What you won’t like
My advice: Play this game on the Goblin difficulty, the hardest setting. That way if you get in melee range of an alerted guard, you’ll just auto-die. It’ll save you from Styx’s horrible, horrible combat system. If a guard spots you and grabs you, it locks you in combat so you can’t get away. You can hypothetically parry their attacks a few times if you time it just right and kill them, or you can dodge by rolling.
In reality, combat turns out to be pure, random luck whether you succeed, and 99 times out of 100, you won’t. And if you have alerted a second guard, or you’re too far away so they can shoot you with bows, you’re done for.
Styx is a wonderful old-school stealth game. Treat it like one and you’ll have a great time. It is a terrible, godawful combat game, and it feels unfair that you’re locked into combat mode if you’re caught.
Lack of instruction about controls
I had played through the better part of a mission before realizing that I could save outside of checkpoints (it was initially grayed out for me) and the better part of another before realizing I could whistle to get guards’ attention. I wasted still more time before a random loading-screen tip taught me how to jump up and hang from a ledge without recklessly leaping over it.
If you follow the rules for how a move should be done (moving slowly off a ledge to drop and grab hold of it, for instance), it works. If you’re relying on what you know from other more-modern stealth games, you may keep hitting that B button and plummeting to your death instead.
That’s fine, as long as a game tells you exactly what to do before you’re expected to do it. But Styx doesn’t. I found out about whistling because I was randomly scrolling through the options screen and happened across the controls menu, which consists of an annotated picture of a controller. That picture still doesn’t include the finer nuances of how to control your goblin.
I liked the seamless tutorial in the early mission stages, but Styx needs more.
The skill tree’s fighting focus
Styx has a skill tree, with four basic upgrades each for different aspects of his abilities: his amber vision, his agility, his clone’s abilities, the way he can kill, and so on. You might choose to invest in not making noise when you jump or to give your clone the ability to hide in a closet and jump out to grab an enemy.
The skills themselves are fine — reasonably useful, bought with points you earn while progressing, and open any time for investment in a different tree — but many of them improve combat, the least enjoyable part of this stealth adventure.
The mediocre graphics
Styx is average at best by Xbox One/PlayStation 4 and PC standards. Crude textures or a lack of variety sometimes mar tremendous level designs, and it feels like it could have used a final graphic polish. Styx himself is generally the best-looking thing onscreen, as long as he’s not talking; clumsy facial expressions distract from the dialogue. Smooth animations make kills satisfying, but watching the rag doll bodies flop around when you dispose of them afterward can ruin the effect.
Styx’s old-school stealth doesn’t match modern standards for UI, in-game hints, and combat, which can make it frustrating to learn. It took me a few levels to truly believe that enemies weren’t just occasionally being arbitrary; they were following their own rules, and the sweep of their attention wasn’t always obvious. The graphics are also basic for 2014.
But the action and the feeling of many right paths make Styx truly engrossing for hardcore stealth fans, at a bargain price. Be ready to save often and die a lot — with a smile on your face.
Just stay out of combat.
Styx: Master of Shadows is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. GamesBeat received a digital copy for the purposes of writing this review.