The call of Cthulhu is a hard one to resist, at least it is for me. When I see anything that resembles the Lovecraftian mythos I’m immediately interested in it. Whether or not I like it depends on the product of course, but when I say Stygian delivered — I mean it. Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones, by developer Cultic Games and publisher 1C Entertainment, is a horror themed role-playing game set in a dystopian past of the early 1920s with post-apocalyptic and survival elements thrown in for flavor. When I looked at the published reviews and some of the gameplay videos, I had to get my hands on this game!
When I first booted up the game I was greeted with some backstory for the game, and then excellent artwork for a menu screen and ambient sounds that set the dismal tone of what awaited me. I love when games focus on horror and darker themes, but also have elements other than cheap jumpscares while you carry nothing but a flashlight… or camera. I had a few options, but since I hadn’t played yet loading a game seemed like it wouldn’t take me very far so I chose to generate a new character. Now, I did play through a couple times, dying was my call to start over, and found that I’d recommend playing as an adventurer character for an easier time. Not much changes in the game per se, but you do get a dog and a rifle at the start, which is absolutely helpful.
The artwork continued to blow me away. I loved just about everything about it. The paper-doll style animation and hand-drawn aesthetic really added to the overall theme of Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones. The music, even though it was themed to be dark and droaning, was beautifully done and served well to fit the atmosphere of Arkham — the city that the game is set in.
After I generated my character, I played through an intro portion of the game that does little more than set up the story. The only tutorial offered to me was the text at the top of the screen that gave me a button to push. I pressed “F1” and was shown a screenshot with all of the controls for exploration, then a link to display another for combat. Honestly, this was a bit of a let down as far as tutorials go, however, not having one allows for you to experiment with the controls and figure things out for yourself. This is ultimately up to the player as to whether or not this is good enough for them, but for me it got the job done. The controls of Stygian are much like old-school adventure games, so I was used to this style of control. So off I went, into the depths of Arkham, following some faceless guy in a trenchcoat. Probably not the smartest move, knowing that the city had been pulled into an entirely separate dimension, but hey — what can you do, am I right?
I find out shortly after that it was just a dream, and that I was still in the attic room. So I collected my things from a nearby box and headed back down the stairs to the bar, that was now populated. Talking to the bartender, I got the feeling that he was rather shady, so I kept my distance and moved on. Outside, I found new life — if you want to call it that — wandering the streets. Some of them talked to me, others just threw text-bubbles at me. I liked that, actually. Not every character was an event and needed to execute and dialogue box. They had nothing useful, so why waste the time? I explored a little bit and headed toward the direction of where the “Dismal Man” led me in the dream, finding a key. The first time I found the key, I looked everywhere for a clue as to what to do, before finding another side of the map to go to. Finally, I found an antique shop with a guy buying keys. He eventually offered me 1000 cigs — the currency in the Stygian is cigarettes — and I accepted. That didn’t turn out so well…
So after starting over and getting back on track, I discovered a few more NPCs to help me in my adventure, found some more clues that led me to the Arkham bank where I had to search for a safe that would be opened only by this key. This led me into the first combat of Stygian, and where I found myself spending the most time. Not because the combat was so immersive and entertaining that I sought out conflict to grind for experience. No, no, no. It was because the combat was so long and tedious that it just happened to be where I spent the most time! This isn’t to say that it’s bad. The combat in Stygian is a turn-based tactical style system, held together by a simple initiative system shown at the top of the screen. However, while it’s fun at first, you quickly find out that all the cool factors of discovering a character that can cast magic or using that cool new gun fades away.
First of all, everything I did was tallied by my characters action points, and when I ran out of action points, my turn immediately ended. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue, if it wasn’t for the fact that I mean it when I say everything counts. Even opening my inventory was cut off by not having enough action points. Then there are the constant effects of combat. I’m not talking about poison or paralysis, I’m talking sanity. Yes, sanity. While I like this concept in theory, in combat it just becomes cumbersome and tedious. Certain enemies can use abilities that damage your character’s sanity. Sanity works just like hit points, and I’m going to assume you know what hit points generally do in a video game. So naturally, if you run out of Sanity, it’s game over. Also, the more you lose the more it affects your character. My character developed “mania” due to him losing so much sanity, and it even began to change how I could interact with NPCs. Now again, this genuinely wouldn’t be an issue as I really like the concept of my character’s mental state affecting the game world, if only it wasn’t for the fact that there is so much that can affect your character’s sanity. I had a character in my party that could use magic. Naturally, I thought that was awesome, so I used it. Using MY OWN spells caused my party to lose sanity, along with the enemies. Not only that, but what spells I had available were so minor and seemed to have so little effect, that it then became more of a burden to use my magic than a benefit.
I fought my way through the bank and found the area of the safe. It was blocked by someone bricking up the wall, so I had to go get the guy from the front of the building to break it open for me. I did that, open it up, and found a poem from the “Dismal Man” and an ancient cultic idol. I took it to the antiques shop and the guy tells me it belongs to a strange cult that attacks the towns before kicking me out of the store because he doesn’t want it there. Fine. I leave the store and head back toward the tavern when I run into a strange man running and screaming about the Arkham Stabber. I decided this had my attention and I followed him. He led my party to a corpse that was riddled with stab wounds and surrounded by people. After finding out what happened, a couple of mob goons arrived. I overheard them talking about their boss and gave some incriminating information. They then threatened me and attacked, which led to a battle in the streets. They eventually had some back up arrive and my party dispatched them as well. Unfortunately, I left the area and ran into another group of thugs that quickly killed my character, thus ending my game.
This was my last play through, at least as of writing this review. I’ll probably pick up Stygian again in time, as I did enjoy the game even though I did find parts of it slow and tedious. I highly recommend you give Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones a try, especially if you’re into Lovecraft style horror. If you’re not sure about buying it just yet, you can try the demo of Stygian on their website and on Steam.
Purchase Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones on Humble Bundle!
You can pick up a copy of Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones on Steam.