Styx: Master Of Shadows Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
2014 has been a bit of a mixed bag for stealth games, Thief got the ball rolling with a frustrating and mediocre journey through The City, but then Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes showed up with its open-ended sandbox and engaging gameplay. Now, Styx: Master Of Shadows steps up to the plate and offers its take on the stealth genre. So will this goblin tale shoot to stardom, or just simply fall by the wayside? Unfortunately, Styx falls firmly into the latter category.
Styx: Master Of Shadows is a third-person stealth game with RPG elements that serves as a prequel to Of Orcs And Men, although you don’t need to have any background knowledge to understand the story of Styx. The game doesn’t exactly tell a very enticing story though, it’s lacklustre and falls back on a few typical clichés that helps it to avoid telling much of a plot at all. You play as Styx, a goblin who wants to steal the heart of a world tree, which is situated in the Tower Of Akenash. The fact that you play as a goblin is quite unique within the world of videogames, but that’s the only thing the plot has going for it. The game does throw in a few twists and turns to try and keep the player interested, but all in all the story is just a complete throwaway and is anything but the main attraction.
Throughout the game’s seven missions you’ll visit a few different locations, but besides the outdoor environments, every setting feels very similar. We felt like we were exploring dark narrow corridors, laboratories, libraries and the sewers for pretty much all of Styx’s eight-hour adventure. The outdoor environments, while few and far between, were a welcome change because at least then we could soak up some sunlight instead of using the hundreds of torches spread throughout the dark and dreary corridors of Styx: Master Of Shadows. Mission objectives don’t vary too much either; you’ll generally be given a main goal of reaching a certain place within a level or retrieving an item as well as a secondary objective, which could entail killing a certain enemy .A lot of the adventure just feels the same, and this homes into the game’s repetitive nature which crops up in other aspects of the game.
Understandably the game’s main appeal is stealth, but Styx doesn’t do anything to innovate or stand out from the crowd here either. Our goblin has access to a few of the typical stealth mechanics such as crouch, jump and a roll as well as a few tricks seen within the genre to help him sneak around levels and avoid enemies. There are many locked doors spread throughout levels, and one borrowed ploy is the ability to look through the keyholes of these doors and see what’s ahead of you, a la Splinter Cell. However there is no lockpicking mini-game here, you simply hold the triangle button for a length of time to unlock the door. Metal Gear Solid is another inspiration, in that the player can hide dead bodies in chests and cupboards, or just simply throwing them off a cliff. If a body is found by another enemy then they will be put on alert and will try and find you, so it’s a good idea to take advantage of this mechanic as much as possible. Remember those torches we mentioned earlier? These can actually be extinguished! With a simple press of the triangle button Styx will put out the fire and plunge the surrounding area into darkness, giving him the chance to actually live up to the game’s title. Sadly one of the most annoying and frustrating things about Styx: Master Of Shadows is the jump ability and its inaccuracy. When traversing the environment, Styx’s jump is one of the most important tools for staying off the ground and avoiding the enemy’s sight, but in itself was also a source of so many of our deaths. The jump’s range is never really defined which led us to fall to our death on many occasions, but it also allows for little movement while in the air which can prove costly in a few situations. There are moments where Styx will have to scale a wall using ledges and objects sticking out of it, but the jump’s stiffness made this very hard to perform because Styx would simply miss the ledge we were aiming for and then proceed to fall to his death. This only adds to the game’s frustrating nature and feels unfair on the player, because there comes a point where they can only influence Styx so much.
While Styx: Master Of Shadows is a stealth game, it does feature some combat, but it should be avoided at all costs. However to call it a combat system would be a huge compliment, because the game only lets you parry - there is no way of simply attacking an enemy. If a guard spots Styx, they will chase after him and then attempt to kill him with their sword, at which point the player can parry. This triggers a quick time event, where the player must hit the square button at the right time to parry, otherwise they will be killed. The amount of times you have to parry an enemy before you deliver the final blow depends on what type they are, the more armour a foe has, and the longer it will take until you can kill them. This system is neither satisfying nor exciting, it’s just very sloppy and sometimes it feels like pot luck whether you’ll successfully parry an enemy or not. The game’s combat is simply not fun, and only adds to the growing frustration felt by the player.
As a goblin, Styx can collect a substance known as amber throughout a level, and this aids him in three different ways. The first borrows heavily from the Batman Arkham games, known as amber vision. Just like Detective Vision, this highlights important things in the environment for Styx such as shortcuts, enemy placements and collectables. Another use creates a controllable clone of Styx, which can be used to enter inaccessible areas or distract guards. The final use of amber vision turns Styx invisible for a limited period of time which comes in handy when sneaking past an enemy or trying to escape from a guard who spotted you. Amber is a very welcome addition to the game because it gives the player more options in tackling a situation; we just wish it was in a little bit more supply!
Upon completion of the first level, Styx gains access to his hideout where he can replay missions, start the next one or invest points into the game’s skill tree. This skill tree is split up into seven different categories: stealth, agility, cloning, amber vision, equipment, kill and finally predator. Upgrades include a decrease in the noise Styx makes when he lands on the ground and an increase in the amount of vials of life he can hold, as well as doubling the length of your amber vision. You will need to replay missions multiple times to get enough points for every upgrade, which is a chore given the monotony of playing the game through the first time.
Styx: Master Of Shadows won’t be winning any awards for its graphics either. While some of the open environments do look quite impressive, a lot of textures feel dated and muddy up close and were well below the bar set by other PlayStation 4 games. The game looks like a poor man’s Dishonored, and considering that game came out two years ago on previous generation consoles, it’s clear that Styx: Master Of Shadows certainly isn’t a looker in today’s world.
Styx: Master Of Shadows
showed some potential. Styx himself is an interesting character and the game’s use of amber allows the player to be creative in their approach to each mission, but unfortunately these ideas have been thrown into a game which lacks the enjoyment to appreciate them. The frustrating moments far out-weighed any fun we had with Styx, and the game’s repetition solidified this by making us do those frustrating sections over and over again, which only helped to create a very unenjoyable experience. We only hope that Styx sticks to those shadows he is so masterful of, because we don’t want to play a game like this again.