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Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones Review

Following the call of the Old Ones, I’m once again drawn into the maddening world of Lovecraftian horror through Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones. It seems even I cannot escape the clutches of the deep. For better or for worse, I’ll once again dive into the dark. Let’s see if my mind can withstand the cosmic barrage of this H.P. Lovecraft-inspired CRPG. Developed by Cultic Games and published by 1C Entertainment, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones was released for PC on the 26th September retailing for £23.99 (at the time of writing this review).

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones

The premise of this title is that the world has ended. It states that right from the off. Your mission is that of survival, not saving the world. How you go about doing this is entirely up to you (well, as much as the story will allow for, at least). From the beginning, you’re given the choice to either pick a preset character or to create your own unique survivor. It’s reminiscent of the Dungeons & Dragons feel in skill trees, bonuses and the like. This is where I could create my own survivor in my own image.

My character was Dean Bowmore, a grizzled, surly combat vet who has a slight drinking problem. That, however, doesn’t dissuade him from being a good humanistic sort of chap, always willing to help those in need and believing in the human spirit. Having this as my backdrop, I set forth with my skills and assigned points into the ones that I felt would help him: combat, medicine and persuasion.This is where you can really go to town on your own story. For those that aren’t as intrigued with the RPG elements of roleplay, this may not interest you. But for me, it was something that ticked a box. Having made my character, I set forth into this accursed world, ready for whatever came my way.

The Emphasis on Atmosphere

Atmosphere in a video game is an ever-changing subject within the industry. Depending on the genre in which your game is set, atmosphere can either make or break the experience for the vast majority. In this case, it has been done really well. From the hand-drawn environments and backgrounds to the soundtracks and art style, it all comes together to create a CRPG unlike anything I’ve played. It has eerie atmosphere and dark tones of the cosmic horror from which it draws its inspiration. With the atmosphere evoking the dark and eerie tones the developers went for, the inhabitants also reflect the same level of ‘weird’, shall we say, for lack of a better word.

Each character feels unique and adds flavour to the story, enriching the experience. At one point, I was being followed by  a strange fellow who recognised me, but I had no idea who he was. This became creepy as I was exploring, with dialogue being more on the cryptic side than what I’m used to. It didn’t last too long, however, as he tried to steal from a shop, which didn’t end too well for him since he met the end of a smoking barrel from a hired mafia bodyguard.

However…

Now, as intriguing as the story is, there is an elephant in the room. From reading various Steam reviews and other sources, the game has divided people into two camps: You either like this game or you don’t. The main reason for this split appears to be the game’s combat system. It feels very akin to the combat in the XCOM games, but the bad part about that, however, is that the strategy elements within combat aren’t explained very well. You don’t know if your attacks will have a high chance of hitting their target or not, so winging it seems to be the name of the game here. This can either be good or bad, depending on which camp you find yourself in, as stated earlier.

A small tutorial in the form of a page in a book does explain the onscreen UI, telling you what each stat is displaying and how to use them. But after that, it’s up to you to learn how to use them. It took me a while to come to grips with the combat. I’m used to the RPG scene with all its flourishes and nuances, but this had me scratching my head for an hour. Reading up on stats and deciding what gear would be best suited for each character I had in my team was something I didn’t take lightly.

My main character is a straight-up brawler, adept at using any manner of weapons/firearms. I have another character simply known as “The Outsider”. His talents lie in the mystic arts, and that build is a double-edged sword. These seem to be my main two builds for the time being. I also have a female companion, but I’m not sure if she’ll be staying with my group for long. We’ll see how the story plays out for her.

Conclusion

For me, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones ticks all the boxes. It has a great story, as well as all the traditional aspects of RPG skill balancing and how these affect your story progression. For example, if your character is materialistic, they’ll get bonuses for cheating NPCs out of money, items, etc. Or if you choose a belief in the divine, then they’ll gain bonuses when you complete missions that have those outcomes. The characters and the atmosphere are all on point in rich, hand-rendered details. Every area has a unique feel, and interactions with characters leave impressions on your survivors.

Depending on how you progress, your character may exhibit signs of madness. Mine has exhibited verbal diarrhea with hints of narcissism. These all open up differing paths and outcomes, depending on how you play through your story. The turn-based combat is functional but does need some hands-on experience to come to grips with. More information is needed, in my personal opinion, on the chances your characters have to inflict damage on opponents and the like.

The inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft is in every aspect of this game. For those familiar with his works, you’ll recognise a lot of the characters’ mythos used herein. For those of you who don’t, you’ll find the journey in Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones to be cram packed full of strange occurrences and random happenings that all lend themselves to the cosmic horrors of Lovecraft’s world.

Developer: Cultic Games

Publisher: 1C Entertainment

Platforms: PC

Release Date: 26th October 2019

Do you agree with our review of Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones? What are your thoughts? Tell us in the comments below.

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