Sovereign Syndicate by Crimson Herring Studios
We received a demo (we don’t normally cover demos, but the publicist insisted) for Sovereign Syndicate from Crimson Herring Studios. This gaslamp isometric CRPG has you using Tarot cards instead of dice to determine checks and mucho stat tracking to make your way through a text-heavy world of fantasy and intrigue.
Going in, I want to state upfront that we are a huge fan of the Shadowrun Returns series, and have spent some time with Path of Exile, always still in awe of its skill tree spread. So let’s see what we have here.
The production is exceptional, with a brooding score, moody lighting, and ornate UI that mercifully stays mostly tucked out of the way. It is immediately evocative of the Wolf Among Us/Fables universe where man and monster co-exist to various degrees of mutual tolerance. The level design sees unnecessary backtracking and plenty of illusion of choice, but the beguiling design recovers goodwill as we tread onward through the narrative.
The camera does not offer rotation. WASD does not move it. You LMB click to move to a location, and middle mouse scroll to zoom in and out.
Reading, Writing, and Bodily Humors
Highlighted text in the sidebar provides HTML-style hovering references to keywords we are meant to understand are of significance but are oddly most often decorative…like most of the game so far. We are typically afforded two or three text options before sometimes triggering the draw of a Tarot card to influence in a way that has no agency. There is a Tarot card window that implies additional cards are unlockable and collectible but nothing to indicate how to acquire or build them, so we idly click away and follow the path through the maze.
The text choices that are made tend to follow one of four vectors: Animal Instinct, Spryness, Self-Discipline, and Wit, each in turn with their own elemental experience metric – yellow bile, phlegm, blood, and black bile – thematic derivatives for experience points per skill lane. This means you can progress as a generalist across all lanes albeit at a slower pace or start to make decisions based on one or two temperaments to improve your results in that category. Why I might want one over another isn’t clear except I suppose as a matter of curiosity.
I check my journal; it offers a nice concise readable review of my story so far. (Would be cool to be able to export this to a text file; I don’t know why but the reviewer also wishlists this option).
There is a tab to see our current missions around which we should have some curiosity about at this point. This is a wordy game. You are in for a good amount of reading and detail-tracking, and if that is your bag, you may have something here to sink your teeth into.
I’m being offered a choice between two potions. I arbitrarily choose one with “death” on the label and the game ends, offering to let me try that again, which I take, and I am returned to a branch node from before I took that course of action. OK, so not a Rogue-like. Maybe it is checking if I’m paying attention. On my return to the game flow, I opt for the alternative and my stats are replenished. And so on.
Shortly thereafter my game ends again. We suppose this is the end of the demo.
This is also why we don’t review demos.
So what can we say here that we haven’t already said? Sovereign Syndicate will appeal to adventure gamers who like lots of reading and rich story. I never experienced combat like the tactical stuff in Shadowrun Returns, though, which typically elevates the excitement. The fixed camera makes the game feel even more linear, and with little context as to how or why to unlock the Tarot cards that serve as an RNG, I am not especially motivated to care.
That said, the game looks and sounds beautiful and the construction is sound.
Sovereign Syndicate is slated for a 2023 release and will be available via Steam.
Watch the trailer for Sovereign Syndicate below: