If you are looking for an RPG that has tactical combat and is set in an HP Lovecraft inspired world, look no further than Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones. This game delivers a deep RPG experience where the various choices you make, both in character creation and in gameplay, have a bearing on what happens and how you need to go about completing tasks. There are general guidelines of what needs to be done but not a whole lot of direction on how to do those things, which leaves a lot of room for creativity. The tactical combat is both intuitive and intricate, which makes combat consistently interesting. Stygian is an excellent game to both kick back and enjoy the story but to also test out your strategic thinking abilities. This is our Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones review.
The first step in any RPG is character creation, and although there were limited options to choose how my character looked, there was an almost overwhelming amount of options for every other aspect. Thankfully there are plenty of tooltips that explain what every element means. Honestly, just reading all of the information and figuring out how the different abilities and skills work together to give my character her stats took me an hour. But then I like considering all the possibilities and messing with all the options. For people who have less patience for character creation, there are 16 pre-made (eight female and eight male) options. Choosing which gender your character does change how some characters will interact in the same way how high or low your presence (charisma) is changing how characters interact with you.
I like how Stygian has messed with the standard class model. Instead of choosing a class, I had to choose one of 8 Archetypes: Academic, Aristocrat, Criminal, Explorer, Investigator, Occultist, Performer, and Soldier. These serve the same role a class normally would, but they add a bit more flavor to the characters than just being a fighter, or something similar, would. Also, each archetype has four subtypes. One of these subtypes is considered the default option and offers no bonuses or penalties, and the other three subtypes each offer a bonus and a penalty. For example, the Criminal Archetype has a choice of Gangster, Thief, Hitman, or Con Artist. The thief subtype gives +1 Stealth and -1 Melee Attack whereas Con Artist gives +1 Speechcraft, -1 Physical Defense. I even had an item in-game, which was a report of my misdeeds in life before I found myself in Arkham.
What’s Arkham you ask? It’s a town that has had the misfortune to have been pulled through some kind of portal into another world where nightmares walk. In the weeks before the town was sucked through the portal, everyone in town was having nightmares, and there were strange and disturbing occurrences like entire families being massacred with no sign of who had done it. Additionally, everyone who had any official authority has just disappeared, so now the mob and a mysterious cult run everything. Money also has no value anymore. Literally I found a bunch of money, but it’s just junk. Most people want cigs as payment for things, which is interesting to me because I don’t think I ever saw anyone smoking them. Booze doesn’t seem to be in high demand either, which also surprised me.
At the beginning of Stygian, I only got a very basic understanding of what was going on in the story, and the rest was discovered through exploring and talking to people. One of the best aspects of the game is I was only given very basic direction about what I should do. This allowed me to figure things out on my own, which was fun. For example, one of the early quests wanted me to discover the mysteries of a random key I found. That was what the quest text was, just that.
As with everything in this game, there are multiple ways to go about figuring things out and moving through the story. Some of the options are dependent on the character being played, while others definitely will be more on the side of the choices the player makes. However, the way the unfolding of the story is handled is so expertly done I don’t want to give away much more than that. One piece of advice I will give though, while some NPCs just say the same things over and over, some will have different options come up. So if you find yourself stuck, talking to someone again might be what you need to do.
Before I move onto talking about combat, I need to mention a couple of other essential character aspects because they have huge effects throughout the game. One aspect of creating a character is picking their world view from the following list: Humanistic, Materialistic, Nihilistic, Divine, Rational, and Esoteric. In most games, a selection like this would just be for flavor to give the player more of a feeling like their character is a whole person. However, in Stygian, this choice has a significant impact because anytime I would choose in accordance with the belief system I picked, my character would gain extra sanity.
Sanity is important because throughout the game you will lose sanity here and there just as a result of the various things which you’ll encounter. If sanity falls below critical levels, your character will suffer from mental conditions and neurotic diseases. As such, perserving as much sanity as possible is helpful, so it’s a good idea to pick a world view, you’ll be able to stick to. Although a playthrough of always making choices counter to what your character is could be enjoyable too.
So now that we’ve gotten through all the story related aspects I can talk about without being spoilery, let’s talk about combat! Anytime there is combat, a hex map would open to serve as the playing field. Every character in combat starts each round action points, the amount of which is determined by the character’s stats. Everything from movement, attacking, or even opening inventory during combat costs action points. So planning your actions out matters a lot.
Additionally, initiative order is determined at the beginning of each round, which I’m not much of a fan of. On the one hand, if I started with low initiative, I wasn’t stuck with it the whole time. However, I always seemed to do poorly on the initiative when it really mattered. Overall though, I really enjoyed combat and how it made me really think about what I was doing. Also, making accessing the inventory during combat cost 5 action points really limited options, which again meant I had to think through things and plan.
Overall, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is a fantastic game, which honestly you should go into blind as possible and just enjoy the experience. Everything is done with a lot of thought and care, and all of the systems are deep and interlocking. However, even if you are looking for a game, you can just jump into and have fun; this is also an excellent game for that experience. All you really need is a willingness to unravel what’s going on without the game directly leading you through everything.
This game was reviewed on PC with a code provided by PR.