Finished Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones. I loved it. This is an rpg and an antirpg. There’s really great consonance between the narrative and the mechanics. Your character gains skill even as they’re falling the fuck apart.
There are systems upon systems to build up that narrative. Combat is tough from the get go and never really gets easy, reinforcing the menacing atmosphere. You have sanity points as well as HP points, and they’re used as mana for spells and defense against terror, darkness, environmental hazards and weird attacks. Keep casting spells, and your character will spend the battle cowering in a corner. You manage sanity this through rest, reading, drugs, sex, and roleplay, all of which are in limited quantities. Drugs are the most readily available but also lead to permanent addictions.
The game is generous with negative perks from your roleplaying style, which really handicap you and further the image of your character’s descent into madness. One penalty, schizophrenia, actively replaced useful dialogue options with hyperbolic options in the same line; it was like Mass Effect but not annoying. There’s a negative xp system called angst for when you run away too soon or see something horrifying. Even successful battles increase angst based on rounds in combat. The game reinforces the ugliness of combat by letting you run away without penalty after a certain time, but getting to the exit spots can be a challenge.
The game does a fantastic job creating scarcity through a inflationary economy which sees you horde things lest they become more expensive. Skill checks are widely distributed and present through the world, though one or two skills like psychology could have been cut out.
The writing is pretty good and matches the theme and atmosphere. The game is like Planescape and Disco where there are quite a lot of ambient characters with backstories that slot nicely into the setting, and there are many opportunities and benefits to roleplay. As befits the setting there are a lot of deaths you can talk your character into, but they never once felt unfair.
So, onto the negatives. A small negative was that research took too much time. Research is critical skill based rest event, because all artifact you own have maluses as well as bonuses. Some of these maluses are really ugly, but they take to long to research and cut into spell-learning time. That’s small potatoes and really fit the setting.
Bugs, a rushed ending that distorted the plot, and one out of place level were worse offenders. Bugs were present, and in some cases majorly affected the game. I couldn’t upgrade spells even though the functionality is theoretically in the game. In one case I had to run an encounter 7 or 8 times because it kept freezing or wouldn’t let me save after. Thee final ending was rushed and they really fucked up their handling of it. They didn’t have time to code in Miskatonic university, so they put in what should have been a good end to the game and then put a to be continued sign at the end. It’s a shame because the end was decently written and setting appropriate. Instead of the university, [heavy spoilers] they decided to put in a weird sanitarium level where it turns out the whole game is the insane ramblings of your character, but your character can use drugs to go back to the horrifying world and reach the end game. “It’s all a dream, keep playing and wait for the upcoming DLC” was a weird, poor decision.
All of that said, I really enjoyed the game and think it’s a shame that it’ll never get a sequel or DLC.