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E3 2014: Styx: Master of Shadows

By
Posted on June 11, 2014 AT 06:00pm

Publisher Focus Home Interactive
Developer Cyanide Studio
Platform XB1, PS4, PC
Release Date Q3.2014
You can read the rest of our Opinionated Guide to E3 2014 or head to our E3 hub for even more coverage.

The Rundown

Within the Tower of Akenash, a massive monolith housing elven and human factions tasked with protecting a magic tree and all the political tensions brewing between them over this, a lone goblin—the first of all goblins—must creep through Akenash’s dizzying heights to reach to uncover the origins of his race. And, apparently, make a buck or two along the way.

The Verdict

As a stealth game, there’s a lot to like about Styx. For one, it’s not really trying to be anything but a stealth game, and one that, while pure in its focus, is modern in its sensibilities. The environments within Akenash are sandbox arenas that offer players a variety of approaches suited for different playstyles. The titular goblin himself, described to me, “agile, but fragile,” can snuff out light sources and slip about like a shadow in the dark, but doesn’t amount to much as a combatant when faced with two or more of Akenash’s taller denizens. And unlike so many of Styx’s other contemporary competitors, there’s no feel-good false-kill knockout for those who want the added challenge that comes with not taking a life. It’s kill, or be quite unseen. Nothing in between.

Honestly, there’s very little I could fault Styx for—at least in what I saw played life in front of me, though not personally experienced. No, Styx’s biggest sticking point is just how game-y it is. This might come off as a slight about videogames embracing what they are, but there’s a fine line between something that puts “gameplay” first and something for which gameplay mechanics were created for the sake of having gameplay mechanics. One of Styx’s tricks is the ability to create clones of himself. These biological drones can be used as scouts or sacrificed to create traps and distractions. But I cannot, for the life of me, understand the genetic imperative for such an ability. And let’s not even get into the ethical implications of learning how to magically reproduce in such a way. Plus, these copies have but a finite life, so they aren’t exactly something that can be explained away as a form of propagation. Goblinkind wouldn’t make much progress as a species bound to such severe limitations.

This may all seem like so much nitpicking, but my point is that Styx, while a perfectly fine stealth title by the looks of it—and one I am utterly convinced a select sampling of gamers will like, no less—too readily reveals itself as little more than an assembly of mechanics lightly dressed in some fiction so as to generate immersion. It’s like being Neo in the Matrix, but on the other side of his resurrection. Once you can see the code and all its secrets, some of the magic is lost and all you’re left with is the math (no offense to any budding or practicing mathematicians who routinely find beauty in fractals).

Though, I guess for any of you on Tumblr who’ve been clamoring for more goblin inclusivity in games, Styx: Master of Shadows might just be your champion.

Chris Holzworth, News Editor
Chris Holzworth has wanted to write about games all his life. He first cut his teeth writing for enthusiast sites such as RPGFan, and after writing for just about every other enthusiast website he could came across, wound up as EGM's east coast news correspondent (read: editorial intern) before relocating to LA to serve as news editor. You can follow his rants about storytelling on Twitter @manadrive.[Meet the rest of the crew]

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