Nick DeBlasio ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Developer: Cyanide Studio
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genres: Stealth, Fantasy
Styx: Master of Shadows is a fantasy stealth game following the escapades of Styx, a grungy and diminutive goblin rogue. Navigating the labyrinthine passages of the colossal superstructure of Akenash, Styx is attempting to find and steal the Heart of the World Tree, the source of the mysterious substance called Amber. Styx has an unknown connection to the Amber, having gained from it the ability to see in the dark, create clones of himself, and briefly turn invisible. Even more strange, the Amber connects the minds of all those who have touched it, and with all those voices ringing in his head, Styx must bear an omnipresent headache. At many points throughout the game, the player can feel that headache too.
That is to say, this game can be difficult. Sometimes, it can be a good kind of difficult—challenging, as it were—puzzling out how to progress with what limited resources you have. But often, it’s just downright frustrating. That is, you can see how you need to get across the room, but actually carrying out your approach will often be cut short by barely missed jumps, as well as the occasional stray bucket that you’ll accidentally kick over to alert half the garrison to your location. The difficulty shifts all throughout any given mission: one minute you’re slipping about undetected, the next minute you’re shivering in a sewer drain, hiding from the squad of elite troops patrolling the grounds around you. In other words, the game takes getting used to because the main cause for failure will be you, the player, misjudging a jump or the sight range of an enemy or some such thing and getting yourself killed. For those who value steady progress over potentially vicious predicaments, there’s no shame in trying “Easy” mode.
One of the main difficulties in the game is the combat system. This is perhaps a stretch for criticizing an infiltration game, but this aspect is still very restricting and isn’t a reliable means to defend yourself. Being caught in Styx activates “duel” mode, in which you must parry your enemy’s attacks with nearly perfect timing. Successfully parry enough times and you get the option to kill them. It’s not that difficult to do, unless of course the enemy isn’t alone, and considering that guards always sound the alarm at first sight of you, they are almost certainly not alone. Because you can only focus on parrying one enemy at a time, any enemy past the first is free to chuck throwing knives or take a swing at you. Running away is a possibility, but even then there’s the chance that you just run into even more enemies. In other words, if you get caught in Styx, you’re probably dead. Of course, this just accentuates the fact that Styx is, in fact, the stealth game it claims to be, so fans of the genre should be reasonably pleased as long as they’re willing to reload a few saves.
The game has success in terms of aesthetics and story. Scaling the sides of high towers in the midst of the huge complex around the World Tree, you often find yourself surrounded by grandiose and impressive visuals. The art style has a somewhat unique tone to it, caught somewhere between grungy realism and a cartoonish style, like World of Warcraft wearing a very gritty jacket. But while that “gritty cartoon” style reflects well on it visually, it’s a little overblown given some of the dialogue. That is, not only do most of the guards speak in really overdone cockney accents, but everyone, Styx included, seems to have the vocabulary of a middle school student who has just learned to swear. Now censorship is a thing often taken too far, but in the case of Styx, the S-words and F-bombs just seem unnaturally wedged into much of the dialogue, like the game is trying too hard to achieve the gritty feel that it’s already attained. Besides that minor point, the game has a good atmosphere to it, suitable for the “keep low, play dirty, get sneaky” aesthetic that stealth games should have.
The plot is of debatable quality, but it’s still clear that a good degree of thought went into it, as it is cleverly structured and develops well. Well enough, in fact, that it would be something of a shame to go too far into it, as about a third of the way through the game there’s a rather compelling twist. Before that point, the plot seems deceptively generic and stale, just being that Styx is a thief who wants to steal the Heart of the Tree for whatever reason. The things that string the story along up until the twist are the intermittent cutscenes, depicting Styx being interrogated by the humans he’s been working against, recounting to them his crimes as the player plays them out. It’s smart buildup, and does well in piquing the player’s curiosity as higher political motives between the humans of Akenash Tower and the elves of the World Tree come into play.
The cast of characters is rather lacking. There are about six characters of any real consequence to the plot, and only one or two of them are particularly memorable. Those couple of characters do experience a good deal of development as their motives are revealed more and more, but the rest are just blandly filling in tropes, like the fanatical racist, the obnoxious politician, and the senile savant (though admittedly the latter does win some sympathy, as he’s the only one in the game who treats you with any degree of genuine kindness).
Styx should certainly not be dismissed, it should just be noted that it’s a specialized game. With large areas, multiple paths to navigate those areas, unlockable special abilities, mechanics for sabotage and mischief, and a variety of challenging situations, Styx bears the staples of a decent stealth game, with the added bonus of RPG elements and a beautiful fantasy aesthetic. It’s not a game for everyone, but those fans of stealth and fantasy should find what they’re looking for in Cyanide Studio’s Styx: Master of Shadows.
Overall Rating: 7/10