Between Ara History Untold, Millennia, Cities Skylines 2, Civilization 7, and Total War Pharaoh, there are a lot of new strategy and management sims on the way. Solium Infernum seems different from all of them. A combination of Civ, Doom, and – according to its developer – a bit of Dark Souls, Solium casts you as one of several archfiends vying for control of the infernal throne after the sudden disappearance of Lucifer. Military might is important, but the key to victory in Solium is bureaucracy, politics, psychology, and manipulation. Imagine navigating the back-biting, gossiping, and fickle cliques of high school, but while simultaneously fighting a blood feud in the lowest reaches of damnation. After a lot of anticipation, we’ve finally had the chance to play Solium. Even better, you can, too, thanks to a huge new demo now available via Steam Next Fest.
Compared to most other strategy games, the decisions you make in Solium Infernum are fewer and further between. You aren’t moving dozens and dozens of units per turn, or navigating menus, tech trees, and an ever-complex economy. Developer League of Geeks wants to cut out the mindless busy work and make every choice, every tactic, and every psychological manoeuvre have meaning. You make fewer decisions, but they all carry much more weight.
I’ll give you an example. Playing as Andromalius, the androgynous, blond, and beautiful fallen angel consumed by narcissism, I click the ‘sanctum’ tab which takes me to my own private chamber, away from the demonic hordes who do my marshall bidding. Here, I decide I’ll use one of my moves this turn to ‘calculate a new plot.’ Andromalius scratches their chin, a devious smile falls upon their face, and we jump to the next turn.
Now, the results of my internal scheming and plotting are presented to me. I can either claim a nearby landmark, which boosts my overall ‘prestige’ level and moves me closer to victory, or move to acquire a new praetor to boost the strength of my army – alternatively I can choose the option to ‘dismiss these thoughts’ and try to generate a different scheme.
Vainly checking my nails, I deign that the landmark ought to be mine, and thus my plot is executed. But there’s a problem. The ever-volatile Infernal Conclave has decided that Erzsebet, the hairless, winged demon who embodies the sin of lust, is their new favorite to take over from Satan, building her prestige level to intimidating new heights.
The first archfiend to reach a certain level of prestige is elected ruler and wins the game, so I need to exact a plan to reduce Erzsebet in front of Hell’s power brokers. Storming into the Conclave, I openly insult her in front of the entire political elite. If she rejects my insult, it will launch us into a state of war, meaning I can march into her borders whenever I want. If she accepts it, she’ll be humiliated, and her prestige will go down significantly.
These are the subtle power games that make Solium Infernum unique. You don’t just build new units – you bid for them, competing with the other archfiends at the infernal bazaar to win the fealty of Hell’s mightiest praetors. Likewise, you can’t win through military prowess alone. You need to plot, scheme, insult, disparage, and, in some cases, form uneasy alliances. Astaroth, for example, is the underworld’s most fearsome general, so I offer to become his vassal and manipulate the Conclave on his behalf.
He agrees, and suddenly, the strongest armies Hell has ever known are backing me up against Erzsebet. What Astaroth doesn’t know however is that, at the start of the game, I selected an ability called ‘Power Behind the Throne’ – if his prestige reaches the level necessary for a victory, or he captures Hell’s capital, Pandaemonium, his loyal vassal, me, will suddenly murder him and take power for myself.
Subtle, funny, and with a focus on psychology and political strategy, Solium Infernum is unlike any strategy game I’ve played in years. There’s a lot to learn, but the tutorial does a terrific job of showing you around. Similarly, if you’ve already got a penchant for the Machiavellian and the sinister, Solium feels wonderfully intuitive – as well as “the Dark Souls of strategy games,” League of Geeks calls Solium a “friendship destruction simulator,” where you can use its asynchronous, postal-chess style of multiplayer to betray and backstab your buddies over a period of days.
You can find out more about Solium Infernum thanks to our exclusive interview with its creators, or try the game out for yourself right now, thanks to a free demo available as part of Steam Next Fest.