Did I see something green?
Those of you who played Cyanide Studios’ RPG Of Orcs and Men, which was released back in 2012, will already be acquainted with Styx the Goblin. He was the skill to the brute force of the main character in a fantasy world where the green skinned races were persecuted by the evil Humans. It was an interesting twist on the classic fantasy set up and obviously Cyanide thought that the stealthy Goblin was enough of a character to give him his own game.
And so we have Styx: Master of Shadows. No more following around a hulking great Orc veteran and leaving all of the dirty work to him. This time Styx is alone, for the most part, and must rely on his own special abilities and natural stealth skills to get what he wants. Fortunately, he is a master of shadows.
But what is it that Styx actually wants? Well, for the sake of this story, Styx is after the heart of the World Tree. Amber is a highly desired resource in this fantasy world, and the World Tree is an important source of amber, so it makes sense that the heart of the World Tree would be something a thief like Styx would want. All that stands between Styx and the heart of the World Tree is the Tower of Akenash, masses of human guards and more than a few other nasties that would stop our little thief. Oh well, better go home then…
C’mon, that’s not the spirit. Styx may be small, prone to extreme grumpiness and will struggle with killing even one guard unless he happens to be standing behind them with a large knife. But he has other skills. He is a master of shadows and that means Styx is all about the stealth.
The story in Styx: Master of Shadows is a bit hit and miss. There would certainly be a lot of benefit from playing the original Of Orcs and Men, giving the player some background for this interesting fantasy world. Otherwise, Styx may be a little confusing to begin with. The story starts making more sense after a while, but it still doesn’t feel particularly well paced. Still, the game is all about glorious stealth gameplay, so the story is really a side issue. Give the Goblin an objective and then let him work out how to get there undetected – do we really need to know why?
The stealth is handled really well in the game. Styx is good at what he does and will find himself given somewhere to reach or something to get and then left to his own devices. Each of the levels contains multiple different routes to the objective that the player can use as they avoid detection from the patrolling guards. Study their patterns, distract them, extinguish torches to improve the shadows. Wait, and then make your move. Styx is a game that requires patience and planning.
The guards are not as stupid as your usual patrolling dummies either. Sure, you can still run up behind them without them turning around. But these guys will check under tables if you knock a chair, they will become suspicious if a torch goes out, and they will call for backup if they spot you. Players may be able to overcome one or even two guards if they are found, but any more than that and things will get very tricky indeed.
Styx may not have the muscle to simply run through the tower and kill everything in sight. But he has his own skill set beyond just being small and hanging from ledges that will aid the player. With special vision which can highlight unnoticed routes or useful objects, the hilarious ability to create clones that can distract, and even the limited chance to become properly invisible, will all help as Styx tries to reach his objective. With a combination of routes available, choices of how to approach each level, items and skills to use, the player really is spoilt for choice and can play the level however they wish, as long as they are not seen.
Or distracted. Players will find themselves tempted with hidden relics or side objectives through each of the levels, perhaps making them take chances with the green skinned thief. Prudent use of the quick save key is advised throughout the game as the difficulty is quite high and will only get higher, and the auto save points can be fairly well spaced out.
Visually, Styx: Master of Shadows doesn’t look too bad. The fantasy world is well fleshed out, albeit a little lifeless at times, and the character animations are not too bad, aside from the occasional glitch. The level designs are really good, giving players plenty of verticality to play with, but are repeated later in the game. Styx obviously didn’t have the budget of a big triple-A game, but whatever the budget was, it has managed to remain enjoyable.
The music in the game is used to great effect, taking its cue from what is happening on the screen. The voices are not too bad either, although the dialogue could be better.
Styx: Master of Shadows is a true stealth game, something which doesn’t come along very often. It is a game for the thoughtful player, something to spend time considering and in no way suitable for a run and gun gamer. It may have rough edges, but if hiding in the shadows and carefully planning your route around a gaggle of guards without being seen is something you enjoy, then Styx: Master of Shadows is a great game to check out. Stay in the shadows!