Review: Styx Master of Shadows

You might not have heard of the developer of Styx before, Cyanide Studios have made games like Of Orcs and Men, Aarklash Legacy as well as sports games like Cycling Manager, Tour De France and Pro Rugby Manager series, quite a mix there and Styx represents their first project only for next-gen consoles and PC (Le Tour De France 2014 released on PS4 in June) developed using Unreal Engine 3.

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Styx Master of Shadows is an infiltration game with RPG elements where you play as a two century old goblin, a master thief and assassin whose aim is to infiltrate the Tower of Akenash and steal the heart of the tree. The tower is home to a Treeworld – a source of the powerful Amber sap that possesses magical powers which help form the abilities within which Styx can call upon to aid his quest to uncover the secrets of the tower, the abilities powered by the amber elixir are: invisibility, amber vision and cloning. My favourite ability is creating a clone which is affectionately named Rakash which the player than can then control to distract guards, climb through passages/grates too small for Styx and open doors, extinguish lights and kill guards, its offers and interesting extra layer to the gameplay and you can set up your path using Rakash before going back to Styx and moving towards the objective.

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You can use invisibility for a short time to skip past heavily guarded areas and move on to the next section, the game rewards stealthy approaches and not killing guards which makes this an important ability to help gain more XP/reward points to upgrade Styx in the skill trees, I found it was the ability I used the most just because of what it did and later in the game I found myself preserving my amber to make sure if I need to use it I could as the game gets a bit more challenging as it goes on. Amber Vision allows you to see things that a regular person can’t, it’ll help you find hideouts, where you can climb walls, boost his perception and awareness of whats going on in the area around him.

When you’re not using abilities powered by Amber you must rely on stealth and skill by sticking to the shadows, covering and climbing on walls, distracting guards as you work your way towards competing the objectives, either that or your ability to hide guards you’ve killed in wardrobes and chests! For secondary objectives it can be to kill a specific person, steal a relic or other important item(s), find certain hidden areas, the usual sorts of things of side missions, completing these will net you more XP when you complete a level to be used on new skills for Styx.

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The general open level design really impressed me, well thought out with multiple paths that I could take I felt like I could complete levels in a number of ways depending how I wanted to approach it, if I was low on supplies I could scout around for guards to pickpocket vials of amber and health or just go straight towards completing the objectives. Each mission split up into different sections (usually 3-4 different areas) with somewhat varying level locations, being set in a medieval looking tower you’re going to get some repetition on how the levels look but I thought the levels themselves were generally varied enough in both design and how the elements within the level effected it. With guards patrolling you can look for gaps in patrols, hide under tables, climb up walls, to sneak above guards if that’s easier – there really are lots of possibilities, if you’re not going trying to find the collectibles (different from relics) or complete secondary objectives then you can probably work your way through relatively quickly however I found getting the collectibles and completing secondary objectives added a decent amount of time to each level and helped me boost my XP intake significantly.

The skill trees come with 7 different skills to upgrade: one for each amber ability, agility, equipment, kills and predator, each skill has 4 upgrades and the predator upgrades are only unlocked once you’ve fully upgraded a combination of the other skills which also encourages replaying missions to complete the objectives you missed. There are some extra bonuses you can get XP for on each level too: completing within a certain time limit, no kills, no alerts and find all the collectibles, playing through I tried to do it without any alerts or kills which I managed on most of the levels and completing these will help you out a lot later on with upgrading due to the XP earned, I also found that I enjoyed it more if I wasn’t killing or alerting guards although it did take me a lot longer to complete each level!

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There are a few of things I found frustrating, namely the combat, some enemy types and the platforming. The enemies have three levels of alert; yellow, orange and red with the latter meaning you’ve alerted a enemy and they will attack you which is quite unforgiving. Some enemies (knights, orcs) can’t be killed with the dagger so you have to runaway and hope they don’t find you (or reload a save!) whereas if you find other enemies in a situation that’s 1 vs 1 you can take them, more than that which is often the case and generally a few swipes and your dead. The combat relies on parrying enemy attacks or rolling and waiting for an opportunity to strike them down for a kill, it’s clearly not been designed to have a deep combat system although with the aim of the game being to sneak around in the shadows I can understand why that is, but it does also make it somewhat difficult to play any way other than that.

There are multiple enemy types in the tower, humans, elves, orcs and some bugs called roabies which are blind bugs but have incredible hearing which does mean you have to be extra sneaky if not silent if they hear you but at times it can feel like the game knows where you are and just sends them over to be frustrating, I tried to avoid them when possible, Elves later on are also a bit frustrating too but I found using Rakash to distract them whilst I snuck past with Styx to be an effective way round them.

 

Platforming is usually just pointing the stick in the direction of the next hook on the wall which Styx will jump straight to it but if you’re trying to jump to platforms or intending to hook Styx onto an edge (to avoid patrolling guards) I found can be very imprecise and sometimes he’ll just ignore the platform or ledge completely and generally either fall to his death or in front of guards which can lead to the same outcome. There is one level that requires a rather large amount of wall climbing and given the circumstances in the level (you’ll know what I mean when you get there) I did find it extra frustrating at times.

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The AI of the guards and other enemies I found to be pretty good, they have a level of vision you would generally expect although sometimes a door gets opened next to them and they just ignore it, theres nothing unfair on the player anyway in how they act (except the roadies). If you make noises like jumping down from high up, knocking into chairs, running etc then you’ll alert guards around you which I liked, having to be careful when navigating rooms of guards not just from their vision but also what you might walk into was a nice touch and if guards don’t find anything after they’ve inspected an area of suspicion (if they’re not on red alert level) then they will go back to the preset patrol plan. There were a few occasions where guards got stuck on the edges of walls and go in a circle without actually glitching which I found slightly helpful if not also something that might need fixing.

As I began playing I wasn’t sure what to expect from the story but I found it got quite interesting with a few twists which affected the game quite a bit (don’t worry no spoilers) and I found myself wanting to play on to see what happened next, it develops well even if it doesn’t do anything revolutionary for video game storytelling, its probably quite predictable too but it still told quite well, I also liked the cut-scenes and the style of which they were presented too.

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I wanted to play the Xbox One version to see what that was like specifically and I thought the frame-rate was absolutely solid throughout even when there were lots of guards and other enemies on-screen which is good, it looks nice (I’m not sure on resolution) and loading clocked at around 30 seconds each time. I did a lot of reloading as the auto-saves are spaced out and there’s a manual save system which allowed me to do a lot of trial and error without having to go back a long way. I’m not sure exactly how long it took to complete but there is a prologue and 7 missions which gave me plenty to play through and you can replay missions once you’ve completed it if you wish to do secondary objectives and so on that you might have missed. There’s definitely a lot of content to play that will take you a while to go through just the first time and gives you a reason to go back after you’ve finished it, as well as other difficulties (easy/normal/hard/goblin).

Styx: Master of Shadows intrigued me and I’m really glad that it met my expectations. The core mechanics are very well executed, offer some nice touches which made it a bit different, with great atmosphere and level design that offers choice to the player,  it’s really a very good stealth/infiltration game even if there are a few frustrating things. In a year that has seen a reboot to the popular stealth series Thief I think it could have learnt a lot from Styx had it come it first.

I hope that if Styx is a success we can see more of this sort of game from Cyanide Studios as they’ve proven themselves capable of delivering engaging and well made game.

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Price: £24.99/$29.99
Formats: Xbox One (played), Playstation 4, PC
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Official website