Despite hearing plenty of good things about ‘Styx: Master of Shadows’ and having it for free as part of Playstation Plus’ ‘Instant Game Collection’, I never got around to actually playing it. It’s not that the game’s concept didn’t interest me because I’ve always been a fan of stealth adventures, but rather that there has always seemed to be something ‘bigger’ or ‘better’ to play instead.
I’ve finally had my fix of goblin-stealth action though thanks to the game’s sequel, Styx: Shards of Darkness. Whilst it’s far from a perfect game, it did more than enough to keep me entertained throughout my roughly seven hour adventure. What’s more impressive though is that it has even encouraged me to finally start playing through the original game…
The titular anti-hero Styx returns for another adventure in Styx: Shards of Darkness, with the whole of his goblin kind considered a ‘green plague’ throughout the world. This doesn’t stop Styx doing what he does best though – stealing, stabbing, and sneaking his way through a series of intricate stealthy operations to earn some precious amber.
A series of events occur though that sees Styx teaming up with Helledryn, the leader of the C.A.R.N.A.G.E. squad that were actually founded with the purpose of wiping out goblins. The allure of amber leads Styx to trust her though and he’s tasked with recovering a mysterious scepter. One thing leads to another and Styx eventually finds himself at war with a dangerous Dark Elf and also fighting for the very existence of the goblin race.
I really enjoyed the story of Styx: Shards of Darkness – don’t get me wrong, it’s hardly a ground-breaking narrative that’ll be on your mind long after completion, but I was kept intrigued as to where the story would go next and it was always interesting to see how events unfolded. A lot of this was thanks to Styx and his unconventional approach to being a ‘hero’. You wouldn’t expect a crude, foul-mouthed goblin to play the lead role in a game like this, yet not only did I find myself strangely attached to the star of the show but also constantly entertained by his anarchic remarks and actions.
Unfortunately though the supporting cast of the game don’t offer the same personality as Styx, with not one other character really shining through as anything original. There’s some pretty shoddy voice acting on show in the game as well, which could be a little cringey to listen to at times. Thankfully Styx offers enough to make up for his lacking co-stars, whether it be his pop-culture references, breaking of the fourth-wall, or cruel putdowns to the player every time you make him meet his demise.
Styx: Shards of Darkness’ main gameplay sees you working through a series of missions, each one tasking you with a different set of objectives. You might be trying to sneak aboard a flying ship, breaking out of a goblin prison, or even taking down a giant monster – there’s a decent amount of diversity with mission objectives. Despite this, they all typically consist of either sneaking your way past enemies or taking them out, though it’s always fun to do so.
Styx has plenty of neat tricks up his sleeve when it comes to taking the stealthy approach. He’s able to use his collection of tools to distract enemies, can temporarily turn invisible, and can even make a clone of himself to send foes on a wild goose chase – he’d certainly give Solid Snake a run for his money. Utilising all of these abilities is a lot of fun and actually feels incredibly empowering too, with no situation you come up against in the game feeling like it’s impossible to complete thanks to your exciting skillset.
He’ll need these skills too, especially since his combat capabilities aren’t up to much. Whilst Styx is more than capable of sneakily taking a foe down, facing enemies head-on is certainly ill-advised. A well-timed button press can parry an enemy attack and leave them open to a take down, but if Styx finds himself up against multiple foes he rarely survives – it’s typically better to just use his stealth skills to get away instead.
I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a more thorough tutorial that would talk you through Styx’s powers though. Whilst I learnt the basics of the game easily enough, it wasn’t until a few missions in that I actually realised how useful each ability could be. I’m not sure if the game doesn’t want to hold the player’s hand too much or whether I missed something obvious during the opening, but I expected a bit more of an introduction for the skills you simply have to utilise if you’re going to get to the end of the game.
There are nine different levels to play through in total, with each one typically lasting around thirty minutes or so during your first playthrough of the game. There’s plenty to keep you coming back though, with plenty of side-objectives to be completed and collectables to be found throughout each level. You’re also ranked on your performance too, with factors like completion time, kills, and the amount of alerts you raised playing a big role in the outcome.
