Empire has received generally positive reviews from critics since its release.
AllMusic praised the album, selecting the songs "Jet City Woman", "Empire", and "Silent Lucidity" as the album's best tracks. The review stated that the band went for "a song-oriented approach that is more art rock and less metal" with lyrics that talk about social and physical handicaps in "Best I Can" and issues such as poverty and regret in "Della Brown" and romance with "Another Rainy Night (Without You)" and "Hand On Heart." The reviewer concluded by praising the band's mature sound and the production done by Peter Collins.
Record Collector gave the 20th anniversary edition of the album a generally positive review. The reviewer called the album a "very pleasant, but only intermittently gripping" listen, calling the songs "Best I Can", "Silent Lucidity", and "Jet City Woman" as being some of the band's best material. Comparing Empire to the band's earlier albums, The Warning and Rage for Order, the reviewer wrote that it is "a little boring." The reviewer concluded by calling the live CD accompanying the re-issue "flawless", making it a "worthwhile reissue."PopMatters reviewer Adrien Begrand also reviewed the album's 20th anniversary release. Begrand called the album an "enigma" that's "beautifully produced and features some of the band's quintessential songs, but at the same time it's a rather bloated, conceptually scattershot piece of work containing filler that honestly has not aged very well." Begrand praised the songs "Empire", "Another Rainy Night", and "Silent Lucidity", calling them the album's best tracks, favorably comparing "Silent Lucidity" to Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." Begrand had a mixed reaction to the live CD and referred to the cover of "Scarborough Fair" as being "abysmal."
Jim Farber of Entertainment Weekly was highly critical of the album. Farber criticized the album's progressive metal riffs, calling them "tuneless bombast" as well as the dire nature of the lyrics. Farber concluded his review by calling the band members "relentless killjoys."