In playing Styx: Master of Shadows, both for fun and while getting my review ready, one thing became readily apparent: this game has me saving like a crazy person.
Decide to walk the length of a short hall? Save. Manage to get onto the very top of a dresser, then jump on a roofing beam. Save. Sneak to the other side of the beam. Save. Jump down to the ground. A guard shouts at you. Load. Jump down to another area instead. Another guard shouts! Son of a…Load. Jump over where I believe the guard is. Land behind the guard. Too loud. “A monster!” Load. Jump. Finally stick a landing safely. Kill that annoying guard. Save.
Lots of saving, indeed…
I anticipate that most people’s views of Styx: Master of Shadows will rely greatly in how they view the older Thief games and other similar titles. Sure, Styx is new, but it has many elements that are reminiscent of older titles in the genre, which is both a fun and frustrating thing.
In the game you play as Styx, a goblin robber in a universe of people and elves who will apparently fight for just about any reason, or lack thereof.
The basic premise of the game is this: Styx wants to steal the Heart of a World Tree which creates the Amber for some Tower. As you may imagine, the heart of a world tree is pretty well protected. The secrets of the way that it is safeguarded and where it is kept are actually restricted to two or three individuals.
Styx: Master of Shadows Maps & Areas
The maps you play through in Master of Shadows are tremendously large, especially when it comes to their height. Every area will have an entrance/exit, of course, but getting through everything in between is by far the most “open-world” I’ve found in a stealth based title. You can take the obvious route, but in the event that you are attempting to pass through the game completely hidden this is seldom the most productive way to go about it. Rather, an area can be dotted with hidden passages, secret rooms, balconies, perches, and ledges to catch onto–it is basically a gigantic jungle gym for burglars.
Styx is a game for the most hardcore of stealth enthusiasts, in my humble opinion. I did my play through on Normal, and even with trying to stay hidden in every single area is
pretty challenging insanely difficult. It is a continuous struggle between attempting to locate a path that avoids the majority of your would-be foes (or lets you sneakily kill them), and attempting to make some real progress to move forward.
To make matters worse, in the event you are one of these folks (like me) who has to grab every single collectible in a game, well…this game will destroy you. It took about 2 1/2 hours to complete what is considered the Prologue of the game. Yes, you read that correctly. There are seven chapters in Styx, and each is broken into 3-4 enormous sub-areas. Each sub-area has 10 tokens you can collect scattered around the most inconvenient, inaccessible, crazy-guarded regions of the map. They aren’t really required places to go into so much as they are there simply to challenge the folks who need those keepsakes.
While it might be possible to complete a few of these chapters in as 30 minutes, it is not all that likely without a bit of practice and, honestly, luck.
The game does provide you with a couple of edges over your foes in the game, all of which center are focused on that Amber thing I mentioned earlier. It’s possible for you to become completely invisible for a short period of time, produce a disgusting little clone to call your own, and illuminate some of the more hard to spot items with your Amber Vision. The whole cloning thing turns out to be rather critical, as guards can be distracted further away from your location, or you can activate some of the levers you otherwise wouldn’t be able to reach.
You are seldom motivated to make use of your powers, though, except when the game drives you to do so, which isn’t a great feeling, in my opinion. Styx can be EXTREMELY open, but then it’ll toss you through a chokepoint in the middle of the map where you HAVE to flip that invisible switch or toss a clone out for the guards. The thing is, the chokepoint shouldn’t even be there and sort of cancels out the whole open world stealth game feeling.
In addition, there are some other problems to be aware of. Pathfinding is especially broken, for one. There are plenty of cases where I saw two guards walk into each other, do a strange mix of walking and dancing until they unhooked, and then continue on their patrol paths. Other stuff like quicksaving next to a sleeping guard will have that guard waking up and seeing you when you reload. There are plenty of these small annoyances that make the game less enjoyable than it should be.
What It Boils Down To
If you can get past all the little problems going on in the game, however, there is a strong (and quite difficult) stealth video game here. Styx: Master of Shadows certainly felt like many a stealth game I’ve played years and years ago. Meaning that it felt like more modern stealth game that wasn’t super polished, that slaughtered me every chance it go, and was way more open than most.
That is certainly good for me, but it is also something I really could see lots of folks being frustrated by. If you decide to pick the game up, be ready to save like a madman.