Wow, you’re researching the big boy, huh? You must have a serious need for some backyard fun. I mean, seriously, how many kids do you have? Or are you just planning to have the entire neighborhood in your backyard?
The Empire Extreme is exactly as it is named, big and extreme. With three forts, a clatter bridge, climbing walls, ladders and monkey bars, plenty of slides, and so much more, Gorilla Playsets has really set a high bar for what kids can do with a wooden swing set. The only thing I can think of that this swing set doesn’t have is a rotating tire swing -- the rest of it is all there.
The Backyartisan's Verdict
With all of our swing set reviews, we cover the most important aspects of the buyer and kids experience. Here are the Backyartisan ratings for each on a 5-star scale for the Empire Extreme wooden swing set by Gorilla Playsets. Next to each category, we’ve included the weight we give that category for an overall rating. We give 30% of the weight to the playset before it is put into service, 45% to the kid’s enjoyment of it, and 25% to the value of your purchase. Here’s the Backyartisan rating for the Empire Extreme.
Shipping & Receiving
The shipping and receiving of the Empire Extreme is likely just as extreme as the rest of your playset experience here. Gorilla Playsets, in general, has some pretty harsh unboxing experiences. Unfortunately, we have to give this an average rating, because that’s just what it is. Learn more about receiving a playset here.
Our Empire Extreme verdict: No way to get around it, no matter how you slice it, this is a big project. We don’t mean to discourage you by saying so, and we think that Gorilla Playsets does what they can with so much going on here, so we give it 3 stars. We really do wish that Gorilla did a better job at consolidating their packaging. We do think that is something that they should consider down the road, if possible, given the size of this swing set.
Trucking Company Appointments
The Empire Extreme ships via freight, which generally comes with an appointment that you have to make with the shipping company. It’s not necessarily the smoothest process to get through, but it’s just how the industry typically works and there are a lot of cost savings in it. You may be able to get add-on services like threshold delivery or lift gate, but they aren’t really necessary.
Dealing with Pallets
This playset comes on a 10 foot pallet that is roughly 40 inches wide. Not everyone is prepared for that large of a pallet, but generally you’re supposed to be ready to deal with it. Frequently, the freight carrier may leave with the pallet on board. They certainly have a better use for than you do.
Unboxing and Taking Inventory
The Empire Extreme comes with 17 boxes along with the 14’ scoop slide. Before you even begin tearing things apart on the truck, take a ton of pictures of the outside so as not to lose out on any information if something is messed up on the inside. This is one very large inventory to take, so we recommend you do it methodically. It’ll be worth it, trust me.
Within those 17 boxes, you’ll find all the wood, hardware, components, and plastics that you’ll need for the Empire Extreme. Seriously, be prepared to organize everything as you pull it apart because you’ll want to make sure every piece is there as you go to assemble it.
Box Weight and Dimensions
You’re getting quite a few components with the Empire Extreme. There are some major forts and slides that come with this. In all, the boxes weigh a total of 1650 lbs., or roughly an average of 97 lbs. per box. There are 8 to 9 boxes that weigh 100 lbs. or more. Make sure you’ve got the help you need from a few buddies.
The scoop slide is over 90 lbs., 14’ long, but should be easy to pick up in its plastic wrap.
Now that you have received your swing set, what are we gonna do with all of these boxes? We highly recommend that you check out our article about assembling a playset yourself. Once you get a better sense of what exactly takes place and how difficult the Gorilla Playset assembly can be, you will also want to read up on hiring a place that installs.
Our Empire Extreme verdict: Oh man, it is really difficult to put a rating on this assembly. The Empire Extreme really is a beast of a product. You can expect a ton of wood, lots of bolts and screws, and the difficulty of putting together every kind of slide there is (because it actually has just about every kind of slide that there is). We still feel like this is average in the industry - just plain hard - so we give it 3 stars.
You don’t need a whole lot of crazy specialized tools for this job. You really need a level, hammer, ladder, shovel, tape, pencil, carpenter square and pliers. You’ll also need a varying level of sockets and drill bits for your drill and wrench. Pretty standard sizes, which you should be able to find fairly easily if you don’t have them on hand.
For the bolts, you’ve got to have well sockets that are ½” and 9/16”. For drill bits, you’ll need ⅛”, 3/16”, ⅜”, 7/64”, 9/64”, and 11/64”, but the interesting bit you’ll need is the 1” paddle bit. This is really only employed for Gorilla’s largest playsets.
Ease and Timeframe of Installation
Given enough time and effort, almost anything is possible, right? If you’ve got the work ethic, a few buddies, and a whole week off of work, take a crack! What’s the worst that can happen? Oh, that may actually be bad.
The Empire Extreme comes with very nice rounded edges on boards that are cut to size. All of the major holes are pre-drilled, but you’ll still need to insert some wood screws yourself. Not terribly difficult. No one task is too difficult for someone who is fairly handy, but put together and this can be quite a beast.
