Styx: Master of Shadows Review – Super Duper Sneaky (PS4)
To be honest, I didn’t think much of Styx: Master of Shadows when I first began seeing the trailers and gameplay videos around the internet. I had played Of Orcs and Men, another Cyanide Studios game that apparently takes place after the events in Styx, and I didn’t really like it. So I was surprised to find that although Styx has its fair share of problems, it is an incredibly enjoyable and intelligent game.
Styx: Master of Shadows revolves around the stealthy goblin Styx, who has lost his memory and wants to both return it and steal the heart of the World-Tree, a magical tree that is heavily guarded by an uneasy alliance between humans and elves. Styx thinks that by stealing the heart, he will not only gain back his memory, but will also get more information about his origin, as he apparently is the world’s first goblin.
Because Styx has lost his memory, a large part of the game is him complaining about how he doesn’t remember this and that; and whining about how badly his head hurts. Basically, his memory loss serves as an incredibly annoying way to teach the player about the game’s universe and the different beings that live there. Thankfully, Styx: Master of Shadows uses humor to help out with some of the dull game lore. This humor comes in the form of witty dialogue and frightfully cartoon-ish voice acting. I’m not sure if everyone in the game is supposed to sound like they are in a children’s cartoon show or not, but their voices are entertaining nonetheless.
Being blunt, the story is not that great. The characters are weak, the memory loss aspect is annoying, and the search for Styx’s origins is cliched and not really necessary. The game’s lore is interesting, but the game sometimes tries to shove it down the player’s throat by incorporating it into the main, memory loss story line.
However, looking past the story, the Styx: Master of Shadows is extremely intelligent in its gameplay. Unlike some stealth games out today, there is a huge emphasis on being sneaky, with only a tiny, little piece of the game being about combat. Sure, you can kill enemies, but it is very hard to do so if it isn’t a stealth kill. Actually, in the hardest difficulty of the game — Goblin Mode — it is virtually impossible to fight your way out of a situation, as one hit will kill you.
In any other mode, however, fighting is a solution, but only when there is one or maybe two enemies to deal with. The game’s combat mode focuses on parrying and dodging, as even in the other difficulties it only takes a few hits to get Styx killed. To parry an attack, players have to hit the parry button (square) at exactly the right time. Usually, there are not too many indicators as to when to hit the button, save for the enemy raising his weapon. After parrying an enemy a couple times in a row, players will have the chance to kill the enemy, at which point the enemy is killed almost instantly. Dodging an attack is also possible, but it is purely defensive and will not lead to the enemy’s death.
That being said, it is never a good idea to engage an enemy in Styx straight on. The easiest way to kill an enemy is to stealthy do it by sneaking up behind them. An enemy can then be killed quickly and loudly, or softly and slowly. It is almost always better to make kill an enemy softly, however, as the game has a huge emphasis on sound.
Enemies in Styx actually have pretty good ears and will hear that something is amiss if, say, a body falls onto the floor a few feet away from them. Even killing an enemy softly will produce a noise (usually the noise of their neck snapping) that will draw guards around the kill running over to see what is wrong. Other things make noise as well, such as accidentally bumping into a chair or jumping at the wrong time. The emphasis on sound alone makes the game stand out. Trying not to bump into a servant’s bucket of water when you are sneaking up behind him can be annoying, but it really adds a level of strategy to the game that seems fresh for the stealth genre.
Of course, it isn’t all about sound, as Styx must also keep to the darkness so enemies won’t see him. This involves putting out every torch in your way, as well as hiding in various pieces of furniture, such as barrels and chests. Bodies can also be hidden in these barrels and chests, just so that their buddies won’t stumble over them and start getting suspicious.
One of the more interesting things about Styx is that enemies actually realize that people and bodies can be hidden in the large, empty chests scattered around the room, and will check them if they realize something is wrong. To avoid being dragged out of a perfectly good hiding place and mercilessly killed, Styx has to rely on his climbing skills to get him up into areas, such as a building’s rafters, that other people can’t get to. Getting up into these places is usually fairly easy, but staying up there is definitely not. If you get to close to the edge, you will fall. Sounds reasonable, until you think about all the other games out there that have your character catch onto the ledge at the last second and hang there. That will not happen in Styx, once again adding something fresh and challenging to the stealth genre.
If climbing up walls isn’t really your thing, Styx also has a few magical powers that can get you out of trouble. Relying on this stuff called Amber, Styx can summon weak clones of himself, make himself invisible, and identify enemies and other important objects from afar with a skill called “Amber Vision.” Using these powers take up Amber, which can be restored through potions, but are incredibly useful.
Other things, such as balls of sand that can put out torches from a distance and throwing daggers, also help Styx stealthy creep around the different levels in the game. Each level is fairly open, allowing you to traverse through it in numerous ways. There are a fairly large number of side-missions and collectibles that can be obtained as well, adding to the openness of each level. Completing side-missions and snatching collectibles are not necessary of course, but they will get you extra skill points.
Skill points can be used at certain points in the game to level up Styx and give him new abilities. There are numerous upgrades to choose from, and they can allow you to do things like kill enemies from above or carry more potions and knives. They can also be used to upgrade your powers, allowing clones to attack enemies or have Styx’s Amber Vision last twice as long. Choosing which skills to gain or upgrade can vastly change the way the game is played.
Since the levels have lots of collectibles in them, Styx allows players to go back and replay each level. This gives the game a lot of replay value, and allows you to try out different things, such as attempting to get through a level without killing any of the guards or trying to finish all the side-missions. It allows the 15-20 hour game to actually become much longer than that, which is great.
Something that is not so great, however, are the graphics. They are good, don’t get me wrong, but they are not quite up to par with some of the other PlayStation 4 games. Some of the animations, especially when characters are talking, look completely off, and the enemies’ textures are reused over and over again, making each enemy look exactly the same. The graphics aren’t great, but for the price tag ($30) they’re more than serviceable enough.
Overall, Styx: Master of Shadows is a great game that completely took me by surprise. It is strategic, intelligent, and offers players hours and hours of sneaky gameplay. Although the game does have a cookie-cutter story and some goofy voice acting, it is a great buy for the $30 price tag. I recommend picking up a copy if you have ever played Of Orcs and Men or are a fan of stealth games.
Review copy purchased by reviwer. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.