Whilst these sorts of things bring a lot of replayability to the game, the way each level is designed plays a big role too. Styx: Shards of Darkness has some of the most well-designed levels I’ve come across in a video game, with some areas offering a plethora of different ways for you to make your way through them. Some even offer multiple means of completion, with one in particular allowing you to complete your main objective by choosing between travelling by sea or air.
Objectives can often be completed in multiple ways. Sometimes you might need to sneakily take someone out, which is easy enough for Styx given his assassination skills with the dagger. Why not have someone else do the damage for you, though? One mission sees you tasked with taking out a rebel member of the C.A.R.N.A.G.E. squad, but rather than get blood on Styx’s little green hands you can actually convince other NPCs to do the damage for you. I won’t tell you how, but let’s just say some men need to learn how to keep it in their pants…
However you decide to complete a mission though, the fact there are multiple ways to do it is always a treat. Some levels have a more linear approach and don’t offer the same amount of freedom, but when Styx: Shards of Darkness throws you in one of its more open levels you’re guaranteed to have a good time.
Actually traversing through levels could be a pain though. Styx: Shards of Darkness doesn’t feature the most responsive of control systems, with jumps too easily mistimed and the game’s climbing mechanics feeling incredibly clumsy. Whilst climbable areas are clearly marked, I lost count of the amount of times Styx would jump off somewhere else or actually fall down to his death instead. I thought it was something I was doing wrong to begin with, but as I got further through the game I realised it was just a bit of shoddy design on the developer’s part.
I also found that enemy AI wasn’t up to par, with most foes simply stuck in a static line of movement that’s not only easy to predict but incredibly simple to exploit. Their eyesight is a bit off too, with them only able to detect Styx if he’s directly in their cone of vision. Now this has been common-place in stealth titles for years, but sometimes I felt like I was in plain-sight of the enemy and they still weren’t able to detect me. Whilst I’ll admit it got me out of a few tricky situations (you’ve got to take advantage of these shoddy mechanics, right?) it was a little disappointing to see. At least enemies were incredibly effective when it came to hunting Styx down though, with alarm statues seeing a full-blown offensive effort that sees guards searching high and low for our elusive goblin. This is even more obvious with some of the game’s later enemies that are also able to find Styx based on the sounds he makes and his scent.
Despite these flaws though, Styx: Shards of Darkness does enough to keep you entertained. There’s crafting to be done, upgrades to be applied, and plenty of collectibles to discover too. You’re even able to play through the entirety of the adventure with a friend in co-op, though that feature wasn’t available during the time of this review. The developers certainly haven’t been shy when it came to packing content into the game and there’s plenty of things to that’ll warrant multiple playthroughs.
Visually, Styx: Shards of Darkness isn’t the most fabulous looking game you’re going to see on modern consoles, but it definitely has its moments. Scaling across the skies between multiple airships was incredibly impressive, whilst first visiting the Dark Elves’ city looks great too with stunning vistas surrounding the rocky mountaintops. Everywhere else is typically just dark and gloomy though, with nothing really standing out. It’s often difficult to actually tell some levels apart, with the majority of the game’s locations just being gritty areas full of shadows. Sure, it fits the overall vibe of the game, but it’s a shame considering the brighter areas of Styx: Shards of Darkness offered some of the game’s most visually-appealing moments.
There were a few graphical glitches on show too, with plenty of pop-in during the game and even a few instances where some textures didn’t load in at all. I was playing a pre-release build of the game though so they may be patched out in time for release day, whilst they were also so few and far between that they won’t do anything to deter from your time with the game.
Styx: Shards of Darkness puts its own unique spin on the stealth genre by giving us an unconventional hero that’s not only incredibly powerful, but very crude too. What’s most important though is that it’s fun to play throughout, offering an adventure that constantly entertains and offers plenty of things for the player to do.
It has its flaws with some shoddy climbing controls, poor AI, and lack of diversity with its visual design, but none of these issues trump what Styx: Shards of Darkness does right. If you’re looking for an enjoyable stealth adventure that offers plenty of freedom to the player, it’s certainly worth checking Styx: Shards of Darkness out.
Developer: Cyanide Studio
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: 14/03/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC