters and enjoyed my ending. I was a little confused, thinking that Wesh was a preteen, but that went away quickly. As a fan growing up of pulp sci-fi and hard sci-fi, I enjoyed the worldbuilding the most.

- mifga (Brooklyn, NY), October 26, 2020


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