Based out of Canada, Crimson Herring Studios was founded in 2020 and has a passion for well-crafted narratives, new worlds, and creating inclusive games. Their first project, Sovereign Syndicate, is an open-world cRPG that leaves the player in the dark and dangerous corners of steampunk London. There are three characters to choose from with different, yet connected stories – Atticus, the orphaned minotaur magician with an addiction, Clara, a cunning corsair on a mission for vengeance, and Otto, the automaton looking for a bigger, fuller life.
Today we’re taking a look at the just-released demo, which lets us peek at a little bit of Atticus’s story as he wakes up in the Docklands with a price on his head and a mysterious man offering him an alternative to death. You can select from a different set of stats, and then you’re let loose in the dark, dirty backstreets.
I like the open-world aspect of Sovereign Syndicate, and the description wasn’t lying when it said that only your stats (and some wild luck) dictate what you can or can’t do. For example, the game kept reminding me I would probably eventually need to go back to the mysterious man waiting to whisk Atticus away to who knows where… until I found the sewers, in which I started exploring for another way out.
Sovereign Syndicate’s gritty steampunk environment is well-matched to its intense mechanics of chance. I remember looking at my numbers on one option and thinking I had an almost perfect shot – until I pulled a reverse death, giving myself -100 points toward my total. I didn’t succeed, for the record. Every decision you make is informed by a combination of the cards and your statistics, and sometimes one of those things can tip the scale entirely toward your favor or misfortune.
It’s an easy set of rules to get used to – as you progress, you’ll get options on what to say or do. Some of those options will increase your stats, some direct the conversation, and some come with a bit of a risk in return for mysterious rewards. On options with a succeed/pass chance, the number needed to succeed is written next to your current stats – a pretty familiar tabletop experience. The player will get tarot cards to draw, and the result adds to (or subtracts from, if you’re unlucky) their total chance.
I do have to admit I got frustrated at some areas where it seemed like chance after chance was not in my favour – I couldn’t get through doors, open boxes, or win the little tiff I tried to get into. It left me feeling a bit defeated, but it’s hard to tell if that was just an unfortunate match of stats had versus stats required, intentional for that area, or something that would be prevalent later throughout the game. As you make decisions, you can choose options that increase your stats and skills, letting you focus on the areas you want to improve most, so it’s also possible I just spread out my points too much.
The story is well set up, and the demo wraps up with a mystery that I’ll be looking forward to solving in the future, as the masked man starts to ask some important questions about Atticus’s mother – a figure he barely remembers… So far, I think this will be a good fit for players who enjoy text-based choices, exploration, and the classic RPG experience (think games like Baldur’s Gate, Divinity: Original Sin 2, etc).
If you’re wanting to give it a try for yourself, the Sovereign Syndicate demo is out today! Hopefully down the road we’ll be back with our impressions of a full release and the rest of the character choices.
Order Up! is a column featuring indie-focused reviews, news, or interviews! We like old games just as much as new ones and are always looking for something to check out. Have a game recommendation, a project, or a company you want to talk about? Email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @ArcanaChance