[Review] Turn-Based RPG ‘Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones’ is Full of Repetitive Cosmic Horror

Set in H.P Lovecraft’s unfurling world of treachery, madness and horrors galore, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is a point and click style RPG with turn-based combat elements. As to be expected, there’s a heavy emphasis on the story in this one from the get-go.

At first, I was charmed with Stygian. The cartoon-style graphics are easy on the eye and becoming of the setting, the attention to detail has not been lost here. Character selection is very straightforward, (as to be expected with a Dungeons and Dragons-style role-playing game), there are character presets or for the more experienced you can start from scratch, delicately assigning those precious skill points exactly where you feel you need them. Which is where the hand-holding ends.

If you’ve read any Lovecraft, or played any other alternate universe style title (Sunless Seas being a recent notable example of the latter) then the setting will be enveloping and mysterious yet eerily familiar. The developers have put a lot of love and thought into crafting both story and characters; each one has their own very unique lexicon, for example, which makes them somewhat memorable. And your choices matter. I like choices.

Navigating the world is very easy, left click, go or interact, right-click for more actions. Couldn’t be simpler. It feels nice at first, even if you’re new to Lovecraft the music and atmosphere are intriguing enough to make you forget that in 3 hours you will be bored as hell watching your party meander slowly around. The various locations here are all fairly reminiscent, Arkham, Miskatonic University, etc etc, and they all look good. I’m a huge fan of the art style they’ve used; it lends itself to the weary, run-down aesthetic very well and is a good medium for bringing to life some of the more obscure and unbelievable characters that we find in Lovecraft.

The turn-based combat is where I feel Stygian particularly lets itself down. Instead of being a welcome or exciting break from a very text-heavy game it becomes an absolute chore, with the necessity to drive story progression the only reason to endure it. Turn-based combat has a very split camp, there are those that love it and those that abhor it. I’m a fan of it when done well (XCOM, anybody?) but I can’t quite put my finger on why it doesn’t work in Stygian. It feels, slow, dull and under-explained. I’m sure most have played turn-based combat games before, but there’s always a newcomer and Stygian won’t help you there, with only one page of a tutorial shortly after starting the game.

For example, during combat, there are several shielded spots you can move a character to, in order (I am assuming based on experience in similar games) to reduce incoming damage or increase the chance of an enemy’s shot missing you. Which is it? I have no idea as these spots seemingly did nothing except make my characters unable to find an ice cube in an igloo when it was their turn to rain down hell. Well, the looming madness certainly ran through me and I became a bit disenfranchised, to say the least.

Having said that, and despite the skill tree, it’s quite apparent that the combat isn’t the main focus of the game. Mostly you will be navigating various quests and dialogue options with NPC’s whilst balancing your party. The character design is good, the conversation options far from dull and this is certainly a game where you can fully absorb yourself in your role without feeling that you are only choosing basic dialogue options, ‘this line’s for the baddy, this one’s for the goody’ etc.

As the game and story unfold, your characters can receive various buffs and afflictions. Darkest Dungeon players will be familiar with this, although Stygian is nowhere near as unforgiving. This adds a nice element to the already well crafted role-playing elements; I particularly liked when my main character was afflicted with a ‘verbal diarrhea’ curse that caused some dialogue options to be replaced with, well, an insane load of gumph. Other afflictions cause problems in combat; some with game skills such as stealth, intelligence, etc. Nicely, the characters also have a belief system which adds another element to the game, certain dialogue interactions are rewarded with more experience points when playing your character out, for example, a materialistic character will receive bonuses for correctly cheating an NPC out of money.

Each character has certain skills to develop. There’s the occult skills, the subterfuge skills, all pertaining to relevant story arcs, items, and trainable skill bonuses. There’s a lot here for character building and general RPG fans which is mainly what I have scored the game as.

I spent a good few hours in Stygian, enjoying what it had to offer. However, progress is slow, and this isn’t a criticism; a rushed role-playing game would feel incredibly incomplete, but my own patience only affords so much time watching people walk back and forth across a screen before my interest wanes. This is a game made for Lovecraft fans or those looking to itch the RPG gap that games such as Pillars of Eternity have left.

Stygian is a good role-playing game, particularly if you’re the type who can really get into your character. There’s plenty to read and lots of information to take in, this isn’t a game that will please the adrenaline junkies, but if atmosphere and a feeling of reward through solving mysteries sound good then this is one to pick up.

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones review code provided by the publisher.

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is out now on PC.

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