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So, what else can the game offer apart from combat? Why quests of course. In order to find the Dismal Man, you will have to decipher a cryptic poem and to do so you will be running all over Arkham and involving yourself in other people's business.
And credit where credit is due, some of the game's quests are quite spectacular. Multi-stage, atmospheric and packed to the brim with skill checks that make playing any particular character archetype satisfying. It's a shame then that due to the game's incredibly limited scope there's only a couple of these major quests. The rest mostly just involve a lot of running back and forth.
Speaking of limited scope, the game is quite short for an RPG. It took me roughly 12 hours to beat it and the cliffhanger ending was not at all satisfying. According to the developers, they were faced with some tough decisions and ended up scrapping a good deal of planned content. If we're lucky, at some point we'll get a sequel that continues Stygian's story. For now though, we're left with a game that starts fairly strong but then goes nowhere fast.
Stygian is advertised to offer plenty of replayability, and while on a certain level this is true, because the game is so tiny, that replayability doesn't really matter. Sure, you can tackle the major quests in a variety of ways, but once you're done with them, you will still arrive to the exact same destination.
For some inexplicable reason the game is also designed in such a way where you can't really deviate from the intended path. You can see the area transitions, but you can't interact with them unless you have the right quests in your journal. Because of this, the game seems even smaller than it actually is, to the point where it feels constricting. Which is especially obvious during the later stages where you're just going from one area to the next in a linear fashion.
What's worse, is that because of this, the game's better systems, like crafting and research, don't get enough room to breathe and end up being wasted for the most part.
Stygian's unique hand drawn art style and faded palette do a great job of evoking the feelings of unease and melancholy right until the moment you start moving and see your characters transform into a bunch of poorly animated cardboard cutouts. This is especially comical when due to some bug instead of running forward, your character starts moonwalking at a very brisk pace.
On the other hand, the game's sound design is pretty decent when it comes to both music and sound effects. There are some mixing issues where certain sounds tend to be a bit too loud, but apart from that it's all good in that department.
It's also one of the more buggy games in my recent memory and I played Pathfinder: Kingmaker pretty much at launch. The bugs I encountered range from minor annoyances like not being able to interact with objects without moving first, to some more unpleasant stuff where certain animations refuse to end and as a result you are forced to reload.
Thankfully, reloading takes just a few seconds. Still, the game's save system is another one of those systems that feels like it was designed by aliens. You have ten rotating autosaves plus the save and quit option that you can use at any time. So you essentially can save at will, but you have to jump through hoops to do so. And on top of that, the game doesn't have character profiles. Which means that a few minutes after you create a new character, your old one ceases to exist.
Apparently the developers are currently working on a series of fixes that should improve Stygian's transparency, deal with the numerous bugs, and add the save anywhere feature, but that doesn't change the fact that at this point, playing the game can turn into an exercise in frustration.
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones shows some flashes of brilliance but is hampered by a severe lack of budget and developer experience. The game combines a couple of great quests and some interesting systems that unfortunately don't get enough room to breathe with some very questionable design decisions and numerous bugs.
Personally, I have a soft spot for ambitious projects that bite off more than they can chew. And if you're in the same boat, chances are you'll find something to enjoy about Stygian. If not, perhaps it would be better for you to wait for Cultic Games' next project.
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