I love games with unique concepts and/or execution. There are plenty of experimental and avant-garde video games to find on the internet (especially on sites like itch.io), but by their nature most of these games have low production value—if not incredibly interesting concepts. When a game merges unique execution and great presentation value, it’s a dream. Suzerain is one such game—and one I was definitely surprised by.
The first surprise about Suzerain was its genre. Its product page looks like a management or even Tycoon-style game. It’s definitely not that, though it does have management aspects. In its description, it’s called a role-playing text-based adventure, and I can’t really agree with that either. One of its tags on the store page is “Choose Your Own Adventure” alongside Diplomacy and Economy—and I think that’s a pretty apt description. But it’s hard to pin down exactly what genre Suzerain falls into.
The next surprise was just how damn intriguing Suzerain is once I got past its premise. I have to admit: being president in a political drama set in a 1950’s alternate earth doesn’t exactly make me want to drop all the other games I’m playing. But the writing is well done, and the alternate-Earth world-building is superb. When you start the game, you create your version of Anton Rayne—making decisions at key moments in his life leading up to his rise to presidency. You have a choice of upbringing, class, education, etc. These decisions will shape your character, and his future.
Decision-making is what Suzerain is all about. The gameplay consists of text-based scenarios and conversations—and every decision you make can potentially change how the story plays out. You can choose to be a ruler that listens to his people or one that rules with an iron fist. Whether you’re benevolent or trying to line your own pockets, there will be consequences for your choices—and challenges to overcome.
When you take the reins of president of Sordland, you inherit a country with a handful of problems. There is unrest, and the economy is in shambles. The people are pushing for reform, but reform might not be easy to sell to policymakers. You’re the fourth president, coming in after the former president resigns following a twenty year term. There is a lot of history to Sordland—and to understand its bloody history, you can check out the internal codex—an indispensable tool which is always easily accessible with only a click or two. Even with the codex, there is a lot of nuanced history and information dumped on you to start.
Your connection to the daily goings-on around Sordland is the map, and the media. Newspapers from all parts of the political spectrum will report on current events, including how the people are responding to your policies. You will also receive briefings, and discuss policy matters with your cabinet. There are also several tools you have to manage your country. The country overview shows your active policies, and current situations in order from most-dire to least. But you can’t really choose which issues to address directly—instead, you’re sort of stuck to the narrative, and can only react to where that takes you. Luckily, the story is as interesting as its world building is superb.
Suzerain, according to its product page, has over 400,000 words. It’s as much like playing a game as reading a novel, and choosing the next move—choose your own adventure-style. There really isn’t a right answer, or an explicit winning scenario. It’s really about where you want the story to go, and whether you can succeed at that. There will be lots of forces trying to fool and manipulate you to their own end, and it’ll be up to you who you can trust, and your playthrough will have you grappling with internal and external threats.
Suzerain is an interesting concept with a great execution, but it’s a niche concept. I don’t know how many people want to play a mostly text-only choose your own adventure with light management elements—but I’m glad I had the chance to, because it’s pretty damn good. Suzerain has a deep, well written narrative with a wide cast of characters and an alternate Earth lore that is phenomenal. I totally recommend it, especially if you don’t mind heavy reading.
Suzerain is available tomorrow for Windows via Steam.
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