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Dismal despair — Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones review

Arkham is lost. Separated from the rest of the world. The Black Day has changed everything. Monsters have risen and are killing with a ferocity that can’t hope to be matched. The horror is too much for many to bear. Their minds become twisted visages of what they once were. Arkham is lost, but you are not. Not yet. Following the trail of the Dismal Man, maybe you can shine a light on this lost city.

This is where Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones begins. A dream of the Dismal Man starts you off on your horror-filled adventure. Let me tell you now, this is one adventure worth going on. The story is intense and filled with mystery all the way through, as any proper Lovecraftian tale should be. Just who is the Dismal Man? What is he? How does the Mob and Cult fit into all this?

While the story is interesting, it’s the characters you meet that will keep you hooked. From a soldier brought back from the dead to a strange, wrapped humanoid skilled in the occult, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones has a variety of incredibly interesting characters each with their own story and problems. The wrapped humanoid, for instance, is an outcast of society, and another is searching for her husband; the same one you’ve somehow met in a dream.

The residents of Arkham aren’t doing too good these days.

Of course, there is also your player character. The character creator is very in-depth and offers a variety of different ways to play the game. You can choose your age: young gets a bonus point into Attributes, Physique, Agility, or Senses, but loses two skill points. Adult is the middle ground. You get all your skill and attribute points. Old gets you bonus skill points, but you lose a point in Attribute.

I found all the skills themselves to be pretty useful. Firearms, Melee, Occult, Science, Speech, Psychology, and more, all serve a purpose, and you can create a variety of different characters. Personally, I went with a smooth-talking firearms expert. It’s worked well for me, but it is far from the only valid build. Do you study the Occult and embrace the madness of the world? Investigation to discover what others miss? Medicine to keep yourself and your partners alive? If you don’t want to create a character without knowing what you are getting into, they also offer several different pre-made characters to allow you to jump right into the fray.

Skills and Attributes aren’t the only thing that matters to your character. You also need to decide your faith, which will heavily play into your character and how you play them. Do you try to help everyone you meet because we need to stick together? Do you focus on yourself? Do you believe that science can explain this all away? Choosing dialogue that matches your beliefs increases your sanity while going against them puts a strain on your mental health.

You definitely visit some strange places.

Once your character is up and running you’ll see just how vital that mental health is. You have your health bar that goes down as you get damaged and you have your sanity bar that goes down as you experience the horrors of Arkham. See a deadly beast just devour its dead comrade? What about seeing a man burned alive? Yeah, these happen to take a toll on the mind.

All of these events take place in the city of Arkham, which is deceptively small when you start. You have just a handful of screens to explore. I think this is one of Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones’ greatest strength. I’m very familiar with where everything is in Arkham and yet new things consistently happened to me. These few screens are not static. A masked man I’ve passed many times suddenly offering me tea. Seeing a crowd around a dead body that has a few too many holes in it to be alive. A mutilated horse and its crying owner. The screens are constantly evolving, and it makes Arkham feel like a living, chaotic place. You truly never know what is going to happen or who you are going to meet.

Bars are definitely something that would survive an apocalypse.

The deceptively small map may be one of Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones’ strengths, but I think its absolute greatest quality is its variety. You will explore so many strange places and see some truly grotesque creatures. I’ve fought beastmen in an abandoned warehouse. I’ve solved a dream puzzle to free the Baroness of Dreams. I’ve dived into a bank with lunatics to find a hidden safe after finding a Key on the ground. These tasks were fun and interesting. I was never bored with my time in Arkham.

I do have to admit, I didn’t care for how Arkham looked at first. Something about the art style, which is similar to Darkest Dungeon, seemed off to me. It grew on me as I played, but I still don’t think it looks as good as it could.

Of course, Arkham is a dangerous place. Combat is unavoidable. Those familiar with the Arkham tabletop RPG or just Dungeons and Dragons in general will be quite at home with the combat mechanics. Turns are decided based upon initiative, weapons have preferred range, you get bonuses for attacking your opponent in the back, so on and so on. Combat can be pretty brutal. You are almost always outnumbered and your foes are quite deadly. Thankfully, for many of the fights, you don’t have to kill everyone to win. Once time passes, the battle can end if you take a certain escape route. This gives you all the experience as if you had won the battle by killing everyone. I like this mechanic. It fits the Lovecraftian theme so perfectly. You don’t win. You survive.

I’m not skilled in medicine, but I think he may be hurt.

You do have to survive, and it isn’t always easy. You need to make sure you are eating and sleeping as well as not getting eaten, stabbed, or shot by the many things that want to kill you. You have to scavenge to find food and cigarettes,the new form of currency since paper money became obsolete. Turns out paper money doesn’t do you much good when you are in a completely separate plane of reality from the government that printed it. You also may want to keep an eye out for artifacts to give you an extra boost. Just know that that power always comes with a price.

Now, I will warn you that the beginning of the game is meant for experimentation. Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones does little to explain itself to you and it is easy to get confused and make mistakes. I enjoy this! I love learning and figuring out a game on my own without being lead from point to point. I understand, however, that it can be a turn off for some. Just know that once you figure it out, you are good to go.

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is a fantastic RPG. The story is interesting, the characters are unique, the quests are varied, and the systems run deep. There are a variety of different ways to play this game and I can’t wait to jump back in and explore some new paths. This is one nightmare I highly recommend.

95

Excellent

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones

Review Guidelines

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is a fantastic RPG. The story is interesting, the characters are unique, the quests are varied, and the systems run deep. There are a variety of different ways to play this game and I can’t wait to jump back in and explore some new paths. This is one nightmare I highly recommend.

Austin Fern has been playing video games his entire life. The first console he truly fell in love with is the PlayStation 2 with Sly Cooper, God of War, and many others really leaving an impression. He enjoys all genres of games from FarCry 5 to Danganronpa and everything in between.

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