Styx will scare a fair number of you. Not because he is green, nor because he is a Goblin. His hidden daggers and throwing knives shouldn’t worry you either. What will scare a fair number of gamers though is the stealthy approach Styx needs to take at all times.
For Styx is a full on stealth and infiltration game, one that has gone right back to the videogaming stealth roots and one that actively pursues all non-confrontational avenues. Whilst many will flock to it, the fact that any form of hand-to-hand combat sees Styx end up in a crumpled mess on the floor, will mean many will want to keep away.
And what a shame that would be because Styx: Master of Shadows can be a full on joy to play.
It can however be a right old slog and so if you don’t have patience, you’ll be looking for an off switch quicker than Styx can get mastering those shadows.
You play as Styx the first of the goblins and one that needs to discover his identity, his role and indeed his origins. To do so, Styx must climb the huge Tower of Akenash, the home of the ‘Tree’ in order to discover the secret of the Amber, the fluid that fills his green veins. The fact the Tower holds all manner of other riches is just an added incentive to someone like Styx.
But the Tower is also filled with Humans and Elves who seek to protect the Tree keeping the Amber and those riches to themselves and so Styx must be on his very best behaviour in order to squeeze through the smallest of holes, clamber up the sheerest of walls and basically hide from sight of those Tree keepers. The shadows are his friend and you’ll quickly learn to abuse them to yours, and Styx’s, benefit.
For the most part, you play as Styx in a third person, over the shoulder view. This works extremely well as level prepping and navigation are both the key to success. Confrontation is best avoided and with the views given, you’ll easily be able to take in a whole overview of the area at hand whilst making your way through. There are occasional moments when the camera will zoom in to a first person style, but these are kept only for the times when Styx is navigating through small tunnels and hiding under tables. The first time you experience the jump in views, you’ll be left wondering what the hell is going on and why it was put in there, but bear with it as all things are done for a reason and the first person view is something that quickly grows on you and is essential if Styx wishes to survive.
A single player only title, the campaign itself is broken down into various main and secondary objectives for Styx to accomplish. Each of these are preceded by some short cut scenes in which Styx will get to know a few of the friendlier faces found in the Tower and set things up nicely for what is to come. The Tower itself is absolutely huge with plenty of both horizontal and vertical exploration available to Styx so if it were not for these short cut scenes, it would be stupidly easy to get lost, not knowing where to go next.
There is a map, but this is of the most basic variety and without a pin point marker showing exactly where Styx is at any given time, soon becomes a bit of a chore to check out. I found the simplest way was to folllow the on screen objective markers and try to slowly make my way to those however I could. Due to the sheer size of the mission areas, there are numerous (and when I say numerous, I mean numerous) ways to reach the objectives, each of which can see you going about things in many a way. And it’s this that can sometimes make Styx: Master of Shadows a real pain to play.
Styx is in fact a game all about planning and if you don’t do so, you’ll quickly come up against the many guards and end up being battered to death, finding yourself having to start a whole area again from a checkpoint that could have been hit half an hour before your death. It’s fairly frustrating going over the same area time and time again and there were many times I wished for a slightly easier and more frequent checkpoint/save system. That said, each ‘level’ can also be completed reasonably quickly if you manage to dig out a decent route and keep clear of those pesky guards and it’s no doubt this reason why the checkpoints have been spaced out as they have.
If you do happen to get all up close and personal with any of the keepers of the Tower, then you’ll be glad to know that Styx has a number of useful tools at his disposal. His dagger and throwing knives may be a last resort, but there are times when a swift silent kill from behind or above is essential to being able to move on by. Just make sure you hide the body somewhere (cupboards and off the edge of buildings are always good places to try) as a discarded body will quickly alert the forces. You could always think about chucking the dead in a dark corner but that must only be the thought of as a last resort.
The dark however will always work to Styx’s benefit. He is after all a Master of Shadows and so you’ll need to become adept at putting out lanterns (either with your own hands or by throwing a ball of sand at them), in order to create the darkness needed for Styx to go on his merry way. If you’re careful enough, you will just about be able to creep on by any unsuspecting enemy but run at your peril as your footsteps will immediately alert others.
And as previously mentioned, you really won’t want to alert anyone if you can help it for the combat system is, intentionally I guess, a right pain in the arse. Parrying the advances of attackers is your only real get out of jail card but a simple press of the X button only seems to want to work occasionally and unless you are prepared to drop back to that checkpoint from ages ago, you’ll need to get running and keep out of trouble.
You could of course use Styx’s invisibility skill but the use of this is entirely dependant on how much Amber he has managed to amass previously. 9 out of 10 times, running away and re planning your route is the best idea. Styx can also use his ‘Clone’ skill in order to create a little minion friend who will happily take the brunt of any guards beating for you. Your clone is a great tool to have in order to distract the guards in order to let Styx pass with ease. Failing all that, a well placed ‘accident’ is always a good way to take out a guard or two without too much suspicion being raised.
Amber, and indeed health vials can be picked up as you go about your journey but for the most part, they are pretty scarce. Yet again, we need to remember that Styx: Master of Shadows is a stealth game and I again hazard a guess at the lack of health vials especially are because Cyanide Games want you to really think about what you are doing, without being able to sit back and rely on a substantial amount of health potions to keep you going.
Visually, the areas you will find yourself placed in look great. The lighting (and indeed those shadows) work outstandingly well with the whole Tower quickly becoming a living breathing place full of character and intrigue. Styx himself has also been superbly created and detailed to a high level. Unfortunately the character models that have been used occasionally seem a frame or two away from being the most smooth of things with enemies appearing a little wooden, taking in their set patterns and very rarely drifting from the beaten path…even when they think they have spotted Styx hidden in the dark. They are also more than happy to give up the ghost pretty quickly and numerous times when I would inadvertently capture the attention of a whole gaggle of guards, a quick squeeze under a table would happily see them call off the chase and just go back to their usual duties.
That is however being picky and for the most part, Styx: Master of Shadows is a joy to play as long as you set about things with the right mental attitude. If you go in all guns blazing, then expect to hate pretty much everything about Styx. But give it a little bit of love in the planning and prepare to take in a slow paced stealthy environment and you’ll find a game that has a hell of a lot of depth to it.
Styx is on the right path to becoming a Master.