Styx: Master of Shadows
Styx: Master of Shadows is a great little stealth/RPG from Cyanide Studios, the same studio who brought us “Of Orcs and Men” which was a fun/interesting take on the medieval fantasy genre, if a little janky. Much like “Of Orcs and Men”, Styx follows in that same style but it still stumbles here and there.
The game kicks off with the titular Styx being caught trying to infiltrate a huge tower citadel called Akenash in order to steal the heart of the World Tree, a massive tree that produces a mystical substance known as Amber (which is effectively a replacement for mana) for his own nefarious reasons. What makes this concept interesting is that our anti-hero is a goblin, but that is where it stopped being interesting for me, as the story is fairly forgettable and the game seems to have childish use of swearing confused with “gritty” and “dark”.
I have no problem with swearing in the games I play but only when it’s used in believable ways (like when a guard turns around to see a goblin cutting his friend open and cries “F**K! A monster!”), but it’s usually just grating and cringe worthy here. Basically Humans are corrupt and foul, the Elves can’t be trusted, and the Orcs are mindless killing machines, there are a few plot twists here and there, but because the story drops you right in the middle of everything and assumes you know the score with this world it doesn’t explain anything.
Really though, the story is just a vehicle to get the player to cool areas to sneak and stab through, offering the kind of awesome vertical spaces to play in that you would expect from being set in a giant tower. Being a nimble goblin means there’s a parkour-lite system you’ll be using to get around these genuinely huge areas, but Assassin’s Creed this ain’t. While the movemnt is good and fast, the signposting for what Styx can and can’t hold onto is pretty poorly handled, so be prepared to die a number of comical deaths trying to figure out what you can hang onto on a given wall (Quicksaving is your friend here). Enemy AI does a pretty good job of patrolling around in search of you, and will actually call any others within the area to the hunt. A complete lack of any peripheral vision on their part means you can get away with some ridiculous stuff.
There’s a pretty simple skill tree in the game that you’ll spend your SP (skill points) on. SP is tallied up at the end of every mission and is rewarded for completing the main and secondary objectives as well as finding collectables and achieving challenges, like not killing anyone or not raising a single alarm etc. So depending on how you play there’s enough SP going around to spec into what you want. There are some pretty ingenious abilities to unlock, like cloning. Styx will barf up a sickly clone of himself who can crawl under locked gates, throw switches, and stay in a hiding spot until a hapless guard walks past in order to pull him in and murder him.
The process of using the environment to sneak around, kill, and hide the bodies of guards would often make me harken back to Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, in that despite being as useful as a wet teabag in a standup fight, there is always a way out for the player. Which is especially valued if you’re playing on the games hardest difficulty setting, Goblin. Every enemy will instant kill you if they get close enough, so not ever being seen, ever, is the only way to play (again, quicksaving is a must). The game also does a good job of throwing new enemy types into the mix to keep you on your toes.
Several hours in the game introduces Knights, whom cannot be killed with your trusty dagger, throwing knifes, or disgusting clones. Instead you must use the environment to off them (though I would also like to mention it is possible to get through the game without killing anyone, despite only having lethal attacks in the game). For example; Poison their food or water, and when they stop for a snack they’ll choke to death a few seconds later, or there’s my personal favorite, crush them with a hanging object (like a chandelier or cargo crate from a crane).
Each new enemy recquires unique tactics in how to deal with them, and the game introduces these goons at the right times so the core mechanic of sneaking always has a new challenge. “Well this sounds like an excellent game! Thanks you incredibly intelligent and handsome critic, I’m just going to go bu-” Hey now, I’m not done yet! There is one very notable fly in the soup of an other wise very good $30 game, and that is padding.
Rather than craft an excellent 10-15 hour game, Cyanide instead (seemingly arbitrarily) decided to really force this game into a 20-25 hour experience. Thus turning what could have been a really tight and focused game into something that just keeps dragging on and on and on and on and on an- you get the idea. This veritable journey of backtracking, heavy asset recycling, and a really protracted end-game couple with a so-so story means that I find it hard to recommend as a lasting game with plenty of replay value like some of the other best stealth titles on the market. Sure there are the collectables and extra challenges, but there’s too much filler around the middle section for it to really encourage repeat playthroughs.
- Great Stealth Gameplay
- Introduces enough new enemy types to stay interesting
- Fun and interesting abilities that do prove useful
- So-So Story that expects you to know the players and the world
- Grating use of swearing,
- Way too much padding/filler content (that stopped it from being a 7.5)
This game and the concept of the world surrounding is really interesting and I would love to see something more from these guys, but the overuse of filler content to hit an arbitrary amount of play time needed to finish this game really hampers the experience.
Cyanide Studios, you came so close man.