by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
For us, Gamescom is two days filled with back-to-back meetings. It’s unusual that we see a game that we did not expect to see beforehand. Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones was one of those rare games that took us by complete surprise, and damn am I glad it did.
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is a Lovecraft inspired Role-Playing Game that looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Its handcrafted visuals give it all the hallmarks of one a high quality point and click adventure game. Its rich, detailed story further adds to that idea, yet as soon as you start playing, you realize it really is an RPG.
The game is set in the city of Arkham (fun fact: the town of Arkham was not created for Batman, Lovecraft magicked it into existence in the 1920’s) where everything is not right at all. The town is stuck between dimensions, sitting half way between our Earth and an alternate one. Horrific creatures are attacking the townsfolk on a daily basis, food and other resources are running low and it seems only a matter of time that the last surviving humans will be overrun. A strange person called the Dismal Man appears to know more about what is going on. Is he responsible for the disaster that fell upon Arkham? Does he know a way out? You decide to track him down and find out.
The game starts in the Old Eel Inn, a dark, drab, joyless place but apparently your current home as you’ve been lodging there since the day Arkham left Earth’s reality. You’ve run up quite the tab and the bartender seems less than pleased that he’s still not paid. He grudgingly agrees, though, that he may inherit your meager possessions sooner rather than later due to Arkham’s perilous situation. A large sign leaning against the bar reads “The cook is dead, only serving cans.” Welcome in hell.
Character creation is wonderfully intricate. Not only do you chose from Lovecraftian archetypes like the Soldier, the Academic and the Aristocrat, you’re also picking your characters age. This is not just for show. Physique, ability to cope with the horrors at hand, and wisdom are all affected by age. You also pick a background for your character, which is tied to the archetype. The soldier for instance, gets to pick between having been an intelligence officer, a private in the army, or a bodyguard. These affect your ability to fight, gather information and more.
Many of the character stats and traits feed into Stygian’s belief system, which largely revolves around sanity. Witnessing horrific events will lower your sanity. If your sanity reaches 0, it’s game over. It sounds like it’s a one-on-one swap with health points, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Your character’s interactions with the world and its inhabitants changes according to his sanity. Your sane self may hit a brick wall talking to an insane character, but come back when your own sanity is low and you’re probably able to understand what he’s trying to say much better.
Sanity is also the source of your magical powers. You can literally spellcast yourself to death. Luckily, a variety of melee and ranged weapons can be found throughout the game so there are other ways to protect yourself.
Sanity can be gained by doing good deeds, and by using drugs or drinking booze. The latter two are addictive though, putting more strain on your daily requirements. It may be hard to avoid taking them though, so it’s best to stay stocked up. Richter’s Drugs has all the drugs you’ll ever need, and its proprietor, a shade former businessman named Richter, will be happy to supply you with whatever you need - at outrageous prices of course.
Stygian’s turn based combat sessions have a few fun little twists to it. Most if it plays out as you’d expect, but you’ll start seeing some odd happenings before long. One type of enemies, called Lunatics, do their name justice by being completely unpredictable. They may suddenly walk the other direction, or charge you, or even do something stupid enough to kill themselves. You’re also not required to win every battle. In fact, I would not be surprised if you’re not better off running away from most. At some point during combat, escape paths will appear. How far away they will be depends on the enemy that is furthest away from you.
Even running away will only keep you safe for so long though. This is a game about horror, about despair, about losing things, including your humanity. As you descend further into madness, you gain “Angst” experience. Once you reach a certain level, you’ll be forced to choose a defect, which is almost always a negative perk.
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is an utterly strange game, and I loved every minute that I spent with it. It’s quirky, it’s beautiful, it’s eerie, it’s odd, it’s… not available until 2019. Oh no! I hit my next Angst level - I pick… “goes bonkers seeing weird games” as my defect.