Styx: Master of Shadows is a character action, third-person, stealth RPG game set in a wonderfully confusing maze of a (possibly floating) castle-tower thing.
You play as a handsome and well-mannered little goblin named Styx. You’re apparently after the heart of something called the World-Tree which lies at the center of the tower. You are hearing voices, can’t remember anything and are a bit addicted to some magical orange glowing substance called amber. Which may be a byproduct of the World-Tree and might be the purpose behind the giant human city you’ve infiltrated.
I’ve been impressed and greatly overwhelmed by the level design. One level had me running across bridges, climbing up towers, sneaking from parapet to parapet, crawling through cracks and leaping across the rafters to work my way behind the many guards and laborers meandering about. (It’s kinda how I always pictured Gormenghast Castle).
I would recommend playing a level in one sitting. The vertical level design is so stacked in spots that it’s easy to forget where you’ve been and where you were heading. The in-game map is just an aerial sketch of the area with no indicator showing where you are or how layered a section is. It’s fun to open the map and be all like, “Now, is that the staircase I need to head towards or is it the one by the long hallway? I came in through the window so I don’t know which hallway I’m in right now.” There’s always an onscreen marker pointing out where and how far you are from the end of the level – but I’m a completionist – so that is just telling me where I can leave once I’ve finished exploring.
New abilities are activated at the end of each mission when Styx is safe back at the hideout. The points required to upgrade and learn new abilities are received from completing the main mission, side quest and earning awards for how well you did in the level. I believe the awards are the same for every mission:
- Don’t Kill Anyone
- Don’t Alert Anyone
- Find all the Collectibles
- Beat the entire mission in under XX minutes
You can replay a mission to try and check off the things you missed the first time through and collect more experience points. I’ve decided my strategy moving forward will be a slow and careful first playthrough. I’ll kill everyone (EVERYONE!), making it easier to take my time looking for and looting all the collectibles (3) and completing the side missions. I’ll also attempt to play so as not to set off any alarms (2). Then, on the second playthrough I can just run straight to the objectives (4) without caring if I’m spotted and never touch a guard (1).
I did this on the last mission I played and was really surprised that a four part mission that originally took me 4 hours to complete took me less than 20 minutes to sprint through. I suppose that is a side-effect of littering a level with items to collect… but I love me some sparklies! Every game needs more sparklies!
There’s something really neat to the fact that a level that can be “speedrunned” in a few minutes but has enough nooks and crannies (and towers and rooms) that you could wander around for several hours. Being utterly lost and all wide-eyed like a foreign tourist the first time through, then jumping expertly over the guards from hand hold to ledge the second time through. It would make the level design seem small if not for the fact that once you move to the next mission you’ll be that wide-eyed tourist all over again for another couple of hours. I’ve never been a fan of game modes that have you racing against the clock – but after spending so long combing over the level the first time – I enjoyed it!
I get around
Styx can sneak around without making any noise. Falling makes noise unless you land on a carpet. There is a perk for silent falls that I spent my experience points on immediately. Being a small framed goblin, you automatically move right underneath tables when sneaking. This makes it real easy to pass through a room with a lot of people moving around in it.
I was really confused in the first mission why whenever I got above a guard, I couldn’t leap down and do an aerial kill. Turns out that jumping and hanging kills are both locked abilities. Fortunately, it’s only one of a handful of locked skills that I would expect to be part of the default sneak thief’s murder repertoire.
You also have some magical abilities. One allows you to create a clone you can control. I’ve had to use it a couple of times to solve some puzzles – but haven’t used it much otherwise.
The combat is brutal. Styx is very small and isn’t a great sword fighter. You can handle yourself against one guard. If there is more than one (there always is) you’re boned, unless you can leg it over a wall or under some crates. You can upgrade his combat abilities, but I don’t intend to play the game as a hack and slash.
Styx’s main attack is to sneak up behind someone and either go for a quick takedown or do a muffled kill. If there are others around, they’ll immediately be alerted by the normal takedown. The muffled kill is quieter (not silent) and takes forever! I wish there were perks for making it faster but I realize this is a part of the design of the game. You can’t just bound about stealth killing everyone with ease. You need to plan how to get through a room. If there are multiple enemies in a room (and you’re going for achievements), you need to figure out who is the most vulnerable and strike them first. This has turned each room into its own unique combat puzzle. My favorite two-man solution is to get high up, throw a dagger at the guy in the back then pounce down on the other guy before either body hits the floor. I chuckle every time I pull it off.
Things are looking up
You can use the environment to lay waste to your enemies as well. Environmental kills are nice because the bodies don’t need to be taken care of since they died “by accident.” I’ve killed four guys at once using a chandelier. I’m fairly certain it was designed into the level, but still, I felt clever and rather dastardly. One level is entirely open with nothing but clouds below, so every guy I killed was dropped off the side of the tower. They’re flying with the angels now.
From what I’ve played, I think Styx: Master of Shadows is a superb stealth game with great level design and an amazing backdrop. I fear this game may pass by with little notice, spit poison in our drinking water and kill us all with dysentery.
Styx: Master of Shadows was released on October 7, 2014 and is available for PS4, Xbox One and PC.
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