Doom and Civilization may not seem like the most comfortable of bedfellows. But Solium Infernum, the 2009 PC underground classic, takes the gore and demons of id Software’s FPS and mixes it with the politicization and tactics of Firaxis’ definitive strategy game. And now it’s getting a massive AAA remake: Solium Infernum has never looked better, and it’s a strategy with an intriguing psychological twist.
Strategy games often have a specific idea of what “strategy” means. It is the strategy of correctly choosing where to build, cunningly and efficiently amassing resources, and using them, in turn, to tactically deploy military units. But, in what is often portrayed as a generations-long conflict between civilizations, a grand opera of technology, culture, and martial prowess, one particular form of strategy is commonly neglected or underutilized when it comes to narrative and mechanics.
I basically imagine myself as a thinker; a master manipulator; a psychological tactician who uses politics, negotiation and deception (at least in strategy games) to get what he wants through subtle Machiavellian maneuvers. I still want a good war every now and then. I want to design my empire to become bigger, richer, and more architecturally imposing. But when it comes to dealing with my opponents in strategy games, I prefer to defeat them using wits and words.
“Where a lot of games spend 80 percent of their time on the board and 20 percent on diplomacy, we’re the opposite,” says Trent Kusters, co-founder of developer League of Geeks and director of Solium Infernum, “We’re trying to capture Hell in a way you’ve never seen in video games before.” Originally created in 2009 by a single developer, Vic Davis, Solium Infernum has become an underground cult classic among PC strategy gamers, known for its profound military and political tactics, and its vivid depiction of a hell where bureaucracy , honor and The demonic conclave in constant internal struggle are the kings. League of Geeks, which previously developed the digital board game Armello, is taking all the basic principles and concepts of Davis’s Solium Infernum and remaking it from the ground up as an ambitious AAA strategy game.
The fundamental premise is the same: Lucifer, ruler of hell, has disappeared, leaving his minions “archfiends” to fight and fight for the infernal throne. Otherwise, this is a completely modern take on a hardcore PC.
Visually, Solium Infernum is a classic, almost romantic vision of Hell, drawn from the works of Dante and Henry Milton. Instead of fire, brimstone, and wandering hordes of snarling demons, there are towering white marble steeples, organized units of soldiers and praetors, and a twisted sense of society and order: the conclave itself resembles a Roman senate, with the archdemons more like venal and selfish politicians than bloodthirsty beasts.
It doesn’t look like Doom, but at the same time it has a distinctive style that is a departure from Civilization or Age of Empires, a vibrant clash of reds, blacks and sulfuric oranges that makes Solium Infernum jump off the screen. The map is also different. Again consistent with Dante’s Inferno, the geography of Hell is not bound by the physical rules of reality. Your enemy may be mounting his army to the west, but if you move far enough, you’ll find the same troops massed in the east.
“It’s this classic notion of Hell,” says Kusters. “The map scrolls north to south, west to east, so in our Hell, no matter where you start, you’re always surrounded. You can’t put your back against the wall. It also uses a simultaneous turn structure, so when I take my turn, you take your turn. We don’t know what the other is doing.” Watching Kusters play, all of these systems – the bureaucracy, the looping, claustrophobic map, and the unfamiliar nature of each player’s turns – create a great sense of power struggle and paranoia.
Each playable archenemy has five different abilities, essentially military power, Machiavellian intelligence, dark magic, resource gathering, and political influence. You’ll need to call them all to win the game, which you can do by gaining a higher reputation or “prestige” level than your opponents, or by capturing the capital of Hell, Pandemonium, and holding it for five turns. Kusters has his own strategy. Besieged by Astaroth, Hell’s Mightiest General and Brute Force-style Designated Archenemy, they promise that in just a handful of turns, they can turn the tide of the game without engaging in a single battle or spilling a drop of blood.
Kusters begins by going to the infernal conclave and demanding tribute, in the form of cash and resources, from one of the other archenemies. This gives his opponent two options: accept the deal and give Kusters what he wants, or reject it and be thrown into a “vendetta”, basically a state of war that would give Kusters carte blanche to enter the opponent’s territory and cause trouble. . Faced with that ultimatum, the rival gives up the resources, allowing Kusters to cast a spell that allows them to steal stealthily and harmlessly. something of one of his enemies.
Earlier in the game, Kusters used another type of magic to reveal that one of his rivals possessed a special artifact, an artifact that could be used to summon a unique and colossal unit called a titan. With his new spell, built from the conclave’s resources, Kusters steals this artifact and brings it to his own base.
At this point, another archenemy officially insults Kusters in front of the conclave, and they are again presented with a choice. If Kusters responds to the insult, he will initiate a vendetta with his opponent. This can be resolved through full-scale warfare or, more delightfully, trial by combat: in an entirely separate minigame, Kusters and his opponent can choose their most powerful praetors to fight one-on-one in defense of the honor of Kusters. the rulers. . It’s a tempting prospect, but Kusters has other plans. Though he hurts his prestige level, they simply resist the public insult and quietly return to their subterfuge.
Astaroth keeps banging on the door, and another archenemy’s armies are closing in from the east (and west, thanks to the looping map). With little by way of army, Kusters needs to assert his power and push everyone back without pleading, negotiating, and betraying his vulnerability. And the key is that stolen artifact. Using the power from it, Kusters summons a titan, towering over the game’s map and making Astaroth’s legions suddenly seem insignificant. He has no order to attack: Kuster simply enters the conclave; metaphorically, so to speak, he nods at the titan; and all the other arch-enemies meekly agree to move away from the borders.
Through cunning politics, knowing when to fight and when to negotiate, and a sort of Cold War doctrine of mutually assured destruction: put your armies on me, I’ll put my titan on you, Kusters has once again traded the battle for Hell. . favour. He is very smart and cunning, but even then, he could have been more resourceful.
“There’s a scheme you can select before the game starts called Power Behind the Throne,” Kusters explains. “Say we’re playing together and you’re Astaroth, I can select Power Behind the Throne, nominate you, and if you win while I’m a vassal of yours, I win instead. You think I’m helping you win, but when the game ends and the results screen appears, you see that I betrayed you and won instead.” Hell, it seems, they really are other people.
Although, it doesn’t have to be. Solium Infernum can be played against AI opponents or, if you’re short on time, can still be played PvP but over the course of weeks. The turn structure is asynchronous. This means that instead of four or five people needing to be online at once, like in an old-fashioned game of postal chess, you can log in when you have ten minutes to spare, complete your turn, and then log back out. The game then passes to your opponents, who take their turn whenever they can, and so on. It makes the game more accessible, but it also gives you that extra time to plot and outline – when Solium Infernum releases in 2023, I can see myself investing in a cork board, notice pins, and several yards of colored string, maybe even a couple. of plastic devil horns to complete that paranoid ruler of hell look. That’s the kind of strategy I’ve always wanted, and Solium Infernum seeks to fulfill my devious and deceitful dream.
If you can’t wait for Solium Infernum, you might want to try some of the other best grand strategy games. There are also the best city building and management games, which offer their own version of hell in the form of tax management and garbage collection.