I am a big stealth game fan. My favourites, going back a number of years, would be the early games in the Thief series, when stealth really was the only option unless you wanted a sword through the eye or a hammer crushing your head. For me, never has stealth been done so well as back in those days.
More stealth games do keep appearing, including Styx -Master Of Shadows, which takes me back to the roots of the genre where if you make a single mistake it will likely cost you your life.
Styx is a goblin. An odd choice of anti-hero to be sure, but while you may be used to seeing goblins beheaded and seas of blood by wizards with glowing staffs and warriors with swords and axes, this one is actually quite likeable. You may remember a title a few years ago named Of Orcs And Men; well Styx is a prequel of sorts to that, telling you the story of Styx – the first goblin – on his quest to steal the heard of a World-Tree, deep inside the Tower of Akenash. He wants his journey, and his ultimate prize, to give him an insight into who he is, and where he has come from. And of course it is a chance to fill his pockets in the process.
Styx has a good amount of varied skills he can use while on his mission, many that become unlockable as the story progresses. Combat is difficult, should you ever be forced into it, so using these skills to avoid confrontation is a massively important aspect of your journey. Many skills are unlockable later in the game as you unlock the skill points to do so, but it may be quite some time before you reach the point where you have enough points to unlock them, such as vertical take-downs and increased projectile distance. Other skills include temporary invisibility, creating a clone of yourself that can head in and activate objects for you – or even take down enemies, throwing sand at lit torches to douse them, and silent take-downs.
Where Styx really excels is it’s environment. There are multiple paths to many of your objectives, each involving death-defying routes that could be leading you high up the wall of a building, deep down into the pits of deep ravines, or directly along the path of patrolling enemies. While your ultimate goal is usually in one place, getting there in the best way that suits you and your style of play is what makes this exciting and enjoyable. But even with the options handed to you, it will not be a walk in the park by a long shot. One small slip of the thumb could lead you into the line of sight of an approaching guard, or it could be all that is needed to see you lose your footing on a small wooden beam that was your last lifeline before tumbling to a dark, messy end at the bottom of the deep world. The game really does not hold your hand in this respect – errors are unforgiving, and while it can sometimes feel a little cheap if you fell to your death because you misjudged a jump or went a little too far left when standing on a cold, windy ledge, I find it great because too many games have forgiven you for such misconduct, I personally like the fact that not only do you have to judge things right, you have to measure every single movement and adjust it accordingly to your needs. It is a fresh approach, and one that I really do support fully, instead of the game saving you by making jumps too easy, or making it so your character can grab onto an approaching ledge from some excessive, impossible angle.
Many of Styx’s skills rely on a substance called Amber, which can be refilled when you find sources or vials. Having some spare is crucial, as you may need to activate your invisibility, or create a clone of yourself. The game will kindly make sure you always have enough to do at least something, but having more on tap is important. It can also be used to activate “Amber Vision”, a way of examining the area around you for things such as objects you can activate, enemy locations and loot. The darkness is also a valuable ally to you, so avoiding light sources is vital. You have the ability to douse torches by hand, or throw balls of sand at them from afar, but beware a guard doesn’t see it happen or he’ll go right over and light it again, and be a little more aware that you could be present.
Even in pitch darkness though, the enemy will see you if you get close enough, so using a variation of darkness, height and hiding places will help you avoid confrontation. Of course if things get a little risky, you can silently take down enemies from behind, you can even hide the bodies in cabinets and chests, but make sure nobody spots you doing such evil acts or it’ll be you collapsing to the floor with a sword rudely stabbed through you.
The checkpoint system is also another unforgiving aspect of the game, as often you will find a pretty hard spot in the game to get through leaves the checkpoint rather a long way back in the level. This does encourage you do be more careful and think about your moves, instead of running in absent-minded and relying on reloading the checkpoint once you know what’s ahead. I love this approach, even though I’ve had to repeat an area over a dozen times before, it creates a challenge in yourself to really knuckle down and try hard, to avoid seeing the loading screen again – which, incidentally, do seem to last quite some time and can become a minor annoyance in the grand scheme of a hard area.
Visually, Styx is a great looking game. The world around you is dark and grimy, while at the same time spectacular and memorable. Airships can be seen floating in the sky high above you while you carefully try to jump from beam to beam up a tall tower. While we aren’t talking inFamous or Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes pretty, Styx holds its own and the world feels immersive. Traversal through the levels combines a great mixture of horizontal and vertical movement, and at times it is almost dizzying when looking down after a long climb. Styx is also extremely well animated – the most impressive of which is when he jumps up to douse a torch with his hands – the movement is smooth and sleek and you can tell a lot of work has gone into making sure the game looks and feels good.
Also of note is the soundtrack. French artist Henri Pierre Pellegrin is behind the score, which is absolutely mind-blowing at times. The music will adapt to your situation and really sink you into the mood of your surroundings. And of course the sound design has to be well engineered on a stealth title, from the perspective of both your enemies approaching and the sound you are making yourself. Both work very well, and using the right audio setup can really immerse you further and to a degree give you an advantage against the enemy.
Between missions you’ll be returned to your hideout, where you will find a few different options. You are free to replay past missions and aim for better scores or to find more collectibles (of which there are numerous in each mission), continue on to the next story mission, or look at and alter your skill points and upgrades. Upgrading your skills, as previously mentioned, gives you access to a wider array of talents and the more you have, the easier your time will be, so it is worth taking a little time out to examine your progress and adapt yourself accordingly.
I love Styx. It is a fresh return for me to a genre I’ve always sunk myself into and admired. It is hard, unforgiving, and lets you make your own mistakes in hope that you’ll learn from them and not repeat. A vain hope sometimes, as you’ll still make mistakes right up until the end. That’s what makes Styx so good for me, it never just lets you go off and go on a mad spree of success and progress – no matter what is ahead of you. You are encouraged to take things slowly, plan your next step, explore different routes and be creative in your progress. It is this creativity that steals the show for me, as it allows you to go back and replay every mission differently each time, and who knows you may find more collectibles by exploring that way.
Most of all, if you are a fan of hardcore stealth games, you need Styx – Master Of Shadows.
Room for Improvement:
- Loading times can be a little over the top, especially in hard areas.
- For many, the movement and jumping being so unforgiving could lead to frustration.
- Combat is especially difficult when forced into an encounter