What’s better than working for secret intelligence? When your work gets a little bit spooky, and a little bit dark. That’s what The Emperor’s Own’s teaser gives us, with a whole bunch of beautiful voice acting and camaraderie thrown in for good measure.
I recall seeing The Emperor’s Own when it first appeared on Kickstarter, and I’m kicking myself for not backing it when it popped up. The teaser’s an exciting little bundle of story, taking you from mission briefing to the rolling countryside of rural Russia (to be fair, that is a lot of Russia, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten the technical term for this area). People are coming back from the dead, or so the serfs say. There’s witchcraft. Demons. Evil things howling in the night.
Worse: they’re blaming the emperor.
You, playing as new recruit Cornet Alexander Obolenskii alongside two other members of imperial secret intelligence, are sent to investigate. The ensuing story was a lot more in depth than I expected for a teaser, fully voiced and animated in a manner impressively reminiscent of The Witcher 3. Even in this early part of the story, you have branching potential with actual consequences. True to form, I missed a step during the mission and things… went badly. Banter between the characters and snippets of their stories and personalities revealed throughout made me care not just what happened to them, but what I made them do. Like poor Dimitri (voiced by Tom McKay, who was Henry in Kingdom Come Deliverance), who has already seen some shit, having to roll out two execution orders in one day because I messed up. He was so done. He needed a hug.
I won’t spoil the mission for anyone who wants to play the teaser (it’s free, after all!), but the tone changes pretty quickly. When The Emperor’s Own turned up the spooky dial, it worked. It leaves you wondering which way the story’s about to turn – what will turn out to be real and what illusion.
The teaser isn’t representative of final gameplay at all, but it is a good start. Combat mechanics are just a placeholder and saving the game is a little dicey, so be aware of that if you pick it up. What it will actually end up like is still to be decided, but there’s talk of rifles and bayonets and (potentially) mounted combat, so it will be interesting to see how that takes shape.
A part of the teaser that made me chuckle was its attitude to traditional RPG tropes. Right at the beginning of the teaser, you come across a rusty sword in a box. Your fingers twitch with the ingrained nerve responses of a habitual item hoarder. Why not take it? It might be useful. Alternatively, your companions could barrage you with incredulous comments and call you a disgrace to the uniform until, shamefaced, you admit there’s really no point to it. Later, there’s another encounter that laughs in the face of fetch quests in spectacular fashion. I don’t know if this is a peculiarity of the teaser or not, but I do hope it persists throughout the whole game. It’s rather refreshing, and I imagine it makes development a darn sight quicker, too.
If you liked The Witcher 3 and/or Kingdom Come Deliverance, I think you’ll be as excited by the potential of The Emperor’s Own as I am. So go check out the teaser, wishlist it on Steam and keep an eye on it – this one’s going to be good.