Styx: Shards of Darkness, developed by Cyanide Studio and published by Focus Home Interactive, is the follow-up to Master of Shadows. It is a stealth game, which delivers some excellent story moments and the freedom to assassinate many, many foes, all while playing as a talkative little green goblin…what more could one ask for?
Warning: The videos in this review contain some early-game spoilers and foul language.
Just goblin things
For the past week, I’ve been playing the game on PC whenever I got a chance, and it’s been a whole lot of fun, and even though some frustrating issues did detract from the experience, the story and the world was interesting enough that I just had to finish it. Enter Styx, a goblin assassin and thief for hire in a world where the “Green Plague” has ravaged the human world. The aforementioned plague is none other than Goblins, which the humans plan to exterminate with specialized squads called C.A.R.N.A.G.E.
Styx is, of course, a goblin, but his mission is simple, he wants more shiny items that increase his power and abilities, and must infiltrate the dark Elven city of Körangar, go through a multitude of trails, make unlikely alliances, betrayal and much more. The fantasy setting is filled with interesting little things to find and if you explore the vast open environments of the nine missions, you will learn so much about the world.
Amber powers Styx’s supernatural abilities, with the most useful being “Amber vision”, which lets you see where objects are, spot places you can climb up, hide as well as where your enemies are.
After completing a mission, I was treated with a nice little cinematic and some snarky comments by Styx while fleeing to the hideout. In the video above, you can see me using amber vision to quickly find a way to climb up a building and thereby make my way to the extraction point, avoiding the final guards in the process.
The hideout is your base of operations, where you can craft items, level up your green little assassin in various aspects, such as stealth abilities (clone) and rolling out of the way of an attack more efficiently. The game offers a lot in terms of player choice, both with regards to combat, or avoiding a fight altogether. There are so many ways to approach each situation in every mission, for example, you can spit in the guards’ food, so when they consume the food they die a horrible death. I had the option to either avoid a fight by climbing and sneaking my way past enemies, distracting them or throwing sand on torches so I can lurk in the shadows, or use several items (for example bolts) to dispatch of my foes.
Using the environment is key to success, especially when playing on higher difficulties. For example, you can cause a chandelier to fall on unsuspecting enemies, boobytrap the alarm bells they try to ring or just push them off a ledge (which is nice, because that method dispatches the body as well). I had to be so careful while scouting out a new area, because sound, or rather staying quiet, is obviously of the utmost importance. For example, you can drop down from a certain height onto a carpet without making a sound; but be careful, even bumping into a chair could cause your enemies to spot you.
The game does get quite intense at times and for the most part, I felt as if the difficulty was just right. If I died (which I did often), it was all my fault; and Styx made sure to remind me how bad I am at stealth games…
Breaking the fourth wall
Have you ever watched Deadpool? If you did, you probably know that he talks directly to the audience, an act which is called breaking the fourth wall. Styx does this too throughout the game whenever the player dies, and it is hilarious.
What is funny to someone is obviously a matter of the type of humour they enjoy and will differ greatly from person to person, but for me Styx’s rants are whenever I steered him into an (early?) death was nothing short of brilliant, with one example being: “You realize using the controller with your feet is not gonna gain you an achievement, right?”. The example and many others made me think of dad jokes if your dad is a green supernatural assassin who uses some questionable language.
In the video above, you can see how I take on too many enemies at once and miss some all-important parries, leading to my death, at which point Styx appears to give me a talking to. The voice-action for Styx is, in my opinion, brilliant, but the rest of the cast just doesn’t sound all too good. Unfortunately, I also encountered some technical issues.
Under the cowl
Styx: Shards of Darkness looks good on max settings and for the most part, runs relatively well on my modest gaming rig with a GTX 970, an i5 clocked at 3.5ghz and 8GB of RAM. My system is in line with the game’s recommended specifications and I played at 1080p, so it was surprising to experience some big frame-rate drops in a few of the missions.
The environments look fantastically dark and deliver a boatload of atmosphere, but the best part about the game's graphics are definitely the animations, specifically, the way Styx kills his foes. However, sometimes clipping issues to occur, as you can see in the video below when I kill an enemy, the whole body just goes through the side of the wall, which does break immersion.
Further, the pathing AI of the enemies leaves much to be desired. Numerous times during the game when I was detected (yes, I’m not very good at being stealthy), the AI seemed to run around like headless chickens and twice they got stuck in what looked like invisible walls. However, the issues I mentioned in this section of the review doesn’t occur often, and it didn’t feel as if the game is broken in any sense of the word; there are just a few bugs to iron out.
Styx: Shards of Darkness is an extremely fun game to play, has an intriguing story and a wonderful dark fantasy world to explore. Sure, there are some annoying gameplay elements, a few bugs and it doesn’t run as well on my gaming PC as I would have liked, but throughout my time with the game, I laughed so much, all while progressing through increasingly difficult missions that challenged my stealth skills.
Even though not perfect, Shards of Darkness is a title that I want to recommend to anyone who likes the stealth genre. The game can get a little bit repetitive at times and in later missions, you do revisit some early areas, but the gameplay and story, for the most part, kept me interested. Styx: Shards of Darkness released earlier this month on PC, PS4, and Xbox One and if you like stealth games, you should play it.