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Styx: Master of Shadows: A stealthy adventure built for old-school Thief fans

Hayden Dingman | Oct. 8, 2014
This ultra-hard stealth game kind of feels like it came out ten years ago, but in a good way.

Styx: Master of Shadows

Any mechanical keyboard using Cherry MX switches ensures each key can be pressed over 50 million times. That's good, because I played Styx: Master of Shadows this week and I definitely cut into my keyboard's lifespan by tapping F5 to quicksave approximately every five seconds.

Walk down a hallway. Save. Clamber onto the top of a cabinet, then hop onto a roofing beam. Save. Creep across the beam. Save. Hop down to the floor. "Hey you!" yells a guard. Damn it. Load. Hop down to a different spot. "Hey you!" Mother of-- Load. Wait two seconds. Leap past where I now think the guard is. Land behind him. Too much noise. "A monster!" Load. Leap. Land. Kill guard. Save.

50 million key presses might not be enough.

Do you speak lore?
I expect your opinion of the third-person stealth game Styx: Master of Shadows will rest rather heavily on your opinion of the older Thief games and others in that vein. Though brand new, Styx is at turns both delightfully and frustratingly old-school in its approach.

You play as the titular Styx, a goblin thief in a world of just-give-us-an-excuse-to-fight-each-other humans and elves. Styx is trying to steal the "Heart of a World-Tree" which is responsible for creating "Amber" in the "Tower of Akenash." Don't worry--there's a lot more borderline-impenetrable lore where that came from!

As you might guess, the heart of a world-tree is fairly well-guarded--so well-guarded that the secrets of where it's kept and how it's guarded are really only known to two or three people. It's the type of score that would make the cast of Ocean's Eleven hang it up.

Styx is quite a bit more nimble than George Clooney, though, and this is the game's greatest strong-suit. Master of Shadows is a return to what most people cite when they bring up those old Thief games: truly open environments.

Levels in Master of Shadows are enormous, mostly in terms of verticality. They don't call it the Tower of Akenash for nothing. Each level has an entry and an exit, but how you get between those two points is as open-ended as I've seen in a stealth game ever. You could take the most obvious route, but that's rarely the most efficient way if you're trying to pass unseen. Instead, the whole tower is dotted with secret rooms, hidden passages, balconies, perches, and ledges to grab onto--it's essentially an enormous jungle gym for thieves. And Styx, as a goblin a.k.a. a-creature-that-can-jump-extraordinarily-well, is perfectly suited to Prince of Persia his way around the tower.

Styx is a game for only the most hardcore of stealth fans. I played on Normal difficulty and even so, each level was absolutely brutal if you're trying to remain unseen. It's a constant war between trying to make forward progress and trying to find a path that bypasses most of the enemies--or at least one where you can sneak up from behind and murder a fewa lot of most of the guards.

 

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