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Codex Review RPG Codex Review: Stygian Reign of the Old Ones

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Tags: Cultic Games; Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones

It looked really cool when it was announced, seemed like vaporware for years, and eventually came to be seen as one of the most important releases of the year. I'm speaking of course about Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones, the Lovecraftian RPG by Cultic Games released just over two weeks ago. Making his first appearance on our front page in many years, the inimitable Roguey has volunteered to review this somewhat beleaguered title. I would say that his review places Stygian in the same category as something like Serpent of the Staglands. It's an amateur effort that is styled in a way that particularly appeals to Codexian sensibilities, but which never quite comes around to being good enough. Here's an excerpt:

When it comes to setting, Stygian makes the same mistake games like Neverwinter Nights, Bloodlines, and Shadowrun Returns did by cramming in as many references as it possibly can, turning it into a Lovecraft theme park. Cthulhu, Randolph Carter, The Outsider, one of Herbert West's reanimated zombies, Pickman's models, the Terrible Old Man and the Strange High House in the Mist, the Dreamlands, the Witch House, the Mi-Go, the Elder Things, they're all here. I would prefer a more focused story that relies less on direct references, though I recognize the temptation is high to put in everything you can on your first and perhaps only attempt at an adaptation.

It's not all bad. The writing isn't brilliant or deep, but it is superficially entertaining and well-paced, which is a low bar many other modern traditional RPGs have been unable to reach. You won't get plagued by walls of exposition and prose descriptions during dialogue here. There are a few typos and English-as-a-Second-Language mishaps here and there. If your character goes insane, sometimes your dialogue options are replaced with Malkavian-esque lines which can be funny but are occasionally too childish. Sometimes non-player characters react specifically to the different line; other times their reaction remains unchanged. There are a good number of other "false" flavor options that lead to the same dialogue node, which is a shame.

Quest design isn't anything too ambitious: you find plot coupons, investigate a murder, infiltrate a cult, and engage in other Lovecraftian activities. How you're able to carry out these tasks is determined by your character's skills; you'll be locked out of certain interactions if you don't have the right build for it, but there's always a way through. There can be quite a bit of combat, but most of your time is spent walking and interacting with people and objects. As I wrote earlier, Stygian reminds me a lot of the first few hubs in Bloodlines; there's quite a bit of freedom in terms of supported character concepts and playstyles, but the story is on rails with only cosmetic narrative reactivity, no significant branches.

While the journal does give directions, it doesn't hold your hand; there's no quest compass here, so there were times where I felt lost as to what to do next, though I wasn't actually lost since exploring the world and following a thread on any active quest would continue the plot. It's a good feeling rarely found these days.

[...] The combat encounters themselves are incredibly lazy. The first potential fight in the game is against six people. Then you enter an abandoned bank and fight six lunatics up to three times. This is what you can expect to experience for the rest of the game. To the developers' partial credit, the bank had one additional encounter in the demo that was seemingly removed due to negative feedback. Additionally, there are only three of these lousy copy-paste-filled combat crawls (i.e. any location with multiple battles in succession), but going through them is still far more annoying than the usual one-and-done areas.

In addition to being lazy, the encounters are also pretty easy. Granted, I made a combat-oriented character, and I have an above-average (though not great) understanding of how to play cRPGs. There were only two fights that gave me trouble; the first involved reinforcements that pop in behind you after two turns, and the second was an annoying gimmick boss where reinforcements are constantly trickling in behind you while you have to dig up the boss before it can be damaged. Both were manageable once I figured out the ideal positioning within the environment.

Bad news for would-be brave diplomats: you can't totally avoid combat in Stygian. I encountered 21 battles, and you can sneak and potentially talk your way past most of them, but there were at least two on the critical path that can't be avoided (one of which is that annoying gimmick boss I just mentioned). A solo run seems implausible if not impossible on account of that one fight.

At least the endgame isn't an annoying combat crawl in its entirety. Unfortunately, what it does have is comparably annoying: a series of rooms where you have to do the same time-padding pattern matching puzzle over and over again. After a brief reprieve, you're thrown into an area where you have to navigate around real-time patrols. Cultic made the same mistake here Harebrained Schemes did with Shadowrun: Hong Kong; real-time stealth gameplay is inappropriate and out of place in a turn-based RPG. It's like the developers forgot they were making an RPG and decided to make an adventure game complete with stereotypical action-oriented gimmicks.

