Title: Styx Master of Shadows
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: Oct 7th, 2014
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, and PC Steam
Reviewed On: PC – Steam (Pre-release Reviewer Copy)
I don’t often play pure stealth based games, but Styx looked interesting to me. You play as Styx, a goblin who is a master assassin. Styx has his eye on the Heart of the World-Tree which is the source of Amber. Amber is a powerful, magical golden sap that humans don’t seem to fully understand, so they have put the tree on lock down and built a magnificent city around it. Styx seems to be the last of his kind and when spotted he sticks out like a sore thumb. But that’s the trick — don’t get spotted. Styx is indeed the master of shadows and his goal is to move around silently while trying to figure out how to get his hands on the Tree Heart.
The game takes place in the Tower of Akenash and there is almost always someone guarding something. The beauty of Styx is that there is no right or wrong way to get from point A to point B. There are many different ways and through infuriating, yet fun, trial and error you will find oftentimes the best route isn’t always the one directly in front of you. The map is large and has many options for each mission. I found at times the most logical route is often the best route. Shadows and silence are your friends just like in any other stealth game, but Styx strives to set itself apart from these games with an array of powers.
As you play you will begin to unlock certain powers and start to harness them. One of the first of Styx’s abilities you learn about is his ability to create a clone of himself. The clone is more of a striped down version of Styx, he can’t do much to start the game but he can fit in tighter places and open doors, and more importantly — scout ahead and create distractions so Styx can continue unnoticed. Later in the game he can help take out some of the guards so Styx can keep moving through map unnoticed. Amber vision is another skill that seems normal to this kind of play where it allows you see certain things better, such as enemies, places to hide, alternate routes, and dark objects that may have not been clear at first. Probably one of the most useful abilities is to turn Styx invisible. Styx can only do this for a short time, and it isn’t foolproof, but it does certainly help in sticky situations where guards always seem to be right where you need them not to be.
Speaking of guards, this master of shadows assassin doesn’t seem to be all that great at assassinating. He can preform stealth kills and quick kills on unsuspecting people in the castle, but if they see you, forget about it. Combat in this game is frustrating and hopefully gets tweaked by final release. If you are spotted and the enemy is close enough, you will lock onto the enemy. Then you will be forced to parry away his attacks a certain number of times (it seems to depend on the type of foe) before you can then kill the enemy. The problem here is while the game tells you what button to press for a parry, it doesn’t tell you when to parry; you just have to time it correctly. This can be easy to do, but it is also easy to miss. These sequences can take quite a while and when it comes to being stealthy, precious seconds tick away while other guards and people are notified of the fight. There is not quick kill at this point, you’re forced to follow through with parry, parry, parry, kill. The kill shot takes about two seconds which leaves you very vulnerable. If someone else was in the room while the combat phase is activated, those two seconds left to kill your first foe usually mean your death, as opponents are able to strike you while you’re in the killing animation. If you’re spotted in a room of more than two people and you lock onto the first foe, you may as well set the controller down because you’re dead no matter what.
It seems odd to me that an assassin would be so slow to kill and leave himself so vulnerable. I think this is to place heavier emphasis on the importance of stealth in the game, but for me it made combat feel unavoidable and made some of the parts of the gameplay more of a grind than fun. Another issue I’ve found with the combat is that the same button to parry is the same button to pick up a body. If you do get yourself into trouble and you kill the first enemy, sometimes when you’re locking onto the second, instead of parrying the strike, you pick up a dead body to hide it. This of course will leave you open and you will be killed fairly easily as Styx doesn’t take many hits, which is totally understandable. And should you ever get spotted by an archer at close range? You can’t even swing on these guys so you have to rely solely on evasiveness to get away. This can be managed, but it is horribly frustrating to not even be allowed to swing a weapon at an enemy standing next to you.
These are all tactics that really push the infiltration, stealthy style. I understand this, but I feel like while playing on the normal difficulty, as most gamers would, they should be offered something that has a little more flexibility and won’t punish you so harshly for slipping up. Goblin Mode is for that hardcore stealth gamer — once you’re spotted and within range, you won’t have the opportunity to parry attacks to avoid being killed.
Despite all of this the guard AI seemed very solid in this game. All the guards seemed to have their route they would pace out. And at certain points in their patrol they stop and rest or look out on something. The guards can spot you and they have levels of alertness. They could be mildly alerted such as they heard a noise or maybe thought they saw something (they did), then there would be something more alert like they definitely heard a loud crash or were more certain they saw something or are coming down from being on the hunt for Styx. Finally, you have the full-fledged, they saw you, and they are coming for you! All of this is indicated by a circle above the guard’s head that would be red, an orange-y shade, and then yellow. Guards with weapons drawn would be more alert and harder to sneak passed as well. The guard AI and their detection was done very well in this game.
The auto-save feature seemed unreliable and not an accurate representation of the progress you’ve made. Usually auto-saves find little check points throughout the mission that it would put you back to if you meet an unfortunate demise. In Styx however, this doesn’t seem to be the case. I hope in the final version this is addressed as well. Sometimes I would make it through the first or second part of the map and experience a cutscene, but if I died I would be forced all the way back to the beginning. It wasn’t until later I found out on my own that the regular save function will do a quick save and bring you back to the exact moment you saved. Once I learned about this I was pretty happy with it, but I feel like the auto-save should be better utilized. Maybe it isn’t because of the variance in ways you can get from point A to point B. But at times the auto-save would put me right in the middle of a situation where I got myself killed. For example, I was in a room with three men and I had knocked something over, the auto-save picked the moment right after I made myself known and somehow had to get out of that predicament with a guard right next to me. It was doable, but it felt impossible and shouldn’t have happened like that.
Through all of this, I didn’t want to give Styx a bad score, because at the core I was having fun. While parts of the game were extremely frustrating and seemed like they were not as well thought out as they should be, the stealth and powers that Styx possesses made the game fun. Styx has lost his memory and so you learn about things as he learns about them and it makes for a great way to tell the story. Styx is a fun stealth game with multiple routes and options, but sometimes can be very linear. The combat system is atrocious in my opinion and the auto-save is poorly executed. You’re better off taking a moment to save every time you’ve made progress than relying on auto-save. The visuals are great, but at times the cut scenes seem lazy. I feel like this is a try before you buy type of game and may only really be targeted at those of you who really love stealth type games, while the players who don’t care for that style will be left in the lurch. Styx pulls you in with a cool story and cool abilities but leaves you wanting better gameplay. I must say though there is something in me that strives to play more and do better, but there are too many fundamental flaws in my opinion.