There is a moment early in the demo that hooked me immediately to the prospect of Torpor Games’ Suzerain. You are going through the early life of the main character Anton Rayne and you are given a choice at the birth of your first son to either sacrifice time with your family to focus on work and growing your influence within the ruling political party or you can sacrifice work to be with your son and family. The right answer seems obvious on its face, but if you sacrifice time at work to be with your family, the bulk of the political influence that will eventually put Anton into the Presidency will be gained by his friend and confidant Petr Vectern. While on the surface Petr is gregarious and we have a near life-long friendship with him, in a world rife with intrigue and civil war, the thought of not having any direct political influence shook me. So, I restarted the game and did what every public figure since Julius Caesar has done: sacrificed my family for my ambitions.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am a giant nerd when it comes to history, literature, law and politics. This has clashed with my love of video games because it is very, very rare to find a good political game. It’s either over-idealized or over-simplified, with a lot of weight going towards the simulator aspects of the game rather than what makes politics so interesting. Capturing that cold essence is hard without also capturing the small details of the political world. The backroom deals, the rivalries, the grit of governing a country and not just dictating it and the tiny moments of humanity that makes it the compelling and, dare I say, addictive. I was convinced that because of that, we might never see a proper political drama in a video game.
So, you can only imagine my gratitude to Torpor Games and Fellow Traveller for making my old dream come true. The demo for Suzerain is just over an hour and a half and, to be fair, the beginning is a bit of a slow burn. Your first fifteen to thirty minutes will be in character creation: molding the life of Anton Rayne through years of revolution, dictatorship and struggling attempts at democracy. Your choices have immediate short and long term consequences as mentioned before. However, beyond that, I can’t think of a better way to have introduced us to this world than this. It perfectly fleshed out the world while giving us a complex character to take the wheel of.
Then comes the ‘testing’.
Your immediate first choice will be to make budget priorities for your administration. Those priorities will be immediately tossed when meet with your cabinet and start having briefings on the state of the nation. Parliament is demanding a new constitution that broadens its powers, the Supreme Court are filled with old conservatives determined to scuttle any reforms, the market is divided between state institutions and oligarchs: neither side caring that the economy is in a literal free-fall and, oh yeah, this is 1954. Even in a fictional nation, you still have to deal with the Cold War.
Suzerain sets all of this up beautifully: outright mocking your intentions in the softest way possible as the political realities you face as President become clearly with every new interaction. Luckily, everything you need is available to you from the start. You have ample research into the history of the nation, current factions, organizations and actors as well as how they’re all connected. This also includes sections from the media of Sordland: giving you the political temperature across all major factions. While it’s not the full game yet, reading up on everything you can will help you make the best possible decisions for the long game. It’s a smart way to approach what will be a complicated game and I applaud it.
From there, you have to start making decisions. The biggest decisions the demo presents you with is what state project you want to fund to help boost the economy, how do you want to approach Constitutional reform and what is the price of your soul? That last one my throw a few for a loop, but as President, the major players in Sordland would prefer your actions didn’t impact their wealth.You can try to get through the game without selling out, but the reality is that all that will do is make you enemies at a time in this nation where the President cannot afford too many.
So, how much is your soul worth? Where can you bend and make alliances that don’t hurt the long-term plan? There is no right answer here: just the best call you can make. And those choices, those painfully human choices, kept me thinking about them long after I shut the demo off. Oh, that and another event that I will not spoil here. However, it changes the very nature of the Rayne Administration and is so clearly well-researched from recent history it deserves to be experienced as freshly as possible.
In fact, that is something Suzerain has going for it that many don’t: research. Every detail of the world, from the history of Sordland to its unique take on the Cold War, is clearly built on historical evidence. If you didn’t tell me its was fictional, I could easily believe Sordland was another Central Asian nation like Azerbaijan, Pakistan or Kazakhstan that we just don’t hear that much about, but are strategical vital to our interests. An amazing job was done just on that front alone and I cannot wait to see how that influences the full game.
You have a severely limited time to sample this one for yourselves. Since it was apart of the LudoNarroCon festival, the demo will only be up on Steam for a few more days as of the posting of this article. You can check it out here and I highly recommend you do so. In my humble opinion, this is a dark horse for Game of the Year. It has that much going for it and if the full game fulfills the demo’s potential, Suzerain could set the standard for its subgenre for years to come.