One of the best things about gaming conventions is the games you discover there. You wander around the halls and booths and stumble upon hidden gems and exciting titles.
One of the exciting games I discovered during Gamescom 2018 was Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones. It’s a Lovecraftian RPG with tactical combat and oddly evocative illustrative visuals.
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is a horror RPG, as you might have guessed. It takes place in the ruins of Arkham, one of the more iconic locations in Lovecraft’s stories. This version of Arkham, however, is even more disturbing than usual, as the entire town has been ripped apart and transported to another dimension.
You play one of the survivors of the catastrophe that goes investigating the reason behind the cataclysmic event, which is never a good idea in any Lovecraftian story.
A Game for H.P. Lovecraft Fans
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is a pure Lovecraftian story. If you ever read any of Lovecraft’s stories or played any of the many video and board games, you’ll find a lot of familiar references.
All the quests and storylines in the game are connected to the Cthulhu mythos and Lovecraft’s writings in some way. One of your companions is a dead WW1 soldier reanimated by Herbert West, the famous Reanimator; you’ll use the haunted violin of Erich Zann; face the deform protagonist from The Outsider short story and more.
The game will take you through some of the author’s most iconic horror story, but you’ll be able to change their outcome through your decisions and playstyle.
But don’t think Stygian is only here to pay homage to the great HP Lovecraft. It also has a disturbing story of its own to tell.
After the Black Day, the day Arkham got stuck in a twilight realm between dimensions, you meet a strange man in your dreams, called the Dismal Man. He has only one instruction for you – come and find him beyond Arkham.
It’s up to you to find the answers to everything: What happened to Arkham, who is the Dismal Man and what does he want from you. Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is not about saving the world – the world is already lost. It’s about your story, your goals, and your choices.
Craft Your Supernatural Investigator
Before you face the unknown horrors that await you in Arkham and beyond, you need to create your character. You can choose between an existing character build or craft your own.
The character creator is incredibly robust. You can choose your gender, class (or “archetype”), belief system, appearance, stats, and skills.
There are eight archetypes you can choose from, including Occultist, Academic, and Performer. Each of these archetypes has four subclasses that affect some of your stats. For example, selecting the Criminal archetype grants you bonuses in the subterfuge, firearms and stealth skills, and the Thief subclass gives you an additional bonus to stealth, but decreases the amount of physical damage you can inflict.
The belief system dictates how your character views the world, and who it deals with the terrors you’ll encounter. In gameplay terms, it determines how you can gain some sanity back. Materialistic characters can gain sanity through acts of self-indulgence and obtaining physical goods, while Divine characters gain sanity when converting a lost soul to the path of God.
This system really helps to cement the role-playing aspect of the game. Choosing a dialog option that aligns with your character’s beliefs, performing specific actions or making certain choices will regenerate your sanity and help you survive in Stygian’s bleak world.
Pick Your Battles Wisely
When exploring Arkham (and the worlds beyond it), you’ll encounter all sorts of horrors, some of them you can fight. Combat is turn-based and plays very similarly to any classic RPG.
At the start of each round, every character rolls initiative to determine the order of turns. Then, characters can perform all sorts of actions depending on their skills, items, and the number of action points they have – it’s pretty standard stuff.
Combat is tactical and challenging, and you can’t spam your way through even the simplest of encounters. A group of lunatics in an abandoned bank might not seem like the biggest threat the Cthulhu Mythos has to offer, but they are unpredictable and dangerous enough to take you down if you’re not careful.
However, combat scenarios in the game are scarce, so you don’t have to play a grizzled soldier or a veteran cop to survive it. You always have the option to run away, and if you can make it safely to the other side of the combat zone, you can even skip it altogether.
Don’t (or Do) Go Insane
Sanity is a big part of any Lovecraft story, and Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is no different. In addition to staying alive, you’ll also have to stay (relatively) sane.
Sanity is especially crucial for casting spells, as each spell costs action-points, but also sanity points. If your character isn’t the strong, agile type, then spells are your go-to during combat. So while you can use them to keep enemies at bay and defend your physical form, your psyche will take a beating.
Lossing too much sanity can lead to some interesting effects, not all of them negative. Your mental state can unlock new dialogue options and even bonuses. On the other hand, your character can develop mental afflictions, similar to what happens in Darkest Dungeon.
There are dozens and dozens of Lovecraftian horror games out there, but Stygian’s commitment to the lore is admirable. It creates a genuinely disturbing world, where everything around you is broken, including the people. You’re not fighting the darkness around you, or saving anyone – you’re just trying to make sense of it all, an impossible task but one that fits so well into the spirit of Lovecraft and his work.
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones will come out on PC in 2019. You can download a demo of the game through Steam. It will take you about an hour to complete, but be warned – you can’t save so you’ll need to finish it, or die trying, during a single sitting.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.