Styx: Master of Shadows is a prequel to Cyanide's first game, Of Orcs and Men. It follows the story of Styx, a goblin who's gifted with a magical power. The magic is fueled by amber, which comes from a tree that is guarded by humans and magical elves. The two allies live in rough harmony since they both wish to exploit the amber. Styx's goal is to sneak into the center of the tree and steal the Heart of Amber. He must travel through the deadliest guards to reach the deepest part of the joint stronghold.
At its heart, Styx is a stealth game. Many of the classic stealth mechanics from games like Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell can be found here. You can climb walls, hide in containers and crates, turn out lights to increase the ease of sneaking by, distract guards, and stealth-kill enemies and hide their bodies in crates. Styx isn't an assassin, though, and we were told that it is possible to ghost every level in the game if you wish. The core stealth mechanics look solid and well designed from a lot of obvious player feedback. For example, Styx has a glowing tattoo on his arm that only appears when he is safely enshrouded in shadow, making it easy to tell when you're safe and when you're not. Combat is an option, but it appears to be a less useful one. When Styx was seen and swarmed by guards, fighting his way out seemed like a fool's errand. Taking down one or two guards was possible, but an entire army quickly overwhelmed the unfortunate goblin.
One of Styx's most defining abilities is the power to clone himself. As long as he has the amber to do so, Styx can create a "little brother" version of himself that he can send to scout ahead. The cloned version of Styx isn't very capable of combat. Just about any time he got into danger in the demo, he was dead in a moment. In addition to the obvious advantages of having a disposable minion, the clone can also influence enemies. He can make noise or lure enemies away from their guard location, allowing Styx to sneak by. He can also hop on an enemy's back and temporarily stun them, which is great for taking down two enemies at once since Styx can stealth-kill the first and then take down the second. He can also self-detonate, although catching an enemy in the explosion can be tough. The downside to the clone is that he has a limited lifespan and uses up amber when he's active. You can replenish amber if the clone returns, but if the clone dies, that's a permanent loss of amber.
Styx has a wide range of amber-fueled special powers. In our demo, Styx was able to render himself temporarily invisible. He also used special "Amber Vision," which is very similar to the Detective mode in Arkham Asylum, to spot enemies and objects of value. Magic is replenished by stealing amber vials from enemies, but enemies know this substance is valuable, and if you attempt to take from them by force, they'll crush it upon death. You'll need to balance killing with sneaking and stealing to maintain your amber supply.
Balancing killing and sneaking seems to be an important part of the Styx experience. We saw only a small portion of the game, but we saw a foreshadowing of the kinds of enemies you'll encounter. Armored soldiers are immune to stealth kills, so you'll have to find another way to get past them because taking them out quietly isn't an option. Later in the game, you encounter elves, who are also creatures with innate amber magic. As such, they can actually smell Styx, so you won't have the option of sneaking up on or even past them. You have to find a way to take them out from a distance or lure them well away from their guard post so their keen noses don't detect you.
Player customization is also an element of the game. Finishing goals earns you skill points that you can invest in different skill trees, such as cloning, equipment or stealth. Once you've invested heavily enough in a tree, you earn Mastery points, which unlock new abilities that are tailored to how you've been leveling up Styx. The game looks like it'll support most play styles. If you want to slaughter your way through the enemy base, you can invest in poisoning enemy drinks or an improved throwing dagger, and if you want to be sneaky, there's always invisibility and clone distractions.
Cyanide Games consists of former Ubisoft employees, so it's easy to see how Styx: Master of Shadows clearly has roots in the stealth genre exemplified by Ubisoft series like Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell. In our preview, we saw a lot of interesting things that gave the game its own personality. The fantasy setting and use of magic really help make Styx feel like it has a distinct identity. The stealth mechanics look polished, and having access to a friendly clone opens up a lot of possibilities that Sam Fisher never had. Look for a PC release of Styx in Q4 2014.
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