Suzerain is one of a kind. Ever since its release back in December of last year, I’ve seen a lot of people describe it as a “political simulator”, but I honestly think that couldn’t be further from the truth. While I understand where such claims come from, I really wouldn’t compare Suzerain to a game such as Democracy, which is what I’d call an actual “political simulator”. At its core, Suzerain is exactly what I’d describe as a text-based narrative-driven game, very much like a choose-your-own-adventure kind of experience.
Suzerain puts you in the shoes of Anton Rayne, the 4th President of Sordland. The game is heavily inspired by the political climate of the world during the Cold War era, but everything in it is entirely fictional. There are various different countries, cultures, nations, global superpowers, and organizations that are completely made up, but they’re obviously inspired by others that exist in the real world. In this aspect, Suzerain’s world feels extremely believable, as everyone has their political agenda and is fighting for survival. There’s no-nonsense going on here.
Now, in regards to the game itself, the entire game pretty much takes place on the same screen, which is the map of Sordland and the surrounding regions. Although there might not be much to see besides that, there’s certainly plenty to read. The game does an exceptional job at providing optional background information for those that would like to know more about the game’s world. There’s a full-blown Codex, and every now and then, you’ll see highlighted text references to locations, organisations, characters, and just the overall history of the world, which you can click to learn more about them. As someone who likes to spend their time reading codex and lore entries in most games, I can definitely appreciate this extra step as a means of immersing myself in the world of Suzerain even more.
Despite a few grammatical errors here and there, the writing itself is pretty good. It didn’t really matter if I was just reading through some random thing in the Codex, or if I was having a conversation with another character. The writing always made me feel as if I was there, where everything was happening. Even though the game only offers a visual representation of its map and character portraits, I could actually picture, in my own head, the scenarios being described. Therefore, just like that, it was as if the game was actually unfolding in front of me, instead of just being text on a screen that I was reading. When a game manages to pull that off, you know it’s doing something exceptionally well.
It was definitely not the gameplay that managed to keep me hooked throughout my 20+ hours playthrough. If you are looking for something mechanically challenging or engaging, then this certainly isn’t it. Where Suzerain excels, is in telling an extremely compelling narrative that evolves as you make various choices. These choices are presented to you in various different ways, simple replies to other characters during dialogue, signing bills, proposing laws, making promises and fulfilling them, choosing between several investment opportunities in the form of infrastructure, siding with different political factions, managing the governmental budget, and so on. There are plenty of these, and simple choices that may make you feel like everything is going to be alright, might come back later to haunt you. The game is full of twists and surprises.
I mentioned that it took me around 20 hours to complete my first playthrough, but in truth, your playtime will vary depending on how fast you can read, and if you do want to read the entirety of the game’s Codex, which I personally recommend. There are also numerous small classified reports and newspaper articles that you can also check out. With that said, if you just go for the main story, I estimate that it would probably take most people about 15 hours to complete their first playthrough. Subsequent playthroughs will most likely be shorter, unless you’re going to make sure that you read through everything that you’ve already read when you first played through the game.
Speaking of which, Suzerain is a great game in terms of replayability. Still, despite being eager to play through the game again and take Sordland and my presidency in a different direction, I do find it discouraging that I’ll have to sit through hours worth of text just to get to the point of making the choices that actually matter. It would’ve been nice to have some sort of timeline feature that would allow players to expedite the process of replaying the game, but I understand that this would probably require a significant investment in terms of development resources.
Given what the game offers, I honestly think that Suzerain is a steal at full price. The game offers a pretty unique and exceptionally captivating branching narrative through a vastly simplified political game framework. Furthermore, Sordland and its characters have left a lasting impression on me, and while there are certainly a few moments where the story takes too long to develop, the constant stream of hard decisions that you have to make to make sure that you keep your country and your presidency afloat manage to keep things interesting throughout the entire game. I highly recommend Suzerain to anyone who’s into games with a great story and characters, as long as they don’t mind reading. However, if you are looking for something that leans more on the strategic and management side of things, then this will most likely not be up your alley.