Sovereign Syndicate: A High Point for Narrative RPGs

Sovereign Syndicate
Reviewed On
Steam (PC)
Available For

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a minotaur living in a steampunk Victorian England, then do we have a game for you. Sovereign Syndicate is the twisting tale of Atticus, Clara, and Teddy, three characters with distinct motivations whose fates intertwine as you sleuth your way through a world replete with fantastical creatures. Sovereign Syndicate is very clearly inspired by Disco Elysium, but the biggest question to be asked is if it’s a worthy imitator, or could it somehow give Disco Elysium a run for its money? Let’s find out.

Sovereign Syndicate will be really familiar to just about anyone who has ever played a narrative heavy RPG before. You click to indicate where you wish to go, and you can speak to people by selecting dialogue choices which all appear on the right side of the screen. The controls are simple and intuitive, so you’ll quickly begin to notice dialogue options that are unavailable based on your current skills, depending on which of the characters you’re playing as.

When you begin the game, you can select a specific skill with each of the protagonists, such as animal instinct, wit, or self-reliance. Whichever one of these you pick will adjust your stats in a way that will open up some dialogue choices you wouldn’t otherwise have. Making a lot of choices that support specific traits will bolster those stats, allowing you to make larger checks during dialogue, though many of these choices are just for atmosphere until you reach the end of the game.

When it’s time to test your abilities, Sovereign Syndicate uses a deck of tarot cards rather than dice rolls to determine skill checks. When the time calls for it, a card is drawn, your respective skill is added to the number on the card, and if that value is high enough you succeed at whatever you were doing. You likewise don’t have health or an HP total, but a Hope stat that is pretty easy to keep high enough to not have to worry about unless people keep smacking you in the jaw with their canes.

For the most part, you’ll spend significant chunks of time in Sovereign Syndicate either exploring the world, looking for clues, or speaking to a wide variety of NPCs to dig up information that you need. Each protagonist that you get to play takes up the story at specific moments, but they all wind up intertwining for some great moments. For those worried about getting lost while doing exploration segments, you have a handy log at your disposal that will point you in the right direction if you happen to get stuck for any reason.

Sovereign Syndicate features a large quantity of text with no voice overs, so if you absolutely need voice acting to accompany dialogue, this title may not be for you. It’s clear, though, that the budget for this game was pretty small, and stretching said budget even more for bad voice acting likely wouldn’t have helped the overall package at all. There isn’t much visual flourish in Sovereign Syndicate, as much of it involves two characters standing still near one another while you read a dialogue box on the right side of the screen.

A game like Sovereign Syndicate, which portrays the political intrigue of a Victorian steampunk society and its elite, lives and dies by its narrative. Thankfully, the story Sovereign Syndicate has to tell is quite enjoyable, and all of the characters that you play as or that you meet along the way are realized in such a way that they can leave a deep impact on you as you play. The developers manage to signpost story elements so that if you’re attentive enough to characters and their motivations, you may even be able to foretell some events before they occur by figuring out who stands to benefit from someone dying or going missing. Really the only criticism that can be made about the story is that the climax really should have culminated into something more impressive. But at least everything makes sense, and most threads are tied up by the end of the story.

Sovereign Syndicate really seems to want to be compared to Disco Elysium, but there are notable differences for fans of the latter title. While Disco Elysium is more of a CRPG with heavy emphasis on narrative storytelling and choices, Sovereign Syndicate is closer to an interactive visual novel with comparatively fewer fail states overall. In Disco Elysium, it wasn’t uncommon for a bad choice or two or a sequence of failed skill checks to result in a game over. Sovereign Syndicate has these so rarely that it shouldn’t be sprung upon you to reload your game as a result of poor choices or luck. The title will continue to chug along just fine, which gives this much more of a visual novel feel.

For those interested in running Sovereign Syndicate on the Steam Deck, it runs great on the little handheld that could despite the fact that Valve lists its Steam Deck Compatibility as a big question mark right now. Sovereign Syndicate also works out of the box on Linux, which is great for those not wanting to fiddle with Proton, Wine, or other emulator/compatibility applications.

All in all, Sovereign Syndicate is light on both audio and visual presentation, though there are some drawn portraits that are extremely nice, and the artist should get the highest of praises for those scenes. No voice acting can be a detraction to some, but it’s arguable that even more people are averse to Arc Rise Fantasia or the original Resident Evil’s style of voice acting, which is about what you’d get for an indie title on a small budget.

Sovereign Syndicate is enjoyable, with fleshed-out characters in an interesting fantasy world. If you enjoy narrative-based titles, such as visual novels, then Sovereign Syndicate will absolutely be for you. If you prefer your titles to have more action to accompany the narrative, or simply don’t like reading voluminous amounts of text, then steer clear of Sovereign Syndicate. That’s a pun on account of one of the protagonists being a minotaur. I saved it for the end just for you.

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