Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is an extremely well written and immersive H.P. Lovecraft inspired game and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a role-play heavy RPG experience, especially fans of the Divinity series and the like.
Developed by Cultic Games, Stygian is essentially a 2D point and click Adventure/RPG with an emphasis on dialogue choices that match the character you are role-playing as. This is done through what the game calls “belief systems” – as a reward for playing in character (i.e. making dialogue choices that match up with what your character believes in, whether it be faith in God, materialistic tendencies, or straight up Nihilism, to name a few), your character will gain sanity points which are used in skills and other aspects of the game. The audacity of the dialogue was tremendous – no punches pulled, it was vibrant, profanity was present but not gratuitous – humor involved in certain places but it fell into place and really helped to reveal the psyche of the various characters you will interact with. Furthermore, the character creator options are extensive and full of flavor text and meaningful stat changes, which does a lot to help you really get into the role-playing aspect of the character you are making.
We found that with our experience in Divinity things definitely clicked – they share almost the same UI layout that you would expect from Divinity and the skill system is more or less the same (Attributes + Skills + Perks that are available depending on what skills you have chosen). There is a lot of information and things going on under the hood but the game does an excellent job of going into detail with pop-ups to explain exactly what attributes mean for you as the player, and the flavor text is rich and well written. This definitely added a lot to immersing the player in the overall setting as they progress in the game and begin to unravel the main story.
The visuals really help to bring things to life – Hand drawn 2D environments and characters that reminded us of the early comic strip/book art styles of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s with a heavy focus on a depressing, dreary, and dirty atmosphere – despite this, colors still manage to pop and it all helps to better bring the nature of the story to life. Environments are generally worn, decayed, or overrun with vegetation (usually a mix of everything!) – perfectly suitable for an H.P. Lovecraft inspired tale.
The Sound design in this game is serviceable – there was little music to speak of in our short play-through except for battles and cut scenes (not counting The Old Eel, where the player first starts, which has a fantastic jazz-blues inspired track and fits the atmosphere perfectly), with instead the focus more on audio stings and atmospheric noise that does well to highlight the oppressive and dreary looking visuals.
The battle system, while straightforward and what you would expect from an RPG like this, had a very interesting concept – “Progressive escapes” Basically what this meant was if we did enough damage to our foes, we had the opportunity to move forward to a certain point on the grid and leave the battle in victory – we had survived, instead of fleeing. The battles can be brutal, as enemies are numerous and a few unlucky turns can see your party members near death very fast. This of course encourages this method of victory in battle – we started out expecting the typical “kill everything on screen to win” mechanic and instead found ourselves completely overwhelmed and trying to do our best to manage. Everything so far in service to keeping the game and its oppressive atmosphere immersive, and it definitely achieved its objective! Worry not, you can still duke it out if you wish – though I’m not sure how long you’ll be able to hold out doing that in this game.
The only real issues we found with our experience was you could not save without also exiting the game, which can prove to be a hassle especially when you want to save right after an encounter or decision you made, as the autosave function seems to save the game only up to the point of the previous room/area you’ve been in. This means that any progress you made within that room didn’t seem to autosave until you left for a new area. Could be wrong on this but we didn’t want to take any chances! Hitting Alt-Enter to go from full screen to windowed mode worked fine, but going back to the main menu seemed to force the game back into full-screen mode. Upon going back into the game, it seemed to restrict the mouse as if it was running in windowed mode and wouldn’t allow us to hit UI buttons etc at the edges of the screen until we full-screened then went back into windowed mode once again.
Keep in mind we did not change the game’s settings from the setting menu directly, this all happened when hitting Alt + Enter. This may, however, be related to the main issue we had with the game – UI soft-locks, particularly when dealing with the settings menu. For whatever reason when going into resolution settings, or checking the key bindings, the game had a tendency to get stuck in this menu settings and our only choice was to force close the program and reload the game. We found none of these issues when dealing with the game critical sections of the UI (inventory, character screen, etc), so while definitely a game-breaking bug, we found it did not occur at all while playing with the essentials. With a patch or two at most, we assume this issue will be resolved, and in the meantime won’t have any impact while directly playing the game.
Aside from the UI issues, this game had us hooked while playing it – we needed to know more, and were happy to see the game actually lived up to its promise of not spoon feeding information and objective locations. We were expected to take the notes and objects we had collected so far and on our own initiative find the next step to progress the story-line. An absolute breath of fresh air.