I had been interested in Styx: Master of Shadows for some time; its prospects of fantasy stealth, along with its oddly designed protagonist intrigued me. But after playing the game for several hours, my intrigue has become a smear of disenchantment and disgust. Its never ending ramble of unpolished mechanics are as clunky, inconsistent and as frustrating as they come. The sneaking gameplay of Styx may include some inspired concepts, which make its stealth scenarios somewhat authentic, but its frankly broken combat makes every other second torturous to say the least.
The third person stealth adventure takes Styx, the strange goblin protagonist, on a journey to steal the heart of a World Tree: the source of a powerful and useful material known as Amber. He must use his skills in sleuthing, assassination and thievery to undergo a deluge of missions within a number of sandbox-like locales. While its story of elven prejudice and human domination remains interesting throughout, Styx’s lacklustre presentation of the narrative keeps it from progressing past anything but just fine: stilted animations with poor lip synching, along with some simplistically drawn stills, tell the tale awkwardly. Its central figure however, is a fascinating inclusion; his foul mouthed, Amber-obsessed antics make for an original protagonist.
Styx is said to be a master of espionage, but the game’s horribly clunky stealth puts this assessment wholly up for debate. He can scale walls, hide in the shadows, take cover around corners and perform quiet assassinations so as to not alert the ever mindful guards. But unfortunately, few of these components make for an enjoyable, or even passable, experience because of the unpolished world in which Styx takes place. Climbing up structures works simplistically at various intervals, but at times, Styx mindlessly misses grabable ledges. As well as this, he is constantly getting caught on small pieces of the screen-torn environment: he often fumbles over and around sharp edges, buckets, and crates, alerting the guards and inciting countless frustrating failures as a result. There are slight but satisfying tenets of stealth that enrich the experience somewhat, such as carpet being quieter than stone when landed upon, or having to extinguish torches in order to hide successfully in the darkness. But unfortunately, this does little to improve upon a system that is startlingly messy.
The stealth may be bad, but the combat is frankly abysmal. Sneaking around confrontation is obviously of the utmost importance in a game such as this, but unfortunately, the clunkiness of the world forces you into battle with its broken fighting mechanics to time immemorial. You must parry each enemy’s sword swipe before striking the killing blow, highlighting its plainness and lack of finesse, but the hit registers are ridiculous, with slashes barely connecting half the time. Inconsistencies such as this are frequently apparent.
At times, Styx can fight well into victory against an opponent, while at others they can instantly kill him with no reasonable explanation whatsoever; sometimes, he can escape with ease, while at others, he is locked into a fight without retreat. Most of these outcomes lead to a frustrating encounter nonetheless, which is usually followed by a death, a lengthy loading screen and a checkpoint system that pushes you back towards an unnecessarily far position. The combat is punishing, maddening and ultimately broken beyond repair.
Bad stealth and maddening combat aside, Styx’s use of Amber is surprisingly well done. It gives the goblin “Amber-vision,” a detective mode that is used to highlight items and enemies throughout the environment, as well as the ability to clone himself to create distractions and scout ahead, making those future annoyances that much more bearable. These skills become more useful as the game progresses, due to the large amount of enemies inhabiting certain areas, and thanks to some simple role playing mechanics, they can be upgraded using experience points gained through the completion of objectives. The mechanics here may be easily utilised, but they work well in comparison to the myriad of unrefined systems that plague this entirely ruinous game.
Unnecessary, infuriating, unpolished and broken. If you wish to describe Styx: Master of Shadows with aplomb and fidelity, then the use of these words is unavoidable. Its stealth and combat are disheveled and puzzling, and little fun is to be had despite the originality of its Amber-swilling protagonist.
Never play this game if you enjoy sanity and/or fun. It is a wreck of gigantic proportions.