Review – Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones
Cosmic horror and more specifically, games based on HP Lovecrafts novels, have been making a grand return. With Call of Cthulhu, Sinking City, and the upcoming Moons of Madness being the most noticeable recent additions. Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is the latest attempt at a Lovecraftian RPG, with some seriously mixed results.
Years after the old ones have surfaced, Arkham is desolate and rundown with craziness and madness. You play as a blank character that you build up throughout the game, set on a journey to find the man in your visions. Like most cosmic horror games, the story is what takes the key focus with an emphasis of investigation and keeping your sanity for as long as you can.
When you start the game you get a choice of using a pre-designed character with stats and abilities pre-mapped out. However, those looking for a much deeper RPG experience should look into the excellent character creator, where you get to fine tune the character you play as. Everything from your character’s main class, to beliefs, and individual attributes can be tweaked to make your perfect character. I highly recommend going for a custom character for the best experience here, though those new to RPGs might prefer a preset character.
There’s a strong. deep RPG system here. Stygian encourages you to role play as your character, focusing on their strengths and avoiding their weaknesses. Of course sanity is a major theme here and it’s a resource that is as essential as your health. The lower your sanity, the more your character will act up, leading to odd behaviour such as dialogue options shifting. The actions that you can perform are impacted in your current stats. For example, early on in the bank of Arkham there’s a safe behind a section of the wall that you can break down with strength and a heavy weapon. Although, if you are more into science, you can mix chemicals to erode the lock. Or if you have higher investigative abilities, you can find a loose brick. Stygian is at its absolute best when it lets its RPG elements come through.
Initial impressions on the game were worrying with one of the worst opening sections I’ve played through in a long time. It has unclear directions of what you are supposed to do and how to do it. Thankfully, once you start understanding what the game expects and find your way, it becomes much more interesting. Just a tip, do every quest possible and talk to everyone since most of the “side quests” are actually key to progressing the main story. Exploring Arkham and the surrounding areas is generally interesting. The characters you meet add to the believably of the world with well written dialogue.
When you do get into trouble in Stygian, you will enter a separate combat instance. Following your standard tactics-based combat style, you move characters in a turn-based gameplay system. Similar to that of Divinity: Original Sin, just with a tile based system. The problem is the order of turns appears to be entirely based on RNG with no initiative skill to push your characters to the top of the turn order. Sadly, the combat itself is just a slow, repetitive chore.
Though the biggest issue I’ve had in Stygian is with the bugs and general instability of the game. I’ve had multiple crashes during my time, everything from creating characters, moving, and loading an instance. There’s also minor freezing when moving to other screens. Staying true to old RPGs, it’s always a roll of the dice. Thankfully, saving is regular and loading times are brief, so getting back into the game doesn’t take too long. Promises have been made to fix up the game, but right now it’s unclear on if that’s enough.
Stygian has a striking art style that feels like something right out of Lovecraft’s time. Beautifully handcrafted locales that feel torn apart from the old ones. It’s the end of times for Arkham and the game does a great job showcasing this: dilapidated buildings, rubble litters the street, and people wandering with no purpose. As the game progresses, things get worse. It’s wonderfully effective and a highlight of the overall experience.
Sound design does a solid job as well, with some genuinely fitting sound design. The creaks of old buildings build up the tension. There’s a sense of dread throughout, which is surprising considering the fairly simple design. Very few lines of actual dialogue are actually spoken as most of the journey is text based.
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is a messy, buggy game that shows a lot of promise. The story and characters are all fantastic, but the gameplay falls flat with tedious backtracking and a poor combat system.
A visually pleasing experience with a striking art style.
Strong RPG mechanics let down by awful combat and questionable quest design.
The sound design does a solid job of immersing you into the world.
Fun Factor: 6.5
A great lovecraftian mystery brought down by some poor design decisions.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is available now on PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones was provided by the publisher.