by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
The best selling strategy game of all time is probably not anything that starts with Command & Conquer or Starcraft. My money's on the board game Risk to hold that title. Compared to the average video strategy game Risk has incredibly simple rules but that doesn’t make the game any less of a challenge against an experienced player. I don’t think the developers of Sovereignty: Crown of Kings set out to create something similar to Risk, but that’s what they’ve ended up with.
Sovereignty has the player take control of a high-fantasy nation, raise armies, develop the economy and conquer the map one province at a time. It sounds a bit more generic than it actually is. Starting the game, you could even get the impression that you’re playing a game with the depth and complexity of a Paradox grand strategy title. I’m fairly certain that it was intended to be similar but it really is just an impression. Once you get past the game’s overwhelming presentation and start to block out and ignore areas that have not been fleshed out, what is left is a bit more complex than Risk but not by much.
The map is a smorgasbord of lines, icons and geographical features. Some objects are clickable, others reveal their information by hovering over them, and some that you’d expect to do one or the other that do nothing at all. Navigation through the game’s menu is an adventure all in itself. Sometimes buttons open a new window, sometimes they communicate information through a panel positioned directly in the menu, and occasionally the menu gets ‘stuck’ until you click on one of your armies on the map to get your menu back.
It’s not just the navigation that is confusing either. Sovereignty’s battles play out turn by turn on a tactical map, or do they? About half the time I get the choice to control the battle, the other half the game forces me to watch the two sides take potshots at each other while still on the campaign map. There is no indication what it is that triggers the manual battle, it just… happens. The battles that I did get to control were less than satisfying. More often than not the AI refused to engage and there were battles in which the enemy was not moving at all. There is no sport in taking down one frozen unit after another. When the AI does fight back there is very little to make me think that there was any time spent balancing units and factions in any way. Playing with the tiny nation of Aevinwode, I quickly learned the power of their Elven Bows unit. My all-ranged armies have been making mincemeat of the armies of even the largest empire on the map. It wasn’t until all but one of my neighbors started attacking me that I broke a sweat.
Many aspects in the game hint towards the intention of creating a game with more depth but a lot of them seem to have missed their mark or gone missing in action. Provinces for instance, can be upgraded with a variety of buildings that reduce unit upkeep, increase research points or add a bit of extra gold to your nation’s coffers. Each requires at least one special resource such as wool or stone. If you do not produce any, you can obtain these goods from the market. Or that’s the theory. The market is usually devoid of any goods, only salt shows up with any form of regularity. You could trade with other nations, except they charge an arm and a leg for the items that actually matter. It got so tedious hearing no all the time that I stopped trying entirely. I got a little angry about that at first but then realized that most of it does not actually matter. Tax money is plentiful, my Elven Bows remain unbeaten and magic is so underdeveloped that you can skip it without a care in the world.
Early Access: A Horror Story
It’s a little unsettling to see just how unfinished and unbalanced the game really is after two years in Early Access. Sovereignty: Crown of Kings has all the markings of a grand strategy game, but they’re just that – markings. The developers set out to develop a deep game but someone must have fumbled the marching orders. The playable part, at least when the game is not crashing, boils down to a game of Risk with more different units and the occasional card to boost the units in the field and everything else is just fluff and distraction. Recruit, move, attack, defend – rinse and repeat. It’s serviceable but not a lot of fun.
The parts that are not fleshed out can safely be ignored
Regular crashes, broken AI, unbalanced