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Suzerain | game review

I'd rather be in Arstotzka.

A part of the map of Sordland from Suzerain

Game summary: Navigate a political drama driven by conversations with your cabinet members. With looming war, rooted corruption, economic crisis and reform needed, the choices fall on your shoulders. (Steam)

Suzerain is probably best described as a narrative-led political game, where you play as Anton Rayne, newly-elected President of Sordland and trying to figure out the best path to a brighter(?) future for your country. Or you can be as corrupt as you like, establishing a military state, starting wars, or even amassing personal wealth by taking every back-handed deal offered to you.

On the presentation front, it's pretty basic, being mainly text-driven. Fortunately, the writing is pretty bloody good and the majority of the characters are at the very least intriguing to interact with as you make various decisions and oversee crises. There is a new update coming out soon which I believe is going to add some more visual flair, but it's not really the kind of game that needs amazing visuals to work well.

I will warn though that Suzerain is a game you maybe only want to play once, or at least leave lengthy gaps between playthroughs as playing it twice in quick succession (I wanted to go for the greedy route and make myself rich on my second playthrough) can expose some serious flaws in how the game was designed, mainly regarding how the narrative side of things can sometimes not match the underlying systems.

What you won't see are the various scores each action is given, instead of having to rely on what your advisors and/or reports and polls tell you, or your own intuition/decision-making. The problem is that those hidden scores can lead to one ending, even if your narrative choices seem to be heading in a completely different direction.

To use my second playthrough as a greedy President as an example: I amassed a lot of money, was warned of a potential coup and moved my money out of the country, then warned my family that we needed to go and would do so that night. That was then completely ignored as a neighbouring country decided to declare war on Sordland. All well and good, but why was my character still there?

That was ultimately what dragged down Suzerain from what seemed like a great game on my first attempt down to 'merely' good on my second - the conflict between story and systems is a little too much for me to ignore, and it did sour me on the game as a result of my personal choices being rendered irrelevant as the hidden score system overrode it all for an ending that felt like it came out of nowhere.

Suzerain is a brilliant game to play through... the first time. Once you know what's going to happen, it becomes a little easier to spot the cracks and even 'break' the game, ending up with the story and how everything turns out not quite matching up. Still, it's a relatively sedate affair that anyone can pick up and play, and it's usually quite cheap too - especially in sales. One to at least try if you have any interest in political games.

[7/10 - Good]



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