Reviewed on PC
Suzerain begins with a sizeable prologue, detailing your upbringing in the troubled Eastern state of Sordland. You get to decide your background, your education, your level of engagement with a rising revolutionary movement. All of these choices paint the picture of a nation coming undone so it can try to mend itself; the story details your rise into the world of politics and your eventual election as President, taking over from a disastrous presidency that nearly destroyed the nation. You have made a lot of promises to the people. You promise Change, you promise a brighter tomorrow.
Suzerain goes to great lengths to show you how dangerous idealism can be in our real world and how easy it can be to compromise your values to get a win.
Rather than functioning as a resource management sim, Suzerain is very much a diplomacy sim. The game is built around scripted meetings with cabinet members, advisors, political donors, rivals, and other such figures you may cross in the career of a politician. You are presented with political dilemmas, often veritable diplomatic minefields, and you need to make a choice that invariably leads to someone being unhappy. You can take the advice from your cabinet but there are often conflicting figures within, each vying for your support with their own motives.
Your choices risk creating enemies. Within your government, in the opposition, in big business, or with potential terrorists. There are few easy answers, with every choice you make you are seemingly creating more problems or yourself. You can be a virtuous and principled man and anger the establishment, you can make difficult choices that compromise your campaign promises and enrage the people, the game allows you to choose your own path and it will not be shy about the consequences that you will face.
There are limited resources to manage, namely your budget and your own personal wealth. These are handled simply, complex budgets are presented as basic numbers that you have to track. Projects will be proposed to you to help bolster the economy, or dangers across the borders and on the city streets may require the military or police to request more funding. This cavalcade of strife requires you to make hard choices about where your priorities lie. When you choose to allocate funds somewhere the number goes down, if you find yourself successful then the number goes up.
You also need to manage your personal life. Your relationships with your wife, your children, your troubled vice president, even your doting secretary and overly familiar driver. Every second of this game is demanding choices that could pay off or haunt you in the near future. Suzerain can be a ruthless game, but never an unfair one. The issues raised in every meeting feel plausible, the troubles you face don't occur out of nowhere, all of these events develop organically and you can trace them back to a series of choices made earlier in the game.
The UI for Suzerain is beautifully clean. You are presented with a map of the country with markers for every city or town or political building, each round will present you with some key meetings (either personal or professional) and a lot of optional news articles that you can read to assess your progress. The meetings are presented with simple text, with icons signifying which of your advisors, allies, or adversaries are speaking at the time. The writing is sharp and thoughtful, they have not tackled this world with kid gloves, there is a lot of complex debate raging in the text but it is never so daunting that you cannot understand what is being asked of you. The writing is smart but clear.
But there is a lot of writing. Suzerain has a very visual novel approach to gameplay, it will require a lot of time spent reading reams of text, before making a dialogue choice of your own. If this does not sound like a compelling gameplay loop to you, Suzerain will likely bore you to tears. There are no mini-games to diversify things, the resource management is limited and only really changes after a dialogue choice, it is not a system that you can alter mid-game. The real appeal of Suzerain comes from reading a lot of grippingly written dialogue and trying to use your best judgment to navigate these labyrinths of moral crisis. If you are enticed by the tension of every choice potentially ruining you or the country, you will be in for a ride with Suzerain.