Sovereign Syndicate Review — Minotaur Magicians and Other Realities of London Life

Sovereign Syndicate tells a surprisingly human story for a game with so few humans.
Sovereign Syndicate Featured

Jumping into a new game of Sovereign Syndicate can be a bit jarring. Before loading into the game, you’re met with several different archetypes, each focussing on a different character trait that will determine how you play the game. Terms such as “Animal Instincts” are briefly described, but chances are likely that you won’t understand the extent to which each attribute will be important. Since replayability is the point of Sovereign Syndicate, you don’t have to worry too much about having everything figured out for your first run.

This is great because things aren’t any less confusing when you do finally get in the game. A brief and well-written blurb explains that you are Atticus, a minotaur in the back alleys of east London trying to drink yourself to death. A bounty hunter wakes you from your most recent bender, and in your mission to escape collection, you’re off drawing tarot cards and making personality and temperament-changing decisions with very few tutorials.

Sovereign Syndicate Laundry
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Suicidal Minotaurs, tarot-based decision-making, and a period of Londeon quarantining whole blocks of streets for Werewolves are quite a bit to take in on your first playthrough of Sovereign Syndicate. The most confusing bit at first was how the Traot card skill checks worked.

There are often multiple options available during the game’s many long diatribes of dialogue (this is a reading game, so you’d better be ready to read some excellently written, beefy paragraphs). The outcome of your choice is determined by the tarot card associated with each of the attributes listed above.

At first, this system was more complicated than it was; perhaps drawing a different tarot changed the outcome. After a while, however, I realized this was basically a dice roll or random number generator-based success check system. You have your base attribute value, a score you must meet to succeed, and you generate a number to try and match the difference between the two.

Sovereign Syndicate Docks
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Sovereign Syndicate is remarkably close to a tabletop RPG game or Baldur’s Gate for the more digital RPG-inclined audience. This is perhaps why it chooses not to give lengthy or gameplay-interrupting tutorials. The system itself is one many will find familiar, with just some new names for things like “Strength” or “Dexterity.” The system is already very easy to learn for the unfamiliar, with the best method for learning it being simply to play.

There are some clever twists on the system; one that specifically comes to mind is the way your attributes improve based on your dialogue choices. Portrayed as your increase in one of the four humors, behaving a certain way changes your body in ways that reinforce using your favorite traits. Animal Instincts and Wit were my particular favorites on Atticus.

Certain traits are developed from dialogue choices that unlock later dialogue choices, too. The subtle differences in dialogue choices add a shocking depth to how you can approach a familiar scene in a different way every time you play the game.

This familiar system is in stark contrast to Sovereign Syndicate’s worldbuilding, which is wholly original. If you didn’t already get that impression when you started the game as a minotaur in London, then I really don’t know what to tell you.

Sovereign Syndicate’s unique steampunk setting gives the game a wealth of personality. London’s cobbled, oil-slicked streets are made all the more vibrant and fantastical by the inclusion of Centaurs, Cyclops, Dwarves, and airships piloted by brass automatons. Unlike some fantasy settings that do the “mystical creatures in the real world” thing, Sovereign Syndicate’s color cast all feel like they truly belong in the London metropolis. It is as if they have unique cultures molded by the world around them rather than feeling like they were sloppily inserted into the setting.

I am still bitter about the movie Bright.

The inclusion of fantasy creatures makes the world of Sovereign Syndicate no less gritty. Vicious gang wars, racism, and other grim realities of turn-of-the-century London life are boldly and blatantly presented in the narrative. Prostitution and severe substance abuse are subject matters our own protagonists are deeply entrenched in. with no punches pulled in the depiction of vice, sin, and misery.

Sovereign Syndicate Oscar Wilde
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Yes, the writing in Sovereign Syndicate is something special, and I’m glad to have started the new year with such a well-written RPG to wet my palette. It’s hard not to get deeply engrossed in the game’s narrative, especially with such interesting protagonists and characters at every turn.

None are more interesting than Atticus Baley, the sword-cane-wielding, drug and alcohol-addicted magician Minotaur. Atticus starts the game off in spectacular fashion with its first chapter, in which a strange masked individual blackmails Atticus into reliving his dark and mysterious past as an orphaned bovine in London. Themes of drug abuse, abandonment, and an opium-induced flashback make this a phenomenal introduction to the world of Sovereign Syndicate and perhaps my favorite chapter in the game.

While Sovereign Syndicate does many things right, I can imagine the game can be a little hard to play for some players, specifically those who aren’t big readers.

Reading is the majority of the game, with even combat encounters delegated to text-based interaction with some graphic novel-style art to help paint the moment. While the narrative is gripping, the game can feel dull to the more action-oriented brain as there’s little to do beyond point-and-click and read lengthy paragraphs of mostly dialogue and reflective thought.

Sovereign Syndicate Combat
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

I am certainly not complaining about the writing style, as it reminds me a lot of my own (my super secret fictional work that will probably never be shared). That being said, as interesting as the story is, I can understand how the gameplay of walking around a map and clicking to interact with objects can become tedious. At some points, my ADHD began to kick in a bit, and I found myself struggling to stay focused on the game.

While the game may not be the most high-octane experience when it grabs you, it certainly grabs you, and grab you it will. With fantastic characters, a highly interesting story that intertwines our three playable protagonists, and a grim yet fantastical setting that truly stands out for its originality.

The Final Word

Sovereign Syndicate uses a super unique setting and phenomenal writing to tell a multi-faceted story with dark themes and deep introspection on human nature, despite two of the protagonists being a Minotaur and a Dwarf.

9

Try Hard Guides was provided with a PC review copy of this game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! Sovereign Syndicate is available on Steam and GoG.

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges is a hobby writer and a professional gamer, at least if you asked him. He has been writing fiction for over 12 years and gaming practically since birth, so he knows exactly what to nitpick when dissecting a game's story. When he isn't reviewing games, he's probably playing them.

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