In an era of video games where CRPGs are gaining even more popularity with the success of Baldur’s Gate 3 and Disco Elysium, I jumped into Sovereign Syndicate with uncertain, yet high expectations of an experience akin to those two.
I left Sovereign Syndicate seeing so much potential, yet wanting more out of this Victorian steampunk world.
Excellent worldbuilding, rich character design, and an unfolding mystery are what I’ll remember Sovereign Syndicate most for. But I got the feeling that there could’ve been much more to this story that we didn’t see. Let’s get into my review of Sovereign Syndicate.
A mesh of fitting genres
Sovereign Syndicate did a great job at melding different genres and twisting certain CRPG aspects into their own thing. It’s set in a Victorian steampunk version of London where humans live amongst fantasy creatures. Dwarves, centaurs, and even minotaurs exist in this universe, but it’s not fully at peace. Themes of racism and sexism are littered throughout, amongst others, all explored wonderfully.
You’re fully immersed in a world that truly feels like it exists, with a history, its own language, and a colorful cast of characters. For the size of the game, the setting wasn’t too big where it felt overwhelming, and it wasn’t too small to be boring. Each chapter has you switch between the three main protagonists, and you’ll often find yourself coming back to places you’ve been before, but not as the same character.
Each chapter ends with an Oscar Wilde quote, and all characters accumulate humors based on Humorism in philosophy. Any English or arts major will enjoy their time with Sovereign Syndicate, as you’ll also have to do a lot of reading. The writing is vivid and descriptive, being one of the shining parts of Sovereign Syndicate.
A tarot twist
Another thing that I liked about this game is how it changed the way skill checks work. Instead of rolling dice, the game will pull out a random tarot card. This card, depending on its number, will help you either succeed or fail a check. As a tarot-lover myself, I enjoyed this twist to the CRPG genre.
The game also did a good job of allowing the player to decide what kind of character these protagonists will be. By unlocking Major Arcana, you can make unique dialogue choices. This can also change depending on your Temperament, so you’ll occasionally gain and lose influence throughout your playthrough.
While there were a few choices that seemed game-changing, I can’t say how crazy these changes truly are. This would require me to go back to some old saves and try other choices, although I’m not even sure how impactful the changes could be. I didn’t feel much need to go back for another playthrough, which disappointed me for a game based on dialogue choices.
Chapter by chapter
With each chapter, you get a new character to control out of your main three. I enjoyed each of them, and I could see their stories being fleshed out, but a part of me felt as though I didn’t get enough from them. The ending of the game itself almost felt like a cliffhanger to a second season of an exciting show. Although I knew it was the end, it felt like just the beginning of a broader narrative.
If there’s a sequel incoming, then I can see how this ending would prove useful. But if not, then I feel as though some of these characters’ stories were cut short and deserved more time in the spotlight. Speaking of characters, there are many names you’ll learn and many faces you’ll meet, so I wished that I could see some sort of character or world encyclopedia.
This would’ve helped me keep track of who the NPCs are, how they’re connected to the story, and what I know about them so far. The main story involves a couple of big mysteries your characters go out and solve, so an encyclopedia of growing information would’ve been helpful.
Speaking of story, the way that all three narratives tied together, alongside some shocking twists, was entertaining. It took a few chapters before I understood what the overall plot would cover, but otherwise, I thought it was well done. The only complaint I have about side quests is how I’ve been locked out of a few unknowingly just because I didn’t know where to go and I was supposed to get it done in an earlier chapter, but what can you do?
Another thing I took note of was the controls. It’s a pretty minor thing to complain about, but I found myself having difficulty getting around certain areas because of the fixed top-down camera. Sure, I could zoom in and out, but I was hoping to be able to turn the camera around as well.
Since you have to press on the screen to tell your character where to move, I’d sometimes be stuck in a small hallway not knowing where to press because I couldn’t turn the camera to face a better direction. There was also one spot with a grand piano where I walked into a weird corner of it and glitched into the air, unable to teleport out or get out, forcing me to reload an older save.
Other than those small gripes, I found myself sometimes wishing the game would tell me certain things. Although I enjoyed finding my way without it holding my hand during some quests, other times I spent more than 10 minutes running around one area trying to find someone for a quest without realizing they wouldn’t show up until a later chapter. Luckily, these were minor issues that didn’t affect how I felt about the entirety of the game.
Hoping for more
Sovereign Syndicate is a fun CRPG that has intelligent writing, a unique tarot system, and an interesting story. Yet my one glaring issue with it is that it feels like the start of something bigger. The ending felt a little rushed, and upon one big, exciting moment happening at the finale, the credits rolled, and I wanted to see what happened next.