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  • Writer's pictureJunoh Seo

Review: Sovereign Syndicate


Developer: Crimson Herring Studios

Publisher: Crimson Herring Studios

Available on: PC (Windows)


Sovereign Syndicate is an isometric single-player CRPG reminiscent of Disco Elysium in its focus on narrative storytelling and non-traditional game mechanics. It places heavy emphasis on text and dialogue, and characters organically develop based on your decisions during the gameplay. You play as 3 (technically 4, but two of their stories are deeply connected) protagonists, rotating to a different character each chapter as the story progresses.


The aesthetics and setting of Sovereign Syndicate can be defined with three keywords - Victorian England, steampunk, and fantasy. The game is primarily based on 19th-century London during the peak of the British Empire - the industries are booming, and the empire’s colonies are ever-expanding. Yet, at the same time, the impoverished are drowning themselves in cheap gin and sleeping in coffins while a Jack the Ripper-esque serial killer is on the loose. Add a healthy dose of cogs, gears, brass, and automatons, and top it off with elements of high fantasy like lycanthropy to get the gist of Sovereign Syndicate’s setting. I found the setting quite similar to the Shadowrun RPG series, especially the way how it presents a rather grounded setting but with advanced technology and fantasy elements weaved into the world. 



Alongside regular humans, fantasy races like centaurs, cyclopes, and werewolves are all a part of the citizenry of London. The resulting complex relationship between different races becomes a recurring theme throughout the game - for instance, werewolves are the most disenfranchised and scorned group due to them becoming feral and very dangerous while under the full moon. Medication that relieves the symptoms of lycanthropy is prohibitively expensive. Many characters suspect that the dreaded Courtesan Killer’s identity is a werewolf, and there is a ‘containment zone’ surrounded by electrified fences to cordon off the werewolf population while they are transformed. 



In terms of gameplay, while you can explore the open world of East London freely with all characters, Sovereign Syndicate is very text-heavy and narrative-driven. The game definitely takes a lot of inspiration from Disco Elysium - to name a few, the game is dialogue-centered with certain choices locked behind specific personality traits or the character’s mental state, and each character also has multiple internal voices representing different parts of a character’s psyche. The name of these voices also varies from character to character - a minotaur’s inner voices include ‘animal instinct,’ ‘self-discipline,’ and ‘wit,’ a courtesan has ‘grace,’ ‘tact,’ and ‘intellect,’ while a dwarf engineer has ‘analysis,’ ‘impulse’ and ‘ingenuity.’



Another point of resemblance between Disco Elysium and Sovereign Syndicate is how characters develop throughout their journey. Based on the character background you choose when starting each character's story, they can gain certain characteristics represented by a deck of Tarot Cards, which allows you to choose new dialogue options or decisions.



There’s a similar mechanic called the ‘Temperament’ gauge that ranges from Desperate to Hopeful. Unlike Tarot Cards that are permanently assigned to a character once obtained, temperament constantly changes throughout the game depending on what the player experiences, does, or even thinks. Positive experiences like taking a bath, eating a fresh fruit, or having positive thoughts increase a character’s hope. Witnessing death, rummaging through filth, or pessimistic thoughts do the opposite. 



Combat is a rare occurrence in this game. In fact, it would be more accurate to call them a series of skill checks rather than a proper combat encounter, at least in comparison to most other CRPGs. Combat in Sovereign Syndicate mostly plays out on its own like an interactive comic page, though the contents can change depending on the options you choose and whether you succeed or fail a skill check. I enjoyed the stylized aesthetics and felt like it was a more original approach compared to, say, a regular cutscene or cinematic.


The writing of Sovereign Syndicate was quite good overall, which is important if the game heavily relies on its quality. The protagonists have distinct voices and personalities, but the dialogue options are varied enough to allow several different interpretations of the protagonists. Depending on what background and play style you choose, the same player character can become a brutish drunkard or a retrospective, street-smart hustler. I also liked the large amount of period-appropriate vocabulary and slang used in dialogues, which made the writing feel more authentic and realistic for the setting. Fortunately, this does not mean you need to keep a dictionary or Google tab open just to understand what the characters are saying. Words and expressions not commonly used nowadays are highlighted in yellow, and a brief explanation appears when you move your cursor over them.



There were a few moments where the game was a little rough around the edges. Without spoiling anything, there was one time I failed to persuade a certain NPC due to failing a skill check. At that time, I didn’t realize that it would actually be important to the main plot and did not pursue it further, instead choosing to move on with the story. Thus, I failed to obtain any information from said NPC, but apparently, the game did not account for the possibility of a player failing the check and also not following up on the lead - later, one of the loading screen texts for a chapter basically spoiled me to a big twist. As Baldur’s Gate 3 recently demonstrated splendidly, consequences and reactivity to player decisions are what make players feel like their choices matter. It is an important aspect of any RPG, but especially for story-rich games like Sovereign Syndicate, and it was admittedly disappointing to see such an oversight.


Additionally, the game could also benefit from having a dialogue log for quality of life, which is a pretty common mechanic in CRPGs nowadays. There are no quest markers in this game, and directions are usually given during dialogues, but currently, there is no way to look back at the conversation logs in case you forget where you were supposed to go.


Overall, Sovereign Syndicate is a solid narrative-driven CRPG with a well-developed setting and solid storyline. The writing is great at immersing you into the world of Victorian steampunk London. While it is a bit of a slow burner at the start, the story quickly picks up pace as the different playable characters begin to come together and their journeys intertwine. For RPG enjoyers, this game would be a fine addition to their library and is definitely worth checking out.


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