The manufacturer thinks that this will take 22-26 hours to finish. Gorilla is pretty invested in selling you the swing set and making you think that you can do it, so it’s not unwise to multiply that by a factor of 2 to 3 times. These playsets are very well designed, and should last you a really long time, so don’t be thrown off if it takes you every bit of a Saturday to the following Sunday to complete, taking off an entire week of work. I’m serious, you should really think about having a professional do this, even if it will cost you upwards of $2,000. I have one friend whose handymen team of 4 took 4 whole days.
Quality of Directions
Knowing this playset will take quite some time to put together, Gorilla takes a few precautionary measures and does not cut corners on its instruction manual. The directions for the Empire Extreme wooden swing set is over 230 pages. That is extremely down in the weeds.
You can find diagrams in colors and well written in plain English. That’s not always the case, as you may know when assembling other toys.
The Empire Extreme is quite large. Installed, it stands 13’ tall, and is 23’ by 27’. This gives you the 2 forts at both 5 and 7 feet tall and all of your slides baked into these dimensions. Once you account for 6 feet of additional play and running area, the total safety zone for the Empire Extreme is 35’ x 39’. Depending upon what sort of surfacing material you’re looking for, knowing that safety zone and the highest deck height (7 feet) should help you determine the amount of cubic feet you need.
Stability & Durability
This is the section where we will review the stability of this particular place at. We bring up different components, joints, and materials to see exactly what you’re looking at in terms of longevity.
Our Empire Extreme verdict: Just so you know, you’re purchasing a playset from a company that has a few sister companies and a holding company that are all very much in the shed industry. They plan on those things being around for years to come, even if it means that they are over-engineered. That’s just the route they go. If you take the basic precautions and maintenance measures, plan on this playset lasting a long long time. 5 stars from us.
Joints & Hardware
In general, Gorilla does not take any shortcuts in its selection of hardware and joints. All brackets and bracings are beefy and top notch. You’ll find plates and hardware are thick and substantial as you work with it.
I do have one particular plate that gives way in my experience. I would highly recommend no large adult ride down the turbo slide. It is obviously outside of the weight limit recommended by the manufacturer, but I’ve also known the bracket to stabilize the turbo slide may bend under the wrong amount of weight.
Most wood screws are #8 in size and hex bolts are generally ⅜” thick, which I find to be standard in the industry, maybe a little bit on the heftier end. That said, I don’t necessarily love the size. I’d really like to see it a little bit thicker, but that may change the needs of the board to keep it from splitting.
Gorilla goes with cedar in all of their playsets, which is exactly where you want to be in this industry. They are cross beams for swings are 4x6 and all supporting posts are 4x4, which is top notch. Honestly, it can be a little overkill when you’re putting the thing together, but you just know it’s going to last a long time.
Non-structural or decking boards are 1.25” thick, and most ancillary pieces are an inch thick. Boards have all been sanded on edges and corners and are very nice to the touch.
The plastic slides for Gorilla are generally durable and weighty. The Empire Extreme comes with a rotomolded 14’ scoop slide, one of the hardest components in the industry to ship with the rest of the playset. You need to inspect this upon shipment, as you’ll see them scratched fairly regularly. The turbo slide comes in a box and is very sick, but will take quite a bit of time to bolt together
The thermoformed wave slide is produced to be slightly thicker than what we’ve seen from cheaper sets, which you’ve probably come to expect by now from Gorilla.
Wood Stain & Finish
This is just part of the industry that I don’t love, but Gorilla and most other playset manufacturers use the same red and yellow stains. It’s more of an aesthetic issue I’ve got with it, otherwise we’ve come to expect all of these boards to have the stain applied smoothly. Just not my cup of tea on color choices.
Based on product specs and engineered calculations, the weight limits are an important consideration as you want to know what your playset will stand up to. The platforms hold a total weight of 800 lbs. The rope ladder goes up to 75 lbs. Rock walls, all slides, and climbing ramps are designed for 150 lbs. Monkey bars are for 175 lbs.
Belt swings have a recommended moving weight maximum of 150 lbs., and the trapeze bar maxes out at 125 lbs. In total, the maximum swing weight of the swing beam is 425 lbs.
I tell you what, you’ve put a ton of time and effort into your Empire Extreme on the front end… my suggestion at this point is that you try to take good care of it and view it as an investment. If you do so, you may be able to sell it down the road when your children are finished with it.
The main things you are going to want to do are re-stain and seal the wood every couple years. You’ll want to make sure that you can keep pests and grass or any other plants that bring moisture away from the playset. You’ll want to think about replacing the surface material under your playset as well.
Definitely check out our checklist for maintaining a playset. Among other things, you’ll want to check joints and connections. There are also some winterizing steps you may want to take.
Here’s where we will take a hard look at the various components and options available on the empire extreme that you should consider as you’re looking to make your purchase.
