I have a certain penchant for stealth games. I've done everything there is to do in Dishonored and devoured indie gems like Arigami and Stealth Inc. Like many people, I discovered Styx: Master of Shadows when it came as a free game on PlayStation Plus. Just like that, an obsession with a foul-mouthed goblin was born. Styx is a stealth-em-up about a vile little goblin who has to sneak around murdering people and generally being a little git. You use your gross powers, such as poisonous spit, to sneak, roll and stab through a fantasy-themed medieval tower.
Styx has lots in common with the early Thief games in that the stealth feels almost like a puzzle. You can save at any point, which definitely comes in handy. When you approach each challenge you can save before trying out different approaches. This also means that each time you make it past a difficult section, you can save immediately and never have to do it again. At certain points, you spend more time in the save/load screen than out of it.The levels are a lot more open and sprawling than those in Thief. Partially this is because of the modern nature of the game, and partially due to the 3rd person camera. Instead of sneaking around tight corridors you spend a lot of your time high up overlooking huge open areas. Most of the time you're high up because (as is the case in many classic stealth games), no-one looks up.
The more open levels in Styx contribute to another key difference between this and many other stealth games. Your goblin avatar moves at quite a rapid pace while remaining considerably hard to detect. Most stealth games with a slower pace have you move slowly to keep things tense. Instead, Styx can move fast and scale walls rapidly, but the tension comes from avoiding guards and hoping your plans work out. Of course, when they don't you'll just reload a save anyway, but that doesn't make your attempts less exciting.
The exploration of the levels is a key part of getting the most out of Styx: Master of Shadows. Although you can power through the levels, you probably shouldn't. Hasty players will miss out on a lot of collectibles and bonus missions. It's also more likely that you'll spend hours on a single area if you're going for a perfect stealth run. Trying to power through is a great way to end up with a knife across your little green throat.
When you approach a new challenge in Styx you basically have to save. Then you can just keep trying different approaches until you stop dying. You can spend 30 minutes trying and constantly reloading when you're either seen or get immediately killed. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. The slow approach fits the stealth aspects of the game, and it makes you feel smart when you've figured out a good way of clearing a room without being seen. Plus, the game prizes intensity over frantic action, which you can get in plenty of other places.
Your enemies in Styx range pretty wildly. You've got run of the mill enemies who simply deal damage but allow for a chance to fight your way out if you're caught. You've got the weaker enemies like scholars and civilian who offer no resistance. The most they manage is a scream for the guards before they meet Mr.Knifey. Then there are enemies who kill you with a single hit. While these guys are strong, they still take a single stab to the gut, the same as anyone else. Honestly, you're best of treating all enemies like they're these guys, and avoiding or killing them quietly.
Styx also has RPG elements, namely in powers you can unlock between missions. These powers range in usefulness from a bag of ice in Alaska to a gun at a knife fight. For instance, invisibility is a godsend, helping you squeeze through heavily guarded areas. However, the combat powers are basically pointless. Sure, they might be useful if you ever do get into combat, but your job is to avoid a fair fight. Most of the time, fighting with an enemy means a game over. They let all their nearby friends know that they're fighting and they all run to pile into the scrap.
Most of the problems that you'll run across in Styx: Master of Shadows are based around either the level design or the platforming, but even then they're very minor. There is a decent amount of jumping between rafters, but you can fall to your death far too easily due to your small stature. It gets to the point where you'll be saving after every jump just to make it across. Honestly, with these annoying load times, you may end up taking a frustration break.
The problems with level design are infrequent, but they do come up. There are some areas that feel like they were unfinished, or at least like they're missing key elements. In more than one place, there are ledges that seem like they're crucial to beating a level but they can't actually be used. There is always another solution to these problems, but it doesn't make the obvious signposting any less annoying when it goes unfulfilled.
Styx favors stylized graphics over realistic ones, which works to its favor. After all, it might be a tad strange to see a hyper-realistic world with a phlegm spitting goblin running around. A lot of the environments have a stark contrast between the light and the dark. There are brightly glowing streaks running through otherwise darkened levels, such as those on the main character. Each level usually has at least one segment which feels dark dank and musty and another which is more brightly lit and open. It's a good way of blending visual design and gameplay. Not to mention, it telegraphs harder to traverse areas by making them appear much brighter.
Overall Styx: Master of Shadows is a great stealth game with a few issues here and there that stop it from achieving 'great' status. Its slow and careful gameplay fits well with the stealth genre. The sprawling environments feature huge leaps in vertical distance that make them stand out from the crowd. As long as you remember to save often and don't mind waiting for loading screens which ever so slightly outstay their welcome, you'll have a pretty fun experience stabbing your way through this one.TechRaptor reviewed Styx: Master of Shadows on PlayStation 4 via PlayStation Plus. It's also available on Xbox One and PC.