Last updated on August 16th, 2019
Bringing a strategic title with explorative features, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones by Cultic Games sets to take roleplaying into a turn-based setting. Things are getting rather strange in the town of Arkham, with plenty of interesting characters to meet as you discover mysteries and nightmarish enemies. Recruit the oddballs you encounter to help you in combat, customise your own playstyle, make your own choices and try not to go crazy. I have played a couple Lovecraft titles which have included the narrative driven Call of Cthulhu and the investigative action adventure The Sinking City, but I was interested to see Cultic Games take on a turn-based title in this genre.
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones Preview – Lovecraft Goes Turn-Based
Genre: CRPG, lovecraftian
Developed by: Cultic Games
Published by: 1c Entertainment
Release date: September 26th
Platforms: PC via Steam
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones Features
- 2D Hand drawn artstyle inspired by the world of Lovecraft.
- Quests based on Lovecraft’s original works with choices and role-playing style.
- Choose from 8 main character Archetypes, each with their own history and specialities. Fully customisable characters from scratch.
- Meet a number of strange companions that will accompany you on your maddening journey. Recruit them to be a part of your crew.
- Sanity meters will influence character’s mentality and dialogue options. Mental instability has it’s advantages but also comes with drawbacks but why sane when the world is maddening?
- Stygian’s Belief System – will determine how characters will deal with the strange new town of Arkham. This provides unique dialogue choices, extending the depth of RPG decisions.
- Spell System – Can grant special abilities but the Occult may cost you your sanity, your health or even more.
- Strategic, turn-based combat with Heroes of Might and Magic games influence.
Story & Setting
The setting for Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones is the city of 1920’s Arkham, which has been torn apart from the Earth and now is consumed with despair in another dimension. Arkham is home to cultists and gangsters. Its inhabitants are edging towards madness and some have even gone insane. Stygian is based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft which is full of psychological horrors.
The story begins with you awakening in bed with a strange figure standing, watching you. You then follow this mysterious man out into the city, but things take a dark turn when you see haunting visions. What does this man want? Why was he at the foot of your bed? You must go out into the city to find clues, talk to people to find out more about what is happening in this eerie city and solve this enigma. But snooping comes with a price, is the truth worth your sanity?
The game starts with the option to either create a new character completely from scratch or to pick from eight pre-made characters who each have a different Archetype. These all have pre-picked stats with starter skills.
If you decide to make a character, you can choose a number of option including age and background. These each affect your character’s skills, for example going for an older character means you’ll have more life experience but will start with decreased attributes in either physique, agility or senses. Backgrounds can determine what skills you will excel at or certain situations where you won’t have the option to use them.
In the demo I tried out the pre-made character the Detective who has a pretty well rounded set of attribute stats, starting off with Investigation, Firearms, Psychology and Stealth as starting skills. Since this is a demo, it was a little hard to determine how much this affected the outcome of choices or actions but leads me to believe certain outcomes may be positive or negative depending on your stats, this will affect how combat will play out. Using your strengths will also help you determine which weapons will be best for your build.
One example is one interaction led to a wager on a darts game, but my character lost because he didn’t have the physical attributes to beat the athletic opponent. I liked how the way your character is built also affects the interactions with the world around them, not just in combat. There was also another instance where a conversation got a bit heated with a man at a bank, which resulted in fight that I didn’t end up winning. Choices do hold consequences, so how you approach a situation can change what outcomes occur.
Exploring is at your own pace, you can wander around the city and loot items from boxes or rubbish; in a point and click style. Sometimes you can find useful items or scrap material for crafting. While there are a couple of spots out in the open to find items, the bulk of loot will come from investigating dangerous areas or looting your fallen enemies. You can even find hidden objects/clues by spotting out of place items, adding an investigative vibe.
But exploration is a little slow, using the mouse in a sort of point and click movement, for your character to follow to different areas of your screen can take some time for them to arrive at the destination. There is also the option to choose Stealth, which didn’t really get explained in the demo, but I only assume you can use it to help avoid certain situations.
There are eight Archetypes players can choose from which are Soldier, Performer, Aristocrat, Criminal, Academic, Investigator, Explorer and Occultist. Yes you can even pick an occultist if you wish! Each have a different Belief System which will affect the way they interact with NPCs and make choices in game. It also determines how well they deal with seeing supernatural horrors which will take their toll on sanity.