Our Empire Extreme verdict: This playset looks like an Empire, and with all of the elements and things tucked away, it certainly is Extreme. With a clatter bridge, rock wall, picnic table, tons of slides, etc. you’re really getting a lot of options. If you’re spending this kind of money, you may be looking for a tire swing or rope ladder, but those seem to be the only things that they didn’t include. We give it 5 stars. It greatly exceeds what you get in the market and doesn’t overdo it either.
Ups, Downs & Acrosses
Here’s where we go into the many options that you’ve got at your fingertips. Namely the climbing, crawling, and sliding activities. Frankly, the Empire extreme really does have it all, maybe to a fault… You will find a ladder and climbing rocks with rope on your way up (though no rope ladders). Once you’re atop the fort, you have 5 and 7 foot decks to work with.
For getting across the place that you’ll have the option of monkey bars or the classic clatter bridge. And obviously the options to come off the Empire Extreme are abundant. You have the 5’ wave slide, the 14’ scoop slide, and a 7’ turbo tube slide.
In summary, there are two primary ways up, three great slides coming down, and plenty of fun to be had while roaming around on the Empire Extreme.
The Empire Extreme has Gorilla’s classic beefy cross beam with three swings. You’ll have two belt swings on either side of the trapeze acrobatic bar. No tire swing options or anything out of this world, but solid and certainly check the box for a swing set. You can always look for an accessory to replace the belt swing with a glider or web swing frame.
Social Play Accessories
When it comes to children playing with each other, here are your social play options. You’ll find a lot of the normal plastic thingamajigs that Gorilla typically puts on their playsets. That includes a picnic table and tic-tac-toe panel. I’m not the biggest fan of the run-of-the-mill plastic items they attached to the playset. Frankly, I find the plastic a little cheapening of the set.
Solo Play Accessories
As for playing by yourself, children will have the sandbox, chalkboard and spyglass at their disposal. You may want to look at the dinner bell or a punching bag to add on to the place that, if you think it is lacking.
Roof & Kit Options
Being that the Empire Extreme is their top-of-the-line, Gorilla actually does not give you any roof options. This playset comes standard with their Malibu gabled roof. The normal standard roof without extra windows or lights is not an option. Certainly not vinyl canopies, as I’m sure if you’re spending this kind of money you might as well protect it with a wood roof.
Price & Value
You’re looking at doling out quite a bit of money, so what are you getting in return? That’s what we cover in this next section.
Our Empire Extreme verdict: We score the Empire Extreme with 5 stars. It is the complete package with so many options and very well-built. We are not saying it is cheap, that’s obviously not true. We are just saying you really seem to get what you pay for at this price.
This playset is a very solid structure. Gorilla is known for its longevity and really well thought out designs. They employ their background and corporate knowledge of long lasting sheds, and they use it here.
Yes, you will spend upwards of $6,000-$7,000 just to receive a humongous set of boxes on a long pallet. Yes, it could take you and a group of 3 to 4 additional people up to five days to put this together. We have found that there’s no way of getting around at this point. In the end, this price matches the end result very well compared to what we see out there in the market.
Since there are no other roof options, there aren’t really ways that you can save a buck or two here or there. If you’re looking at the Empire Extreme, you’re not necessarily looking to save money either way.
A lot of retailers are offering to ship big swing sets like this one with free shipping. Sure, it’s free on the way there, but you’d be smart just to keep in the back of your mind that it actually cost upwards of seven to $800 to ship this swing set. Knowing that, you’ll understand why there are no free returns. Maybe you can save a good bit of money if you are willing to bring a trailer and pick it up at one of those local warehouses.
You’ve put quite a bit of money into the Empire Extreme, and it is a long and arduous process to put together. Installation of this place that can cost upwards of $2,000 more on top of what you’ve already spent. Depending on your ability and availability, this very well may be worth it.
There’s a 10-year warranty on the wood components, which doesn’t cover decaying or running wood. There may be some other naturally occurring issues with wood that it doesn’t cover. Because wear and tear is excluded, your warranty will only really cover bad defects coming out of the factory.
All the other plastic and hardware stuff comes with a one-year warranty. These items last pretty long anyway, so I don’t see Gorilla giving up all night.
There is no transfer of warranties from the original buyer, so beware if you’re buying from someone else. Overall, I find this warranty fairly average. I don’t love the restrictions on the wood, because that’s where you’ll see most of the issues down the road.
Overall, the Empire Extreme by Gorilla Playsets is a beast that delivers. You’ll find yourself with migraines going through the shipping in assembly process if you do it yourself. But, once it is all set up, kids of all ages will enjoy it and it will last you quite some time. We reserve 4 or more stars for the truly great sets, so that’s why you’ll see it here and why it made our Short List of the best large playsets of 2021.
Thanks for reading our review of the Empire Extreme! We hope that we’ve been able to help moms and dads like you understand what you’re getting yourself into with our lengthy and detailed reviews.