One of the main things that has started to bug me recently is that games which claim to involve stealth, are still very action oriented. Broadly speaking there are hardly any true stealth games coming out right now that require you to stay completely out of sight because anything other than remaining in the shadows results in instant death. Thankfully for those looking for a game that requires more thought than mashing a trigger or button combination to eliminate a foe we have Styx: Master of Shadows, but is it a true throwback to true stealth titles? Or should it remain in the shadows?
Usually when you feel like you’ve experienced most of the game within the first few hours, the long road ahead is likely going to be a fairly boring one. Like when you’re driving a couple of hours to your holiday destination; The ride is most certainly going to be the same throughout so you’re often looking forward to the next service station so you can have a bathroom break and hope to god that they stock Krispy Kreme donuts. In a sense Styx: Master of Shadows feels pretty much like that long journey to Wales, but thankfully offers many metaphorical service stations along the way.
Styx: Master of Shadows puts you in the role of the titular goblin as you sneak your way up the Tower of Akanash, a medieval tower built ridiculously high around “The World-Tree,” in the hopes to keep any nasties who aren’t welcomed, outside. Styx however finds his way into the Tower of Akanash with the quest of getting hold of the heart of The World-Tree, its here where your adventure begins, or so you’d think. The game as a whole is a strict stealth game requiring you to stay hidden in the shadows and avoid confrontation as much as you possibly can, this at times can lead to some real tense, heart racing gameplay, other times it can be more of a curse.
Usually games such as this offer the ability to easily take down your foes if the shit hits the fan and you’re caught red handed, but in Styx: Master of Shadows getting spotted ultimately spells your demise. That’s not because you can’t take on your foes head on, because you can, it’s just ridiculously difficult to do so, and there’s no option to run away either. Combat in the game is as simple as pressing the X button at the right time to parry the opponents strike and depending on their skill it takes either one or three perfectly timed parries to disorientate the guard to which you can deliver a swift knife to the eye. This is all perfectly well and good, unless you’re facing several guards at the same time.
Enemies in Styx: Master of Shadows don’t line up and wait for their chance to turn you into a goblin shaped Pinata, instead they all have a good bashing, this can often lead to frustrating battles where you really don’t stand a chance, there’s no running away either because as soon as the first strike lands, you’re locked into combat. This is why going head-on with your foes is a bad idea and waiting for the perfect time to sneak by is the better option, albeit a little slow.
Combat aside, as a whole Styx: Master of Shadows offers the sort of gameplay you want to return to, until around an hour in you remember why you turned it off in the first place. The game is very frustrating. The reason for this isn’t because of its difficulty, its because the auto save only really works when the story progresses somewhat. This often leads to you getting killed, loading a save, and finding that you’re back at the beginning of the mission – this can be solved by saving the game manually after every room, but if you forget you’re essentially screwed.
In all Styx: Master of Shadows offers six missions each with four parts, each of the parts often required you to get to a certain area by any means possible and rarely changed-up that objective. Fortunately there are side-missions available which often require you to kill someone as a favour to Styx’s various allies within the tower. After completing each part of the mission and even the smaller side-objectives you unlock Skill Points, these can be used to upgrade Styx’s many skills giving him the ability to carry more weapons, run quieter, and stay invisible for longer, but none of the skills really make Styx feel any more powerful, which in some ways stays true to the games “stay hidden or you’ll die” mantra.
Another skill that Styx can utilise is the ability to use Amber to spew out a gaudy, loin-cloth wearing clone of himself. This wretched little goblin can then be controlled by the player as Styx hangs by the wayside, to access areas that Styx cannot such as small gaps in gates. You can upgrade your little goblin clone too to become a little more useful by quietly taking down enemies, as well as covered kills such as hiding in boxes and wardrobes and grabbing the next enemy that passes. It’s a fairly gimicky addition to the game, but it does change up the stealthyness the game relies so heavily on when you have to use your brain to solve puzzles.
Other skills involve Styx turning invisible or using Amber Vision to find hidden areas, but throughout the game I rarely found a use for either of these skills, mostly because the invisibility skill lasted for such a short time I often found myself becoming visible again at the worst possible times. Thankfully the guards alert system works in a number of ways, if you’re spotted a little icon appears above their heads, yellow means they’ve spotted something, but usually just brush it off as their imagination, orange means that they’re confident they’ve seen something and will investigate, and red means you’re screwed. If you can get away before you’re locked into combat, you can usually hide behind a box, under a table, or within a fairly large plantpot and you’ll often get away with it, but this puts the guards in a heightened state of alert meaning you need to be more careful.
Despite the game offering more verticality than Big Ben the majority of the game is woefully flat as once you’ve progressed through the first couple of missions the gameplay remains majoritively the same with only the games story keeping you glued to the shadows for longer than necessary. The game itself offers a sense of freedom in how you get to your objective, you can climb up walls using the various convenient handles, shimmy along ledges, and jump from ledge to ledge to get to where you need to go without being seen. In theory this does work, but occasionally, you’ll plummet to your death as the games climbing system often left you leaping into the side of a ledge and not actually grabbing a hold – a common problem found in some platform games, but a current-gen title – really?
Graphically the game does offer some stunning visuals the tower is beautifully designed and in the rare moments you do end up outside, the looming fog below does make you feel a little uneasy. Occasionally the graphics did pop and when trying to extinguish a torch Styx was briefly stuck in the air as if he was falling. Though a little unsightly at times there were no game-breaking bugs.
Overall Styx: Master of Shadows is actually a pretty great title despite the few negative points I’ve highlighted. Though the games action-less need for steath can become a little tedious at times it’s actually a quite refreshing throwback to hardcore stealth titles. Though it can be a bit unforgiving at times, especially when you accidentally crash into a chair whilst creeping under a table, when you do successfully make it through a room filled with 5 guards there’s a definite sense of achievement.
For the £25 price tag, half the price of other games on the platform, I’d definitely recommend the game if you can hold your cool when things get tough, if you’re one to throw your controller at the slightest bit of frustration, I’d probably hold off for now and recommend anger management.
This review of Styx: Master of Shadows was written based on the Xbox One version of the game provided by Focus Home Entertainment.