If you have played Of Orcs an Men, then there is a chance you may be aware of a character named Styx. Well it has been decided that he is deserving of his own game away from the decent if flawed title he made his first appearance in.
Styx: Master of Shadows is a stealth game based around infiltration as you playing as Styx must retrieve the Heart of the World tree that is hidden with in the Tower of Akenash. As far as setup goes, the story is actually pretty bland and doesn’t do much to capture your imagination, but it does do enough to tie together the various scenarios you’ll find yourself in and to be completely honest, that is perfectly acceptable, as not every game needs to have Oscar worthy writing and performances.
One thing Styx does really well, is stealth, which is good considering it is a third person stealth game. But what did surprise most, is that it does stealth better than Thief. Let us clarify that a moment, it does stealth better than the new Thief, it seems to pay a better homage to the original Thief games than the official sequel managed to do.
Styx himself is small in stature, which immediately rules out the gung ho approach and ignoring stealth altogether. He is around half the size of a fully grown man and any toe to toe confrontation will likely see him on the losing end. This means you really do have to make the most of your surroundings, whilst planning ahead.
There is a nice mix of just avoiding being seen and stealthy takedowns as you play as is demonstrated early on during the tutorial phase of the game. By crouching down Styx can hide under tables, time his moves and maybe roll through a hole in the wall to avoid being seen, then in the next room you would need to get to higher ground and take out an unsuspecting guard.
Any kind of confrontation is usually done from behind and requires a well time press of a button, but this isn’t a game about combat, this is a game all about stealth and by having the combat parts done simple, it allows the player to focus on the games major strengths, which is exploration and infiltration.
Styx is able to get himself plenty of tools to aid his stealthy approach, as the game incorporates some minor RPG elements that allow him to upgrade his skills. The skills are used by using something called amber, which depletes as you use a skill, but can be regenerated over time. It adds a sense of needing to manage your resources and in fact is probably the weakest part of the game, as it kind of breaks the immersion of everything else.
You can see why it is used though, as some of the skills are very interesting, such as the ability to briefly turn invisible at the cost of using half of your amber. It is an ideal way to break line of sight with your enemies and get to relative safety, so having that ability without any cost, could break the game a bit, it feels like a game that doesn’t need the RPG elements though and could have naturally added upgrades as you progressed. Any way that feels little like us nitpicking so we’ll move on.
Generally throughout the game, you get the option of fight or flight, meaning you can choose to kill enemies, or simply try to avoid them and there is a really nice variation of enemy types, which really helps add to the tension. You will want to stick to the darkness as much as possible, by dousing torches, or finding higher ground, hiding in shadowed area, etc. It all adds up to an overall mechanic that works wonderfully well.
However, there are moments where you are forced into confrontation and whilst these appear to be set pieces to drive a story forward, introduce a new enemy, etc. It also feels very out of place and even though it may be teaching you a new way of killing an enemy, such as one that can only be killed using the environment, rather than your own weapons, it does again break the immersion a little.
That said again these are only minor little things, because over all the world of Styx: Master of Shadows is well realised, visually it is a damned good looking game, the score is well done, as is the use of sound in the stealth and the game mechanic work with you, rather than against.
If you are a fan of the likes of Thief and Hitman then Styx: Master of Shadows is well deserving of a play. Goblins may be foul, disgusting creatures, but you won’t help but like this one.