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Sovereign Syndicate Review - A Tarot Card-Fueled RPG!



Sovereign Syndicate

Steam/PC

1/15/24

Crimson Herring Studios

Reviewed by SilentSigns


Are you looking for an RPG with tarot cards, Victorian steampunk influences, mythical creatures and a cult shrouded in mystery? If so, you have very specific tastes, but also, I sure have a game for you! This is Sovereign Syndicate from Crimson Herring Studios.


First and foremost, Sovereign Syndicate does deal with some heavy and mature topics, including but not limited to gambling, murder, death, suicide, abuse, opium dens, drug use, sexual themes and brothels, so this one may not be best for playing with younger gamers nearby. Also, it should be fairly obvious from the gameplay you've already witnessed, but this title is HEAVY on the reading, almost to the point of making it feel like a visual novel at times. Characters and locations are introduced with pages of text and conversations with NPCs scroll by on the right side of the screen, introducing branching dialogue paths and the unique tarot card element. We'll get into that a bit more later, but if you're more of an action or strategy fan when it comes to RPGs, this game isn't going to check either of those boxes for you. Whether you're playing or keyboard and mouse or controller, expect the majority of your excitement to come from the story.


So. You're probably wondering how all of the elements I mentioned in the introduction come together to form a single gaming experience. Well, Sovereign Syndicate introduces three main storylines, all of which intertwine. These stories follow orphaned alcoholic minotaur Atticus Daley, badass rebel Clara Reed and fiery engineer Theodore Redgrave with his trusty automaton, Otto. While each protagonist has a unique storyline, you'll very quickly discover that these stories intersect at key points that make for a unique and dynamic adventure.



Players will control all of the characters by navigating them around the 20 locations of this peculiar take on Victorian London, complete with opium dens, centaurs and robots. There is a walk and a run, but both speeds feel pretty darn slow. Fear not, however, as there is a map that allows you to fast travel from one destination to another. As you explore, you'll interact with the many quirky characters of this world who will give you tasks to complete and key plot points to advance the story. Quests include everything from obtaining medication for an employee of the local brothel, collecting rats from the sewers and exploring the orphanage for clues that may lead to your birth mother. You know, typical RPG stuff.


At the beginning of each character's journey, you'll select a tarot card with some starting attributes and a trait that will impact their performance throughout gameplay. Instead of rolling dice or entering into combat to upgrade your characters skills and stats, they'll be upgraded through conversation choices and the tarot card system. Different dialogue choices will impact the various humors that make up your characters, for example black bile is for analysis, blood is for ingenuity and yellow bile is for impulse. Favoring a certain humor will change your character's temperament and potentially unlock new abilities for your characters in the form of unlockable and collectable tarot cards. This also means that some conversation paths will initially be blocked off until you earn that particular skill. Some encounters will have a skill check that is performed by drawing a numbered tarot card. Tarot cards in these decks are numbered from 1 to 14, with the additional option to draw "The Fool," which is an automatic failure, or "The World," which is an automatic success.



You also have a "hope" meter to manage for each character, which will increase, or decrease based on the items you find and interactions you have. Donating money to the orphanage might give you more hope, while finding a dead animal carcass or smoking a cigarette might drop it right back down.


The way that different aspects of the character's personality have a voice in the conversation actually reminded me of Slay the Princess a bit, as your self-discipline might have some different input than your animal instinct and that mysterious "old crone" who keeps inserting her two cents.



Other than that, you're basically just running around, fetching items, completing quests and witnessing the debauchery of this fantastical, fictional London. While the story itself was interesting and the gameplay was surprisingly intuitive, there were a few things that held me back from enjoying Sovereign Syndicate as much as I would have liked, not the least of which were the bugs. On occasion, whichever character I was controlling would get completely, wholly, unequivocally stuck on a barrel, bush or doorway. Once stuck, there was no direction to run, no button to push that could save me from my irreconcilable stuck-ness. Granted, i could still access game menus, inventory, hover my cursor over interactive objects, even access and progress the text from some of those interactions, but nothing could unstick me from (as Scott Stapp would say) my own prison.


At one point I even restarted the game entirely, booted up my save and STILL found myself glued to the same spot. Mercifully, I quickly discovered that, unless I was in one of the many buildings, i could fast travel with the game's map to unstick myself. The bad news? You cannot access this map within a building, rendering you with no other option but to load up your last save and hope that it was prior to your adhesive demise. This bug is frustrating to say the least, and really took me out of any immersion the game had worked so hard to build up through the story, visuals and audio.


The other peculiar quirk I found during my time with Sovereign Syndicate is that, after a while, you start to get duplicate options in the dialogue choices. You can either agree, or agree? The illusion of choice isn't really a choice at all now, is it? This game is quite ambitious and the bulk of its charm shines through from the unique character development that transpires from these dialogue choices and taking that away just makes for an interestingly themes visual novel. Granted, this did not happen every time and it may have to do with the tarot card I chose and how I opted to upgrade my character, but I did wonder why it happened at all.


Other than these flaws, Sovereign Syndicate is a lovely game to look at. The setting paired with the mythical creatures is a bit odd at first, especially with some of the more mature topics, but it grows on you with time. The London streets are well detailed, though a little lacking in life, and some of the locations you can explore are really gorgeous, particularly the opulent hotel and the stained glass of the orphanage. What can I say-- I'm a sucker for stained glass.



There's also some really nice character portrait art that aids your imagination in bringing these characters to life, especially since the game does not include any voice acting to do the job for you. I'm honestly kind of relieved about the lack of voice acting as it can sometimes drag a game down when done on a budget or thrown in as an afterthought.


The soundtracks felt appropriate to the time period, with lush strings and some gorgeous piano accompaniment. The musical pieces here are probably not songs you'll be thinking about for years to come, but they do make a good background for reading, which you'll be doing a lot of.


Overall, I'm right smack dab in the middle on this game. The story is solid, and the tarot/temperament system feels fresh. I do think the bugs can be ironed out with future patches (hopefully before you're even able to purchase a copy for yourself), but it definitely feels like it's lacking a certain amount of excitement that could take it to the next level. I know this is not an action RPG and the events of the story are meant to unfold and entwine at a bit of a slower pace, but that pacing felt like it was a little off for me. Some chapters felt drawn out while others were over in the blink of an eye.


If you're into RPGs without the action and combat and you're willing to wait on a few bug fixes (and put in your reading hours), I'll say give it a go. This development team is onto some really cool concepts, but the gameplay isn't quite there yet for me.


Score - Mediocre

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