Follow the Dismal Man, If You Dare
Stygian: Of or relating to the River Styx. One of the rivers of the underworld in Greek mythology, the River Styx was the boundary between Earth and the Underworld. Despite the fact that Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones takes from Lovecraftian mythology and not Greek, it’s still a fitting title for the amount of death and darkness involved.
We follow the story of the New England town of Arkham, after it’s been violently ripped from the Earth and sent spiraling into an alternate and much more sinister dimension. Your protagonist is one of the few that survived the trip and has managed to keep from descending into madness in the aftermath. Now, you dream about the mysterious Dismal Man and his connection to the events that have occurred. While you can follow the main plotline, there’s quite a bit of freedom in deciding how your character acts and reacts to the circumstances around them, as well as which side quests and plots you choose to pursue.
Everyone, from the characters in the Old Eel House where you wake up to the shopkeepers and ordinary denizens still inhabiting Arkham, come from the same library of stock Lovecraft and horror characters. It's one of the main drawbacks of the setting. Being ripped away from Earth to a dark dimension tends to eliminate the hopeful, innocent characters. Pretty much everyone you come across is conniving, gloomy or evil, or some combination of all three. The practical and level-headed serve no use here.
I love the character creation system, it gives plenty of choices and options and allows you to build to suit your play style. The gameplay is also fairly easy to grasp, but there’s more to the different systems than meets the eye at first, and you soon have to figure out how to balance things like rest and hunger with your explorations, among other things.
The art style is interesting. It doesn’t seem particularly Lovecraftian at first glance, it seems like rather simplistic illustrations, but it grows on you as the story progresses and ends up suiting it nicely. The backgrounds are probably my favorite part of the artwork, as they’re dingy, disgusting and really serve to bring to life the plot and gives the world its flavor. The background music is, of course, appropriately spooky and post-apocalyptic, though nothing truly remarkable.Combat may be my least favorite part of the game, truth be told. After restarting with a different character who wouldn't have to fight with a dog, and now looking like a disgraced ex-magician with a Rubbery Man for a sidekick, I tried out combat fighting in the Bank of Lunatics. Would you believe, it's actually filled with a bunch of lunatics who try to attack you. Combat is turn-based on the fighting board but becomes rather tedious quite quickly. At the start, you don't have many options for weapons or healing, and there are many different stats and buttons and rules to follow for it, all while fighting multiple enemies. If I hadn't had my Rubbery Man-esque companion, fittingly named the Outsider, I should surely have perished.
You're not able to see your own stats or those of your companions unless it's your turn, and combat doesn't seem to follow any set of intuitive rules. In my second fight I ended up having half of my opponents taken out by... my other opponents, and then halfway through they started attacking me for no discernible reason. The game does helpfully give an overlay with an explanation of how to battle, as well as a pop-up "How To" guide in the corner when you first encounter a battle, which does help, but something about the system still feels clunky.
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones | First Impressions
For those interested in Lovecraft and who are fans of Lovecraft adaptation games, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones has so far been a great, fun endeavor, with a playstyle similar to Sunless Sea. However, for those bored of Lovecraftian horror, there’s not really much new to the genre that this adds to tempt beleaguered gamers back into the fold. Of course, this could change later in the game, but that would then bring problems of an awkward tonal shift as well. So, for those Cthulhu lovers out there, definitely check out Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones.
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones was previewed by TechRaptor on Steam, using a key provided by the developer.