My first impression of Sovereignty: Crown of Kings was a crash screen; several of them in fact. This was back in December 2016 and as the game leaves Early Access things are a lot better than they were. There’s also still plenty to be done, but what you have here is an ambitious hybrid of Total War and Europa Universalis IV. You take control of one of several realms within a D&D-esque fantasy world with the aim to carve out your name in history through conquest, diplomacy or… well, more conquest.
One of Sovereignty‘s strengths is that your chosen realm has several campaigns that you can guide them through. These campaigns each have unique objectives semi-tailored to the realm that range from owning a certain number of provinces, to ensuring the demise of a specific rival, to completing several story based objectives.
This gives the game a high degree of replay value and allows you try different factions in different ways. Sovereignty’s repertoire of races include your bog standard humans, orcs, dwarves, elves (high, wood and dark) and the undead. If you’ve ever played the Warhammer or Lord of The Rings tabletop games you’ll be familiar with each race’s style of play. Humans are neither good nor bad at most things, dwarves are all about defense and making use of cannons & such, orcs are melee focused heavy-hitters where elves make extensive use of bows and speed and the undead just lob zombies and other expendable units at a problem till it disappears.
Once your realm & campaign have been selected you’ll be greeted with the overworld map. Here you manage your faction, conduct diplomacy, trade, province improvements and troop training among other fairly standard empire management things. It is here where we run into one Sovereignty’s drawbacks. The UI. Now the UI on an aesthetic level is at least serviceable, but on a functional level it is horrifically slow. Buttons and icons take an eternity registering the cursor and damn near all of the menus slow the game down to a crawl. Some of my past crashes have also been caused by clicking on them in quick succession. Diplomacy is also surprisingly weak in the game with the AI quite often refusing to so much as trade with you unless you offer big bribes.
If empire management is one half of the Sovereignty coin, the other half are the turn-based tactical battles. These are easily the brightest star in Sovereignty‘s sky, especially after numerous updates and improvements to the AI. Back in last quarter of 2016 when I first took Sovereignty for a spin the AI was thicker than pig iron; In numerous battles it abandoned strategic points and defensive positions for seemingly no reason. During one of my first battles I held a pass with only a few battered infantry and three catapults against an orc force that outnumbered me greatly. I managed this not because I’m some deft tactician but because the AI refused to even try and dislodge my dug in troops. Now though after numerous updates the AI now at least presents some kind of challenge, and the whole affair is a lot more engaging.
The bulk of my time in game has been spent controlling the Boruvian Empire, a Holy Roman Empire-esque superpower whose army controls a fair amount, and are kind of like the Wehrmacht in Panzer Corps. Hussars are your Panzer IVs, the tip of your spear, Dragoons are your motorised infantry, Knights and Golden Infantry are your Waffen SS, surveyors are pioneers and so on. It’s whilst commanding my armies that I had the most fun in game. I became attached to my self named 1st and 2nd Imperial Legions as they fought, died and gained experience. After battle individual units will level up and give you a choice of what upgrade you want to give them. This will come in the form of buffing stats or adding abilities, for instance Hussars can gain a second attack (much like when Panzers overrun units in Panzer Corps). A small complaint I do have about the tactical battle system overall is that all races use the same unit icons. So two human armies facing off against each other will look identical aside from the small flags on their unit icons.
One of the more disappointing design choices in Sovereignty is the fact that you can’t take part in a tactical battle if there isn’t a hero at the head of your army. I feel like this choice was made for the sake of balance since you’re a lot less likely to wipe the floor with AI armies in the auto battle mode. But this choice also cuts the beating heart out of Sovereignty’s gameplay loop. Grand strategy and 4X titles such as this are often known for the stories they organically create for players. With diplomacy and interactions between realms being rather basic it falls to war and conflict to fill that void. I’d honestly rather take the entire game being easy and fun rather than it being slightly less easy and not nearly as fun.
Sovereignty also has a magic system that is easily forgettable. There are five levels of magic for each realm to learn that depend on the realm’s alignment but none of the spells are that useful and honestly I think most players could go the entire game without casting one. Unlike something like the Age of Wonders series you can’t level whole cities with a single spell or convert barren deserts into lush forests. Instead they are more mundane things like transporting one unit to another province or making one of your provinces earn more money, although these things are useful. The war spells especially.
Sovereignty: Crown of Kings is a game that feels like it needed a good few months of work… but then it’s probably felt like that since 2015 when it first went into Early Access. Since then there have been countless updates, and even a major engine overhaul. The numerous dev diaries demonstrate that the devs are determined to give Sovereignty a fighting chance and we’re likely to see many more patches in the months to come. Steam reviews and the official forums show that, while the launch build is the most stable it’s ever been, there are still reports of crashes & problems that have plagued the game since the beginning. How representative this is of the majority experience is unknown since not everyone has been experiencing the same problems we have, and more patches are inbound anyway to target some of the worst offenders. Save often, is our best advice although provided you’re game is stable we’d still happily recommend Sovereignty despite some lack-lustre elements.
Overall, this is a solid idea with a pretty decent tactical combat-layer that is sadly clouded over by some questionable design choices, but this is also one to keep an eye on in the months to come.
Sovereignty: Crown of Kings went into Early Access on April 9th, 2015 via Steam. It left Early Access on February 2nd, 2017.