Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Review platform: Styx: Shards of Darkness was reviewed on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 with codes provided by the publisher
Release date: Mar 14, 2017
Styx: Shards of Darkness is a game that genuinely impressed me. Coming from Cyanide Studios, the company behind Blood Bowl 2 and the upcoming Call of Cthulhu, Styx: Shards of Darkness is a title that—at first—far exceeds its predecessor. You play as the titular character, a hunched-over green goblin whose face is eerily reminiscent of Ron Perlman. After a brief tutorial explaining the state of the world and the basics of its internal politics, you’re recruited by Helledryn—a female commander of the anti-goblin C.A.R.N.A.G.E group—to steal an important scepter for them.
The plan obviously goes horribly wrong, and the rest of Styx’s story ends up being a pretty bare ordeal. The narrative is mostly just used as a conduit for you to hop between the game’s five or so locations and sneak around. As I said previously, Styx genuinely impressed me at first. While I admittedly played quite little of the original Styx: Master of Shadows, what I played didn’t strike me as particularly intriguing whereas its sequel drew me right in.
Styx: Shards of Darkness feels like a much more polished product. As primarily a stealth game, Styx’s environments are large and expansive—as well as gorgeous for its budget—with numerous ways to get to your target, whether that be an item you have to steal or a target you need to kill. While it may appear easy at first due to seemingly basic AI, Styx’s opponents have numerous qualities that you’ll have to maneuver your way around if you don’t want to get caught.
From humans who primarily work by sight to blind insect Roachers who track you by sound and all the way to goblin-smelling Dwarves, Styx’s level design introduces combinations of certain enemy types to keep you on your toes at all times. This is where Styx is undoubtedly at its best. It’s a blast to sneak through rooms of different enemies, hiding in barrels and masking yourself with invisibility or a potion that conceals your odor.
Part of the reason that Styx: Shards of Darkness works so well is because of Styx himself. The wise-cracking, fourth-wall-breaking goblin at first seems like he’s going to get on your nerves with the amount of times he opens his goddamn mouth, but it takes only a small while for the character to grow on you. While he’ll make jabs at everything from Assassin’s Creed to Hamlet during gameplay, he’ll also lambast you with insults and quips after death, with my all-time favourite including Styx holding a skull and saying, “To be skilled, or not be skilled? That is the question. And **** you is the answer.”
Styx himself is one of the most resilient characters I’ve seen in a stealth game. Whether it be using his amber-fuelled powers of invisibility and cloning himself or crafting unlockable items such as poison darts or acid traps, there are always ways to get out of the stickiest situations. Thankfully, the game autosaves extremely frequently and the added addition of a quick save function on the right D-Pad button means that you can always try new things with fairly little consequences.
Styx’s levels are made to be played more than once. Due to their expansive nature and multi-tiered insignias you can achieve by being fast, not triggering alarms and stealing specific totems, the environments you traverse are still engaging the second time around. Unlocking these insignias gives you access to new skill points which you can use to unlock upgrades which you will of course want to have.
While objectives change, Styx repurposes old environments numerous times throughout its campaign. While this wouldn’t be a problem normally, the way in which the game is designed to encourage multiple playthroughs of the same chapter leaves the game feeling quite dull when you’ve returned to locations you’ve already snuck through twice.
Missions themselves can be quite lengthy, especially if you’re utilizing quick save and quick load to achieve a 100% stealth playthrough. Split in two halves, each mission will take you to two separate locations ranging from the dirty town of Thoben to the elvish city of Korrangar. Each location is incredibly well designed with unique assets scattered all around. Everything from the wall hangings to the boxes you hide in vary in design from location to location, making each setting feel unique.
Voice acting, on the other hand, is a far cry from the quality of Styx’s graphical assets. The voice acting from human characters in particular suffers from extremely stunted delivery with the usually hilarious stereotypical British accent coming off as forced and dull. Other voice actors are passable but none live up to the quality of Styx. Friend or foe, human or Dwarf, Styx: Shards of Darkness’ voice acting sounds like it’s from the mid-2000s.
One area where Styx does fall is its combat. Other games in the stealth genre are aware of the caveats when it comes to a pure stealth experience. Styx isn’t a master of fighting, he’s a master of shadows and that becomes evident any time you get spotted by an enemy. Unlike say Hitman, Styx doesn’t really give you much of a reason to fight back.
Whereas Agent 47 or Sam Fisher can easily weed their way in and out of direct combat, Styx is pretty terrible in that regard. Your ways of dispatching your foes are either a loud kill or a slow muffled kill, and getting caught only leaves you with one option: parrying an opponent’s hit and then executing them loudly. It’s at this point that I realised Styx is a pure stealth experience and that’s all that Cyanide wanted to do. If you are a fan of shooting your way out of situations, Styx is not for you.
Styx: Shards of Darkness is a step above its predecessor. Oozing with character and charm, the titular character of Styx helps to bring the game out of the shadows you’ll be crawling through for most of its run time. Repetition of its otherwise great environments and hammy voice acting from the other characters is somewhat disappointing but Styx is still a solid game.
Our score: 7.5/10
Great - A solid game that may have minor flaws, but strongly complements its genre.