Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones PC Review

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is a Lovecraftian RPG whose engaging story and quests struggle to pull the weight of its excruciatingly sluggish and tedious combat.

By Woozie, Posted 26 Sep 2019

Arkham. The name should be a familiar one by now to all who’ve followed one caped crusader or looked madness in the eye alongside papa Lovecraft. Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones, Cultic Games’ freshly released CRPG, falls in the second category, its rendition of Arkham being quite striking at first. Not only is the town overrun by the mob and all manner of suspicious people, but it also finds itself in a different dimension, where the unnatural feels more at home.

While it can feel limiting at times, due to its rather small locations, Arkham and its matte color pallette remain eerily inviting. One of the first scenes involves a citizen getting ruthlessly executed by the mafia who have a strong presence on the town, in a context where the place itself already makes you feel unwelcome. Yet, even so, – or perhaps in spite of it – each cryptic conversation and strange event witnessed urges you on to discover the story behind it as you chase after a mysterious figure from your dreams, even if your sanity might end up suffering (and it will).

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones successfully pulls off the atmosphere so specific to Lovecraft’s stories, even if its uncanny animations do sometimes look outright silly and eventually become tiring to watch after a while. The matte color palette makes for a rendition of Arkham that has no trouble setting itself apart from its darker counterparts while maintaining the feeling that there’s plenty of unspeakable things going on underneath the surface.

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones, PC, Review, Screenshot

The title leans quite heavily into its RPG component, offering multiple archetypes, backgrounds, and abilities to choose from, each of them coming into play sooner or later. Whether you start off as a rational detective, a nihilistic doctor or an occultist who believes that the truth can only be gleaned on the other side, there’s a healthy offering in terms of how you can build your character. One of the first skill checks I encountered involved a game of darts with a self-proclaimed champion. While I was fairly convinced that insanity is the only thing he could champion, I competed against him and lost. Turns out being an Occultist with a knack for medicine doesn’t make for a good darts player. Lots more encounters of this type await in Stygian: Reign of the Old ones and they all require different skill checks, setting things up for a fair amount of potential replayability.

The quests you complete in order to get to the bottom of things do require a fair bit of investigation which involves reading and deducing solutions based on existing knowledge. The fact that you’re often getting them from mysterious figures you meet, or cryptic notes, only makes it clearer that Stygian understands how something calling itself Lovecraftian should work. Upon finding an encrypted poem, the odd stranger I had rescued earlier from a mob set on murdering him asked to see it. A short conversation later I had three potential leads to follow, solely based on what he pieced together.

Had I skipped that conversation, I would have had to rely on something else to figure things out. When Stygian taps into its narrative and RPG aspects, it’s quite an intriguing video game able to juggle mystery and surprise reveals with the sheer horror and disgusting sights that Arkham plays host to. Quests do actively encourage you to keep track of your surroundings and remember which NPC specializes in what, which is infinitely more satisfying than whacking away at a pack of (admittedly unsettling) monstrosities.

Not only that, but Stygian also uses elements of risk and reward successfully. A spell I could use gave me protection at the cost of health and sanity. Equally, when sanity is low and Laudanum is nowhere to be found, a bottle of whiskey can help at the cost of a couple of health points. This manages to apply constant pressure on you, constantly keeping you on your toes.

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones, PC, Review, Screenshot

But just as things start moving, Stygian’s biggest misstep rears its ugly head. The title absolutely loves adding combat encounters to break up its dialogue and investigation segments. As much as combat has its own attention to detail, like loss of sanity resulting in losing control of a unit and foiling your plans, or insane enemies battering each other, it never feels satisfying. Hitting an enemy feels unsatisfying and the game has a tendency to have your characters chaining miss after miss while the opponents rip them to shreds. The fact that after a few turns you can retreat while also progressing the story sadly doesn’t do much to help either. And, given how battles are unskippable, the experience ends up suffering a lot because of it.

While combat in Stygian: Regin of the Old Ones is quite ruthless, for the most part, I found it best to just focus away on one target, meaning that tactics also played a limited role. While you can choose between ranged, melee weapons and spells, depending on your party’s composition, none of the abilities ever feel great to use. They all hit like wet socks, and the soundtrack playing in fights, alongside the incessant noises coming from your insane or otherwise malformed enemies are terribly off-putting. Fights are excruciatingly slow affairs that tried to constantly punish me, to the point where I often found myself just wanting to stop playing, after the umpteenth miss in a row on one of my characters’ part.

Player onboarding is another area where Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones falters. While perhaps not the most complex RPG out there, it does have its share of minutiae that are fed to new players through two pictures laden with most required details. That’s it: two tutorial screens cover exploration and combat which, needless to say, is a very ineffective way to go about it. Not only that but the ton of items available to purchase straight from the get-go will also have you going through NPCs inventories for a good while as you familiarize yourself with everything you can purchase.

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones, PC, Review

While I don’t wish that Stygian went the other way and constantly held your hand, teaching players the game’s mechanics as the first fights/exploration sequences unfurled would have been a far more effective approach. Discovery is an important part of any CRPG, but right-clicking on hundreds of mysterious items only to get a vague description for most of them isn’t all that fulfilling an experience.

I genuinely wish Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones had an exploration mode that removed or trivialized combat. It’s not something I often want in my RPGs but here it just gets in the way of experiencing an adventure that goes all-in on the supernatural aspects of Lovecraftian lore and does so quite well. Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones’ combat, on the other hand, is so sluggish that it drains all the momentum gained in the narrative stretches in between fights.

For every great quest and interesting or horrifying reveal, you have a battle sequence that’s drawn out and can, quite often, have you reloading an older save as characters die because of constantly missing attacks or being unable to fathom which items would have helped them survive. It’s one of the worst cases of self-sabotage I’ve seen this year and one that’s a major caveat to an RPG I otherwise would have no trouble recommending.
 

Bogdan Robert,
Senior Editor, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): 1C Company
Developer(s): Cultic Games
Genres: Role-Playing, Horror
Themes: Lovecraftian
Release Date: 2019

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