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Stygian: Reign Of The Old Ones

Posted by GG Goblin On October - 3 - 2019

A Lovecraftian RPG with more than a hint of madness.

While gamers have been venturing into the Cthulhu mythos for some time, there has been a recent surge in games that feature The Old Ones. Losing a grip on sanity has always been the strongest aspect of Lovecraft’s writings, along with mankind’s utter insignificance, and this is where many of the games have faltered. From a gaming point of view, losing ones mind is not exactly an easy thing to get right. However, Cultic Games’ Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones not only makes for a very authentic Lovecraftian RPG, but also deals with this inevitable loss of sanity in what is perhaps the best way yet. It also makes it very clear that this is not a game to win, and surviving more or less in tact is pretty much the best outcome a player can hope for.


Stygian packs in detail right from the very start, which is where the player will have to create their character. There are so many options here, and almost all of it will have a bearing on the adventure to come. Players will choose a class of sorts, giving them some reason for their own, personal skills. It’s the 1920s and a nice selection of archetypes are available to choose from. Play as an aristocrat, a soldier, or a detective for example. It gets deeper though as each of these classes also comes with sub-classes that fill in more of their background, and further specialise them. There is a lot to choose from, and the choice will dictate various things in the game. Some may come with a willing companion, which is never a bad thing in these uncertain times, while others will come with certain skills that will be useful for survival.

But that is by no means where the character creation ends, as players will also be able to choose their characters age, which can affect skill points or attributes, and a belief system that will play strongly into the player keeping as tight a hold as possible on their sanity. Playing to their belief system through dialogue will go a long way to keeping them mentally healthy. All of this character creation is a lot to take in, especially as it will affect not only how the player can play the game, but also what equipment they start out with. Fortunately there are a selection of pre-made characters that are ready to go should the player just want to get straight into the madness that awaits in Arkham.


So, what the hell happened to the city of Arkham? Well, the Black Day came and the entire city was taken somewhere else. Monsters started roaming the streets, cultists took people to sacrifice to the ancient gods, and the mob more or less took control of the city. It’s a pretty grim reality, and one that sent most citizens insane. Those that remain are survivors, or just downright lunatics. The player is not given much background information on the fate of Arkham, but are treated to a dream featuring the being known as the Dismal Man, and awaken in the loft of a local bar with a desire to find this being and get some answers. From there is will be a matter of heading out and talking to everyone to get as much info as possible. Oh, and not losing ones mind.

The game gives players a side view as they begin to explore Arkham. An entire blanket of crazy covers the city which, in the beginning at least, is small enough to explore thoroughly and remember where everything is. Most of the buildings are dilapidated or in ruin, and strange characters wander the streets. Talking to these characters is where the game really shines, as the dialogue options are excellently created. In any given conversation, the player is given choices which can affect how others will talk, or not talk, to the player further down the line. Skill related choices will come up when applicable, leaving the player not knowing if they are missing something due to a missing skill. The mind is a fragile thing and through the course of the game, players will likely find themselves suffering from mental trauma, especially given what they will see, and even this will have an affect on dialogue. Seeing a dialogue choice suddenly change to a bright red scrawl due to my characters growing paranoia is really effective.

Surviving in Arkham will take some doing. Fortunately the player can gather a couple of companions to help them, which is very important in combat, and even hire a bodyguard, if they have enough cigs. Cigarettes are the new currency in Arkham and players will be able to find these in various searchable contains, or loot them from enemies, to keep the stocks up. They will also need to be mindful of provisions and resting when possible, lest they suffer the side effects. They can even self-medicate with the wide range of substances available, but this can be a slippery slope that does more damage than it prevents. The same can be said for the occult, which could be worth studying if the price was not so high.


Still, a few magic spells will be helpful in combat situations. This is where the game becomes far more difficult. These encounters play out as turn-based on a hex grid, and the player is almost always outnumbered. Combatants take their turn to spend action points on whatever they wish to do, such as attacking, casting a spell, using an item or even moving, but even with a full team the fights are very tricky. This is the desperate nature of the game coming through though, and it knows that the player needs only survive, not win. To this end, after a couple of turns escape routes show up on the grid and getting the characters to these hexes brings the encounter to an end, with no loss of experience for running away. Just escaping seems to be the order of the day.

The stories themselves that turn up in the game, from the main quest through to smaller side encounters, are all so engaging. Almost every character that the player talks to will have something interesting to say, and it is all very well written and authentic. Even the city comes alive as the player returns to previously visited areas to find something completely different going on. And the overall atmosphere of fear and madness just washes over everything.

It really is an incredible game, but it is not without its problems. Sometimes the game can be a little too vague for its own good, leaving the player unsure of what to do or where to go next. The combat really is too difficult as well, even with the chance to run away. And yes, there are some bugs, although I never found anything game breaking. But perhaps the biggest problem is the abrupt way that the game finishes. The game comes to a halt way before the main quest is resolved. While this has been explained by the developer and hope exists that the story will continue in either a sequel or additional content down the line, it is still a disappointment. It’s not that the game is short, just unfinished.


Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is very close to being perfect. The atmosphere, the authenticity and even the mechanics are all spot on and make the game incredibly enjoyable to play. The ample character creation opens up plenty of replayability, and the cast of characters really brings the game to life. Hopefully the game’s issues will be resolved in time and the developers full vision for the game will come to life. Even so, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is an excellent RPG and probably the best Lovecraft experience so far.




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