For example the Detective has the Rational belief system, this means choosing choices that corresponds with scientific or medical research might bode better than others. There are six different Belief Systems which are Humanistic, Materialistic, Nihilistic, Divine, Rational and Esoteric. But the choices are yours to make, it’s up to you if you want to see the world burn.
In Stygian combat is turn-based tactical, meaning each turn you will need to make choices in battle or “Struggle” as it called in-game. You will have a set number of Action Points, each weapon will cost you AP as you use them. Once your turn is over, enemies will play out their moves. You can choose to attack with weapons, move across the grid, add defence or wait your turn.
Throughout the world you will meet peculiar characters that can be recruited to join your team. During the demo I managed to save an Occultist who I’m pretty sure was not human, from some not so friendly people. This is where the combat got pretty interesting, as this character had a number of Spells and Rituals he could use to inflict damage on the zombie like enemies that tried to attack, or even cast a Blood Circle to help protect a companion.
But using Occult magic has it’s drawbacks, the Blood Circle will cause the caster to lose health, as blood must be spilt to pay the price. This makes making combat choices in game a little more complicated, as you have to assess whether you’re willing to risk stats of one companion for another. There is also the added elements of objects that can appear in battle, while not exactly used as cover from enemy attacks, they can help impede their movement, buying you some time.
I found trying to regain health was a bit trickier than expected as I could only find one particular healing item that would only let me use it while in combat. This meant spending AP to use items which will affect your turn. This made combat a bit more challenging as you had to think about whether to risk spending resources on healing or attacking.
There were times where I really wished there was a fast forward/skip button to speed up enemy moves, as this can take quite some time to play out. Hopefully this is something the devs will consider adding with the full release of the game, as this could deter some players. But the animations of the enemies using their attacks/abilities are fun to watch, and enhanced the overall battle experience.
Rather than dealing with money, Arkham is strictly a barter system, meaning trading items for cigarettes is how you will purchase items from merchants. This makes getting necessary items such as medicine, weapons or bullets a little less straight forward but in a good way. You will need to think about which items you’re willing to trade, for items that you dearly need. The demo didn’t have the Crafting system enabled so in the full game I imagine a lot more thought will be going into which materials you should keep to craft items.
It wouldn’t be a true lovecraftian game without a Sanity indicator of some kind. Sanity does play it’s part in this game, even enemies you encounter can tick down your character’s Sanity stats. There are ways to help regain, one is by using consumables such as some Bootleg Whisky which as you might imagine does have some negative effects. While you won’t end up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, it does take a toll on your health so you will have to choose if its worth the trade-off. There are few different alcohols you can use, each have their own effects.
Audio & Visuals
Cultic Games have used a beautifully hand-drawn artstyle that really adds a unique charm to the game, making the UI feel like you’re flipping through a tragic graphic novel with interactive features. Animations are great to watch and is accompanied by fantastic voice acting which adds to the story telling elements. Music throughout is in a 1920’s style, matching the era and overall aesthetic but with more dramatic pieces setting off the mysterious tone.
There are plenty of sound effects that immerse you in this grim tale, pulling you in further into this narrative of madness, the opening scene especially feels like you’re part of a play. Not all conversations with NPCs are voice acted, but interacting with characters helps you learn more about the town and the on-goings in Arkham. You also get a rundown of previous moves or actions in text form, so you can recap which is also quite helpful.
Stygian has some interesting story with dialogue not only revealing hints or plot points but also determining different types of interactions which can even result in a fight breaking out. This makes gameplay more involved and interactive. Dealing with exploration however was a little stagnant in places, but as this was a demo, things could pick up later on as players get more use to the game mechanics and gain their bearings around the city.
There seems to be a numerous amount of builds possible, letting you either decide on each of the attributes yourself or taking on a pre-made character. I could see those who want to design their own builds having plenty of choice here which means quite some replay value. There are also options in dialogue which means playing out the story in different ways. While the game might not be a fast paced, it definitely has a way to draw you in and makes you think about your next move. If you enjoy some puzzle elements with strategy, you will probably enjoy mastering Stygian.
While there has been many types of Lovecraftian titles released, it’s great to see a turn-based RPG which combines the story with the ability to fully customise how you play.
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones releases on PC via Steam on September 26th. In the meantime you can check out the demo.
If you enjoyed this preview be sure to check out more in Waking Preview: How Well Do You Know Yourself? and Oninaki Preview – A Soulful Adventure. You can also read/watch about co-op souls shooter Remnant From The Ashes Preview: Sci-Fi Cooperative Mayhem.