Sovereign Syndicate Deep Look
Sovereign Syndicate provides a detailed, colourful, and visually redolent tableau of the Dockyards of London’s East End.
In a futuristic fantasia of a past world that never was, London stakes its claim as the centre of modern 19th-century civilisation. In the gaslamp fantasy setting of Sovereign Society, myth meets ironmongery as the juggernaut of Progress steamrolls ever forward. This adventure title layers on the intrigue in thick slices, sandwiched into the alternating chapters of its three protagonists. It is now available for Windows on Steam.
Atticus Daley is an orphan, a drunkard, a former street performer, and an occasional cutpurse who is literally too bull-headed to leave well enough alone. When a masked stranger comes calling with promises in one hand and naked threats in the other, the past the minotaur never knew is about to haunt him. On a different level of London’s steamier side, Clara Reed spends her evenings singing in the cabaret, her nights discreetly entertaining the rich and powerful in their private chambers, and her days making frantic arrangements to quit London’s smokestacks for good before her own past catches up to her. Finally, Teddy Redgrave is a veteran of at least one war too many, with prosthetic souvenirs to prove his mettle. With his faithful hobby project, Otto the automaton, he hunts the sewers for things that go bump in the night and then makes them scream for mercy.
Sovereign Syndicate takes these three story threads one chapter at a time, each in turn, against a backdrop of mythic racial and class divides, grisly murders, and the threat of a lycanthropic plague, adding new and important details as the characters find themselves drawn deeper into the darker mysteries of this brave, new London.
This game is styled as a western RPG, and it certainly hits most of the salient points of the general gestalt, but it pointedly lacks combat mechanics. The few fights that occur are presented as sequences of narrated still frames, some of which are in part determined by the choices made by the player in the lead-in to the event. Most of the action in this game is through social interaction, with the deciding factor being the drawing of cards. Each character has a set of mental voices within them (though only Atticus seems to notice them as distinct things), providing commentary and dialogue prompts. These include a core personality and four major traits that align with the four emotional humours and the four suits of the Minor Tarot Arcana.
The Major Arcana serve as rôles that open up extra options for dialogue paths if they are available. The player chooses a starting rôle for each character, with an adjusted balance of humours depending on that choice. Over the course of the story, various choices increase their associated humour stats and unlock new rôles. Choices of action, especially opposed actions, require a card draw, with the goal of having the face value of the card plus the character’s relevant stat equalling or surpassing the challenge difficulty. While there does not seem to be any truly crucial checks where a failure might throw the entire game, losing a card draw can mean receiving less detailed information, losing out on details completely, or a less favourable outcome that will still advance the plot. The game automatically saves before conversations or events with skill checks, so save-scumming is an option if the player is intent on somehow winning a draw with a low chance of success, but it isn’t necessary.
Sovereign Syndicate provides a detailed, colourful, and visually redolent tableau of the Dockyards of London’s East End, where tenements are under siege by industrial expansion, women and children go missing in the dark of night, soot covers all and the cobblestones run wet with alcohol, fresh or recycled. The camera angle is often zoomed out to give a better view of the scenery, and deservedly so. While the game does not have voice acting outside its introductory cinematic and a performance by Clara later in the game, the general background of instrumental music and atmospheric noises supports the setting well. It makes for a lovely take on the gaslamp fantasy genre, with the plot to back up the appearance.
Again, Sovereign Syndicate is now available for enjoyment on Steam. I shall continue enjoying it with my limited laptop playing time this semester, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.
Disclosure: This article is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.