“The Thief games were a huge inspiration for us," Julien Desourteaux, lead level designer for Cyanide Studios Styx: Master of Shadows tells us.
That’s a high bar to hold yourself to. Add to it AAA franchises such as the Batman and Splinter Cell games, and you’re treading difficult waters. On the other hand, if you were left a bit flat by Square Enix’s reboot of the Thief franchise, Cyanide’s Styx: Master of Shadows (coming this year) may fill the void for a while. And Arkham Knight won’t be crashing the party until 2015, either.
Goblin in the city
Styx is a stealthy goblin with magical powers, thieving equipment, and a nasty attitude. In the demo, he's working in a Gothic, medieval fantasy world painted liberally with shades of Steampunk and Warhammer.
In the demo, Styx is in a huge, sprawling human city, with towers stretching into the sky. Styx sticks out like a sore (and ugly) thumb, so staying out of sight means staying off the business end of a longsword. But Julien didn’t reveal much of the story for fear of spoiling it, so why Styx’s motivations are a bit of a mystery at this point.
“Verticality is extremely important,” Julien explains. Styx douses a couple torches with sandbags, ascends a wall, and then drops from above onto hapless patrolling guards, swiftly executing both of them. Then he sneaks up behind a guard admiring a view and unceremoniously boots him off the ledge in an efficient, quiet elimination.
I couldn’t help but chuckle at such a casual assassination. I suppose technically there should have been an “aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!” in there, but perhaps in such a tall city that’s commonplace enough to be ignored.
Although not an ‘open world’ game, Styx consists of 4 huge, sprawling ‘levels’, each of them a sort of open world microcosm and big enough to comprise multiple ‘levels’, all with countless places to hide, climb, sneak, murder, and explore.
Exploring is encouraged and rewarded with equipment stashes and coins—a currency used to upgrade your skills and abilities.
“All told there is about 15 hours of single-player game play,” Julien explains, “and you can replay levels that you have completed to find secrets and earn achievements.”
Styx shares many common mechanics with the games that inspired it. Using his Amber Vision skill, Styx can see enemies, items of interest, and identify environmental hazards that can be used as traps, for example. Styx also has a large arsenal of skills, abilities, and gadgets that enable you to approach every scenario in whatever manner suits your gameplay style.
“One of the particularly fun things about this game is that our testers are always finding new and different routes and ways for achieving objectives,” Julien explains.
The game also features an RPG element, enabling you to level up Styx’s abilities across 7 different trees: Stealth, Agility, Amber Vision, Cloning, Equipment, Assassination, and Mastery.
Send in the Clones
One of Styx’s more interesting abilities—and an important one—is the ability to create a temporary magical clone of himself.
Our buddy the clone is an immensely flexible fellow and you can create and kill him as much as you want as long as you have enough Amber (mana) to do so. The clone adds a little built-in co-op ‘multiplayer’ element to our single-player only game. You can use the clone to scout ahead, distract or bait enemies into a trap, or even eliminate enemies altogether.
During the demo, Styx observes a guard standing next to a chest (part of his patrol pattern), and then creates a clone. Taking control of the clone, Julien moves him into the chest and creates a trap. When the patrolling guard returns and stands near the chest again, the clone jumps out, grabs him, and pulls him in. I don’t know what the clone did in there, but that was the end of that guard.
In another instance Styx uses the clone to bait enemies into walking under a huge cage full of crates suspended by a rope. Leaving the clone under the cage to draw the guards, Julien switches back to Styx, who is waiting above. Once the guards are under the cage, Styx drops the cage on top of them, killing 3 birds with 1 stone.
In another scenario Julien uses the clone to simply attack a guard, jumping on his back. With that guard occupied (jumping around trying to get the clone off his back), Julien takes control of Styx, sneaks up on another guard nearby, and kills him—then slinks back into the shadows and hides.
In a final demonstration, Julien sends the clone out into a group of guards, where he explodes into magical smoke, choking and stunning the guards to create a distraction. Styx then sneaks around them, executes another, and slinks into the shadows before he can be detected.
“We really want our players to feel free,” Julien says.
Styx: Master of Shadows definitely looks like it has the right ingredients to be an excellent entry into the genre. In addition, the snippets of voice acting and writing I observed were good quality (an area often neglected when budgets are tight).
Styx: Master of Shadows is scheduled for release by Focus Home Interactive on PC, PS4, and Xbox One this year—look for it around October 2014.
Styx: Master of Shadows
- Type: 3rd person stealth/action
- Developer: Cyanide Studios
- Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
- Release: Late 2014