Developer: Cyanide Studios
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4
Coming from 2012’s Of Orcs and Men from Cyanide Studios, Styx: Master of Shadows tells the tale of the title character, Styx’s, origin. It plays out like a prequel to Of Orcs and Men, fleshing out the already expansive dark, high fantasy world, and adding depth to an interesting character. Running around as a cunning, snarky, anti-hero Goblin assassin proves to be a fun experience full of humor, stealth, and bursts of action.
You will be able to strike when it is least expected...
How Does it Play?
While seeming to draw influence from games like Assassin’s Creed and Hitman, with a sprinkle of Thief thrown in the mix, the game does enough to retain a sense of individuality, becoming a peer instead of a follower. A majority of the game deals with platforming, as you are a small, easily killed, goblin with attitude. A direct fight rarely pays off and is usually a form of punishment for being caught, rather than being an actual course of action. You’ll want to climb, jump, crouch, and sneak around the environment, using cover and altitude to get above or behind your enemy to bring them down quietly, hiding the bodies afterward so as not to alert any guards. If you attract too much attention you’ll have the guards on you, drawing you into a duel of sorts, as you try to parry their hits to score kills of your own and escape. With four difficulty modes to choose from, this game of parry-kill gets increasingly more dangerous to engage in, making stealth the true focus.
The game follows a mission structure, with each mission taking place in large environments, sometimes having multiple objectives for you to accomplish. This tends to keep you exploring the levels, even if you don’t need to be in an area, and rarely leaves you feeling trapped. That being said the game does have choke points, forcing you into narrow passages or hallways, but getting there and navigating the enemies is up to you. After the missions, you are rewarded for beating it under a par time, not killing anyone who isn’t a target, not being seen, and finding all the collectibles in the level, which is great if you want to replay the missions (an option in the hideout) to max out your playthrough.
The hideout serves as the main hub for you between missions and is where you will spend your skill points to upgrade Styx throughout the game. Each skill tree offers upgrades to Styx that improve different aspects of gameplay, allowing you to really customize the experience based on your playstyle. Whether you want to be a better killer, killing targets while hanging or around corners, carry more potions into combat, or use your clones (yes clones!!) to bind and confuse the enemy while you move in for the kill, is entirely up to you. This game is a slow rolling snowball, and when you really get going with it the mechanics at play shine through really well.
Taking a lesson from Roosevelt, Styx speaks softly while carrying a big knife.
How Does It Look?
From choked hallways, expansive warehouses, all the way to grand structures that allow you to take the whole environment in at a glance, the game mixes and matches a sometimes bright visual style with a dark, grimy fantasy world.
The graphics may look a little dated but they are appealing none-the-less appealing when in game. The light and dark play off of each other well, and when mixed with the visual cues like Styx’s glowing shoulder when he is concealed, to the attention bar over the enemy, come together in a way that makes the cues pop against the grey tones of the games stonework. It might not win awards the visuals add to the flavor of a mechanically great game.
A little worn around the edges, but comfortable, just like your favorite sweater.
How Does it Sound?
The audio side of this game is what really hooked me. Sure the voice acting is a little wonky for anyone other than the main character, and sure sometimes you’ll hear repeated dialogue throughout the game, the unique nature of the games soundtrack can help overcome this. It took me a while to notice, but the music in the game serves as an indicator of the amount of danger you are in. This is a great mechanic that adds to the tension of some moments so well, the sudden stroke of a cello can sometimes make you jump back a few steps to get a better look at the situation. When you’re all alone, the music is deathly silent, leaving you with the whistling winds of some high perch or the groaning stones in the bowels of the city. This mechanic plays well in a pure stealth game like Styx.
Using the soundtrack in a unique way is only brought down by spotty voice acting.
Can You Control It?
How well the game can be controlled can make or break a title with any amount of platforming involved. Styx is no exception to this rule, especially with platforming playing such a large part, and thankfully doesn’t drop the ball. Some things can be frustrating, like automatically climbing over surfaces you would much rather hang onto instead, or missing a hanging point by inches. Other things work well, like aerial kills, or hugging walls and moving around stealthily. They don’t break the mold in any sense, but keeping the controls familiar is just fine by me. The abilities are easy to use on the fly, and items can be selected and used quickly. Basically, controls take a back seat, and any game that lets you forget you’re using a controller due to how well they work is taking steps in the right direction.
Tight, responsive, rarely confusing control setup that doesn’t change much up.
How Does it Feel?
Jumping into the middle of a book is never an easy thing, and that’s what the game feels like at the start. They introduce characters rapidly at times, and assume some prior knowledge to the games world or characters that just wasn’t there for me. I understand this is a prequel to an existing title, and they try to overcome this with an amnesia narrative, but you feel as if you’re running behind trying to catch up to the story for a little while.
Other than the story make up, the game makes you feel like a small goblin. Constant hiding and ambushing keep you on edge against the large human knights you face off against. The game incorporates enough of other titles in the genre without stealing and comes out feeling slightly original, but comfortably familiar. A solid hit, albeit a sleeper hit if you ask me, the game deserves far more attention than it received.
The Feel: 1.8
A comfortable game that has some hiccups in the narrative early on.
Stick to the shadows, strike at the heart...