Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones – Cosmic Snorer

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is a Lovecraft-inspired RPG by the developers Cultic Games. I have completed this game once before when it was released back in 2019, but I got into a Lovecraft mood and remembered I had this game. But after spending about 10 hours in Arkham again, stuff is coming back to me why I didn’t like the game that much. It’s not all bad, though, it’s just a major disappointment for what could have been something good.

The story is everything Lovecraft ever wrote mixed, which is both cool and a bit eye-rolling if I’m being honest. Arkham was lifted away from earth and thrown into the cosmic abyss. It still exists as it is, but everything horror-esque from Lovecraft now roams this part of the land. Your motive is to get out, regardless of what kind of character you created. I have not read everything by Lovecraft, and from what I have read, I don’t remember it all, so I’m unsure if Arkham lifting off like this is unique to just this game, or something that happened in the books, but I assume it is distinctive to Stygian. So, I will say that this aspect of the story is very creative and fits the atmosphere of Lovecraft. The problem is that every other story, main story, and side quests are just some kind of variant of already established tales that Lovecraft has already told. You get moments of “hey, I know that!”, and that is fine, but almost every single quest is written like a homage, and this becomes dull to me after a while. Especially, when the atmosphere is great already – just expand on the works or do something new!

It’s IKEA for cosmic horror devices

When it comes to gameplay, I think the game starts well. There are a lot of choices to be made dialogue-wise, and many choices play directly into your pick of character. This time I went with a detective that has a good sense of people knowledge, which opened up a lot of interesting dialogue comparable to my first scientist-guy playthrough. And as mentioned, the atmosphere, in the beginning, is excellent, which together with the general gameplay, and rarity of equipment makes for a nice RPG survival experience. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last too long. Like, if you play a character that isn’t combat orientated, you might get into some serious trouble, as my professor did. He was useless, which made the combat a struggle. Some encounters could be avoided, but not all. My gun-slinging detective had no real problem, though, and since combat gives plenty of rewards, I soon turned fairly rich, at least by cosmic Arkham standards.

The white man, and woman… and a zombie, making trouble for the Indians again

There are penalties for killing and having your sanity lowered. But, I noticed no difference between my playthroughs, which I thought was funny. Because my professor, while interesting at times, had the same crippling issues as my detective, which by the game standards should be a PTSD-ridden paranoid mess thanks to all this stuff he has to do and see. So, my professor was a mess, but at the same time missing all kinds of useful survival knowledge, like fighting and shooting, and he was poor to boot. In conclusion, if you want less suffering, roll a character that can fight, since many fights are mandatory. It will also make you money that will alleviate some of the negative perks you get through medicine, which you now can afford to buy.

One big issue I have with Stygian, which both falls under story and gameplay, is that a lot of quests solved give no resolution, and will never be mentioned again. For example, there is a murder quest, a fairly big one that will take you all over the place, and have you talking to a lot of people. There is a detective involved, who is down on his luck that you can help, that gave up on the case for one or another reason. But after you solve the case, you can’t mention it again to him, you can’t say you found out who the killer was or anything else to soothe his mind. It just gets listed as completed in your journal, and hey hop, you are on the next stage of the main quest.

Some quests, that seem questionable (dependable on what character you play of course) can’t be refused. You can see bad stuff coming a mile away, but since it’s part of the main narrative in some way, you can’t refuse it. Stuff like this, unfortunately, breaks the immersion and is fairly common throughout the game.

He must have seen the power bill

Well, okay, there is another big issue that I need to mention that is probably even bigger than the one above. And that is that the game isn’t finished. Stygian just ends at some point, it just cuts you off, and ends your character right there in that moment, with the lose promise that a continuation might follow (which didn’t happen). So, even if you enjoyed the game up to this point, regardless of the faults, and the very hastily thrown together final parts of the game – everything you have done up to this point has been for naught. The struggle? The survival? Nothing comes of it. I guess, it’s true to some of Lovecraft’s works, the nihilistic view, but it’s a mistake to think that all his stories ended this way. This kind of ending is almost on the same level as – “It was just a dream”.

It’s a real shame Stygian turned out like this because it looked so promising before release. The art is great, and the music and general sound effects are very fitting. Even if most of the stuff is a re-telling, it’s still an atmospheric experience, but it’s an unfinished mess in the end. It makes me a bit sad because it could have been the go-to game for Lovecraft nerds. In the beginning, it shows so much potential, taking every kind of character into consideration when it comes to quests and dialogue, just for all to collapse in on itself. Do I recommend it? Sorry, no. Maybe if you can get it for 2 bucks if you are really desperate after something Lovecraftian. The first couple of hours, as mentioned, is pretty good, you just have to prepare yourself for a very abrupt and incredibly unsatisfying ending if you decide to take the plunge.

Thanks for reading.

/Thomas


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