Styx: Master of Shadows is a prequel to Of Orcs and Men, a fantasy role playing game on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. I had never heard of this before Master of Shadows and I’m not sure the backstory (fore-story?) was useful in enjoying Master of Shadows.
Styx was drawn to my attention by a Twitter video I saw with the comment exclaiming that it was a ‘proper’ stealth game with 3D platforming elements. It sounded like the perfect game to me and when it went on sale on Playstation Network last year I snapped at the chance to pick it up.
Initially, Styx is really hard. There are no cones of vision for enemies. There is no full combat and guns all blazing behaviour to full back on. I struggled and other games came along. I made some decent progress I thought, and Styx was left.
Until a few weeks ago. I picked it up again. It turns out that I had only scratched the surface of a large tutorial level. How lame I felt. I should have played it earlier because Styx is brilliant. Sure, it’s frustrating but it’s also very rewarding.
Styx is a goblin who wants to steal the heart of the World Tree located within the tower of Akenash. The levels are huge, sprawling areas and there are a vast number of routes around them. Styx’s arsenal is limited to stealth kills (or quick and noisy if you have no time) but which can only be done from above, from below a ledge or by sneaking up on enemies. Should you get involved in a scuffle then Styx has to time a parry to each attack before an enemy can be killed. This does grant an extra life however if there’s a few baddies nearby then it’s as good as a death sentence.
I mentioned before that there’s no cone of vision for baddies but Styx doesn’t really take any routes towards easing your stealth journey. Alertness of enemies are shown by their weapons in a ready stance which is helpful although there is a colour indicator over their head to go along with this. Environments are more than just decoration too, with carpet useful for softening your landing and moving at pace if needed, and objects clang and rattle if you knock into them so your pathways around need to be thought through even more carefully. Once the tutorial is done, you can start unlocking upgrades which help tailor Styx to your preferences. New ways to perform stealth kills (such as around corners) and upgrades to ‘amber vision’ (an orange hue which highlights enemies and collectables).
Secondary objectives help flush out what can sometimes by an A to B exercise through the levels and it ranges from finding objects to killing people in a specific way (make it look like an accident for example, or hide the body). Even these can be approached in many ways with Styx able to poison communal drinking water or loosen chandeliers which dangle above. There is a large requirement to wait and watch, work out routes, routines and plan accordingly which I really enjoyed and was a nice change of pace to many games out there today. To add some chaos to this and tip fate in his favour Styx can also turn invisible for a short period or summon a clone of this to help distract enemies. Vials of acid can help to dissolve bodies if you don’t fancy hiding them but similarly chucking a copse towards a load of guards can be just as good a distraction.
What could be construed as a bit cheeky is the re-use of levels later in the game. However, approaching these in a different direction makes it kind of interesting and sometimes the objectives require that you see a different part then you’ve been to before (or couldn’t see a point in exploring).
I really loved this game however there are more than few bits which I think will put people off. For starters when you die or are spotted in some levels it’s restart time – the auto save markers are spread very far apart which for a game requiring a lot of waiting anyway is a test of attrition as it’s all to easy to run through quickly. What makes this worse are the loading times – they are not short and each death requires a full reload which gets more than a little irritating. I found myself frequently hitting start and then manually saving which took away from the experience slightly but was less annoying than having to redo particularly lengthy or tricks sections. The audio is good with broody music and some fairly amusing dialogue, particularly by Styx himself. Visuals are appropriately medieval fantasy style and whilst they may not win too many awards for the latest generation of consoles they are perfectly serviceable although the character models look a touch ropey. Finally there’s that difficulty which is not hugely accessible – yet immensely rewarding.
So, should you check Styx out? Well it’s pretty cheap when it comes up in digital sales so if you’re interested in some fantasy stealth platform action I would highly recommend it – just be warned that it does require some patience…
Reviewed on PS4