With a dark atmosphere that draws you deeper and deeper, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones encourages you to solve any situation your way and live with your decisions.
A clear sign that I’m really getting into a game is the rituals I develop while playing it — brewing a hot beverage, turning off my phone, and diving in without anything to distract me. Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is that kind of game.
Stygian, which literally means “very dark,” is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s iconic stories, and does justice to both its title and source of inspiration. Developed by Cultic Games and published by 1C Entertainment, it is a single-player RPG that pulls you into the Cthulhu Mythos from the moment you start playing.
Who Are You and What Do You Believe In?
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is a classic role-playing game that takes place in a world like our own, around the 1930s. The relative modern setting means you don’t play wizards or knights. Instead, you can be a Detective, Occultist, Soldier, or Investigator, among others. Each of these archetypes is divided into different subclasses that have unique traits.
In addition to an archetype, you need to choose your age. Are you a vigorous youth or an experienced veteran? Young characters are rewarded with higher strength and agility, but your lack of experience will result in having fewer points to invest in skills, like weapon-handling or healing.
If you need even more character customization, Stygian also has you choosing your belief system. Are you materialistic? If the end of the world is near, why shouldn’t you enjoy all the luxury you can get? Or do you believe that a higher power is punishing humanity for its sins? The end of the world must have some deeper meaning, right? Your beliefs determine your dialogue options in conversation and, more importantly, how the terrible things you witness affect your sanity.
Rolling With the Punches
Our story takes place in Arkham, a fictional place in the state of Massachusetts, and the setting of many of Lovecraft’s stories. Your character is trying to escape the city after “The Black Day,” the day when Arkham was displaced from the rest of reality, and ominous incidents started happening all over the city. The dead wander the earth, monsters hide in the shadows, and alien cults keep popping up. Your only lead is the “Dismal Man,” a mysterious figure that might be the key to leaving the city.
You don’t have to wait long before you starting feeling the consequences of your actions. The consequences of the choices you made during character creation are apparent from the very first minutes of gameplay. My detective’s psychology skills were instrumental while talking to NPCs, but my fragile physique prevented me from completing some puzzles that required strength. Luckily, every puzzle has multiple solutions, and it’s up to you to choose how to advance.
The developers of Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones advise you to try and role-play as the character you created, and no to go against its nature. If you’re good with psychology, you should keep enhancing that trait and not spread yourself too thin across the skill tree. The game isn’t about obsessing on what you can’t do, but rather how to take advantage of your strengths. Stygian wants you to move forward without looking back (until your next playthrough).
During the game, you meet additional characters who can join your journey. You won’t come across all of them in your first go, and some characters are only available for specific archetypes. Just like your character, they, too, have their own set of values and skills. You should choose who joins your party with care, as they can either complement your play style or oppose your decisions.
Don’t Lose Your Head
There are two ways to lose in Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones. The obvious one is when your health drops to zero during combat. The other way is having your sanity drained completely. This is a Lovecraftian game, after all. Facing otherworldy horrors or encountering a particularly gruesome scene affects your mental state, but also does performing spells to hurt enemies or heal your party.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about losing your sanity is that you might develop a mental illness that can affect your character for the rest of the game. I developed schizophrenia, which, on occasion, switched my dialogue lines with weird, often nonsensical sentences. It could also interrupt my turns during combat and prevent me from taking action.
There’s an upside to going a little crazy. Once my detective got inflicted, he could deal with more bizarre sights without losing any more sanity. He was kind of used to it.
Combat is turn-based, where characters have a set amount of action points to use each turn. Most battles position your party and the enemy team on opposite sides of a battlefield in which characters can move, attack, or perform all sorts of actions. It’s your standard turn-based formula.
Since turns are assigned randomly at the beginning of combat encounters, you better plan for every possible situation. You can run for cover, heal, and even try and escape the battlefield if things get too intense. But no matter what, every decision costs you action points, so you better think carefully about how to spend them every turn.
If you manage to win a fight, you’re rewarded with XP and loot, but also with higher Angst levels. Max out your Angst, and your character gets another affliction, like an addictive personality. Didn’t I mention you can get addicted to medicine and alcohol if you use them too often? Well, you can. A lot of things can harm you when you play Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones.
Going Insane in Style
The game’s 2D art style is almost iconic, where all the world and characters are drawn to reflect the dark atmosphere flawlessly. The music, too, adds a delicate touch of darkness and madness. Every music track plays at the exact right moment to enhance whatever is going on on-screen.
However, Stygian isn’t free of issues. A very frustrating example is how debuffs and negative effects can stay with you even if you load a previous save. That said, the bugs don’t happen frequently and do not have a significant impact on the game. These issues will undoubtedly be patched out soon.
Even so, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is one of the best role-playing games I have ever played. The game is genuinely designed to make you own your decisions, and see how things unfold. The plot hooks you in very quickly, and the farther you advance, the more twisted and intriguing Arkham becomes, so you never want to stop.
The variety of characters you can create makes me wonder how could I have solved the events I encountered if I were to play as a different archetype. I recommend Stygian to anyone looking for a lengthy, exciting RPG experience that you can compulsively play over and over again.
Developer: Cultic Games
Publisher: 1C Entertainment
Release Date: Sep. 26, 2019
Genre: Role-playing Game
Available On: PC
Reviewed On: PC
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