I'll avoid spoiling the details of the ending, but as Cultic themselves confirmed before release, it ends on a cliffhanger after about 20 hours. It stops after a dramatic moment, but it's not a proper climax by any means. The developers had a lot of hubris and optimism to end it like this; it was certainly within their ability to rewrite the story to give it a more definite ending with what they had available. Instead what we have is comparable to Bloodlines if it just suddenly stopped after the sewers and played a cinematic that teased what to expect in Chinatown. It's an Early Access or Episode 1 release that doesn't label itself as such, which is a dishonorable way to release a game.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Stygian Reign of the Old Ones
 

Deuce Traveler

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Thanks for doing this Roguey. I hope you didn't lose SAN points. Has there ever been a good CRPG that used the Cthulhu mythos? I played Cthulhu saves the world, but that doesn't really count and was only enjoyable for the tongue-and-cheek novelty.
 

Strange Fellow

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Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag.
What IHaveHugeNick said. The review is perfectly in line with what I expected from the game after playing the demo as well as an hour or two on release day before refunding. Looks like something I'll come back to when it's on a discount and I have nothing else I'd rather play. Thanks Roguey :salute:
 

Alpan

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Grab the Codex by the pussy Pathfinder: Wrath
It's a good review. Thank you for your time, Roguey.

Roguey said:
It was in development for four years with a team of over 20 people. By comparison, Fallout was made by up to 30 people in over three years, and Arcanum was made by a core team of about a dozen in a similar amount of time. Those certainly weren't well-managed projects, but they do show the value of teams who have people with vocational knowledge, considering how those games offer a lot more than what Stygian does.

I've been thinking about this recently -- in addition to more experienced personnel, what Fallout and Arcanum had that Stygian (and many other indie projects) didn't was their custom engines. I'd be interested to know, in a post-mortem of sorts, just how many man-months of work Cultic wasted simply trying to get Unity to work as they wanted it to. Given the state the game was released in I imagine they had to keep fiddling with it until the very end.

A one-size-fits-all engine simply can't substitute for a talented engine programmer.
 

ItsChon

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Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag.
This is why I always pirate a game before I bite the bullet and buy it. The review was spot on, though I think you're capable of writing better tbh Roguey. You'll have to keep pumping out Codex Reviews to reach your full potential.

I've yet to see a game with this kind of 2D scrolling weird art style/character animation that didn't feel like absolute shit while playing. Isometric is the way to go, the sooner people realize this the better.
 

Fowyr

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It's pretty hilarious that Roguey missed two pretty interesting systems.
Crafting is Arcanum-inspired and pretty useful and good (sans some blueprints). Magic system is useful and atmospheric. System of essences was a nice touch.
First 2/3 of the game is fucking awesome. Developers were inspired by Fallout and Arcanum and it shows. You always have at least two ways to proceed in quests, sometimes more. There are minimum four ways to find House of Spectres, for example.
Let down was all this abrupt end and cut content.
 
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Crafting is Arcanum-inspired and pretty useful and good (sans some blueprints). Magic system is useful and atmospheric. System of essences was a nice touch.
This hasn't been my experience, although I do agree that Rougey not using those two systems means the review is a bit incomplete. First, the magic system is where the game "features" the most bugs. Seriously, i get the impression that it has not been tested whatsoever. Second, the crafting economy is completely nonsensical. Items often end up being cheaper than the sum of their parts. I'm not going to explain why that is terrible.
 

Stakhanov

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Crafting is Arcanum-inspired and pretty useful and good (sans some blueprints). Magic system is useful and atmospheric. System of essences was a nice touch.
This hasn't been my experience, although I do agree that Rougey not using those two systems means the review is a bit incomplete. First, the magic system is where the game "features" the most bugs. Seriously, i get the impression that it has not been tested whatsoever. Second, the crafting economy is completely nonsensical. Items often end up being cheaper than the sum of their parts. I'm not going to explain why that is terrible.

Actually, it's cheaper to craft because you make multiples of each drug, rather than purchasing. You also get access to some unique items - say with science you can get an upgraded hazard suit that provides damage resistance, or OP canister bombs that are very handy against clumped enemies.

Medicine allows you to craft endless drugs, including ferocities (which turn anyone into a combat monster). That said, crafting does need some tweaks, because there are some items that do nothing or aren't worth the investment like the crossbow or the repeater pistol.

The magic system is definitely broken right now though.
 

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angst meter that increases whenever you [...] enter a new turn in combat
Um, is that correct? I thought it was a fixed amount per encounter, like with XP.
the second was an annoying gimmick boss where reinforcements are constantly trickling in behind you while you have to dig up the boss before it can be damaged.
To game's credit, there are two build-specific ways of dealing with this boss (one for science, the other for magic) that can forego digging it up. There are also some other combat encounters that can be made easier with non-combat means.
The magic system is definitely broken right now though.
I wouldn't call it broken-broken. Most spells work fine, there's only one that's severely bugged (and only in the enhanced version) and a couple more that have smaller bugs to them.
 

Fowyr

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To game's credit, there are two build-specific ways of dealing with this boss (one for science, the other for magic) that can forego digging it up.
I know science one, but please elaborate about magic way.
 
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Crafting is Arcanum-inspired and pretty useful and good (sans some blueprints). Magic system is useful and atmospheric. System of essences was a nice touch.
This hasn't been my experience, although I do agree that Rougey not using those two systems means the review is a bit incomplete. First, the magic system is where the game "features" the most bugs. Seriously, i get the impression that it has not been tested whatsoever. Second, the crafting economy is completely nonsensical. Items often end up being cheaper than the sum of their parts. I'm not going to explain why that is terrible.

Actually, it's cheaper to craft because you make multiples of each drug, rather than purchasing. You also get access to some unique items - say with science you can get an upgraded hazard suit that provides damage resistance, or OP canister bombs that are very handy against clumped enemies.

Medicine allows you to craft endless drugs, including ferocities (which turn anyone into a combat monster). That said, crafting does need some tweaks, because there are some items that do nothing or aren't worth the investment like the crossbow or the repeater pistol.

The magic system is definitely broken right now though.
This was not my experience with laudanum. I don't remember the numbers now, but you would craft at a loss. Maybe it was patched?
 

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Pretty glad now I didn't play due to the slow and without-speed-up-option combat.
An ending like this would have frustrated me even more.

I don't understand why developers do this and then don't even label it as "chapter 1" or something.
It's like punching your players in the face as a thank you for the time they spent.

 
Last edited:

Fowyr

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eoguey words doesnt give ending justice.
Its more like fallout: you get water chip (game could have ended in here perfectly) but instead you play a bit longer and then it stops. Its not cliff hanger, its sudden halt right after having perfect opening for closure
WnsBvTA.jpg
(Thanks, RK47)
Now tell me how much of these objectives are in the game.
 

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eoguey words doesnt give ending justice.
Its more like fallout: you get water chip (game could have ended in here perfectly) but instead you play a bit longer and then it stops. Its not cliff hanger, its sudden halt right after having perfect opening for closure
WnsBvTA.jpg
(Thanks, RK47)
Now tell me how much of these objectives are in the game.
He's probably talking about Ward 10, which does provide a kind of closure - and certainly a better one than the actual ending. They probably just couldn't bring themselves to kill some darlings and not include all the art they made for Nithon.
The poem could have been easily rewritten to fit this kind of narrative. Oh, well.
 

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It was in development for four years with a team of over 20 people. By comparison, Fallout was made by up to 30 people in over three years, and Arcanum was made by a core team of about a dozen in a similar amount of time. Those certainly weren't well-managed projects, but they do show the value of teams who have people with vocational knowledge, considering how those games offer a lot more than what Stygian does.
One more point to comment on in the review, the fundamental difference between Fallout/Arcanum and Stygian is the art pipeline. Both FO and A are tile-based, with highly reusable tiles - and look inoffensive at best. Stygian, on the other hand, went the route of having unique assets for every single fucking area, the only places where they could reuse some art are dungeons. And although artistically the result is fantastic, it was bound to bloat both the budget and the man-hours required exponentially.
 

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