Donning the identity of a mischievous, dry joke cracking and cringe-y one-liner uttering Goblin thief never felt as hilarious as this. Styx emerged out of nowhere in 2014 exhibiting surprisingly addictive and fun stealth mechanics and introduced us to our loudmouth anti-hero green Goblin: Styx. The fact that he is brimming with unique personality has made him one of the most likable protagonists in recent gaming history. However, the experience was littered with many flaws here and there, weak graphics, poor edge detection, annoying quick time combat, you name it, the first thing popped up in my mind was: how well Styx: Shards of Darkness patch those issues of its predecessor? With the perspective of an avid stealth games aficionado, what new elements Styx: Shards of Darkness bring to the table of shadow lurking genre? How much does it lend from the playbook of the masters of the craft like Metal Gear, Assassin’s Creed, and Hitman?
This is not for the casual gamers with the tendency of diving headfirst into the foray to begin with. Right off the bat, from the early minutes of the game, Styx: Shards of Darkness clearly gives you the message of: “don’t fight, just hide!” thanks to the its easy to pick up stealth mechanics, teaching you to embrace the shadows, to be inseparable with them. Across 9 missions and roughly 15 minutes of hilarious (albeit bugged) thief-i-licious adventure, the game starts in high note, it won’t be long until you attach to the foul-mouthed Styx, and even lesser time to find yourself swooned by the addictive stealth/ thief mechanics of the title.
Styx: Shards of Darkness’ story while not thickly woven, is cool. This time the developers have emphasized bigger story, a Tokein-esque fantasy World of men and goblins and elves where goblins are being forced to live in shadows and hunted by men frustrated and infuriated by the shenanigans caused by them. With bigger emphasize on humor this time around, jokes and references to pop culture although funny, they fall flat and prove to be cringe worthy sometimes, one thing that outshined all other aspects of the humor in the game is undoubtedly the times that Styx breaks the fourth-wall while it’s not as hilarious as Deadpool it is enough to put a smile in your face, overall the story and cutscenes are put well together.
As a goblin, renowned with his mischievous tricks, people known as promoters, political figures and men of status hire you to do their dirty work, offer you missions centered around sneaking tiptoeing around impressively and beautifully designed levels, you get a lot of variety in levels, there are a lot of cool stuff here, airships, shanty towns, dark caves, moonlit places, and daylight levels that make for an amazing stealth scenarios. The stealth mechanics although similar to the prominent games in the genre, has its own unique identity, you don’t have to be a hardcore stealth gamer to play Styx: Shards of Darkness. Even those newcomers to the genre, for them, the game does a great job of familiarization with the genre, as in many stealth game; you lurk in shadows, sneak past or stealth kill the guards stretched thick in the levels, the combat system may seem like the weakest part of the Styx: Shards of Darkness, it is impossible to triumph in direct battles as the goblin proves downright impotent for the punishment dished out by the guards, your best bet is clinging to the shadows, hightail it out of the zone once you run afoul of the guards, and hide in the shadows until the alarm dies out.
Outside of lurking in the shadows and stealth killing enemies, there are a slew of other ways to deal with the enemies, lethal or not (Styx: Shards of Darkness rewards you with extra points as much as you approach the non-lethal measure) Styx’s playbook is kind of deep, once you put your hands in his deeper pocket you can fish out a number of useful items, like darts for taking down distant targets, acids for burning down the corpses, sands for extinguishing the sources of light to name a few. Additionally; you can make use of special abilities like making a clone of yourself to distract guards or act as a decoy.
Even though this is a thick stealth game, it is sprinkled with RPG elements here and there, the points you accumulate completing objectives and missions can be used to obtain special skills in an RPG-esque skill tree broken down to a number of categories like stealth and assassination, some of these skills have significant impact in the gameplay like slightly killing the noise of your footsteps, muffling the helpless screams of the guards once you slit their throats among many other skills that does not take away of the challenge as I have initially feared, it just helps the scale tip in your favor in some occasions.
As much as I sing the praise of the stealth mechanics, I also lament the sense of overall incompleteness or unpolished part of Styx: Shards of Darkness. Make no mistake; I appreciate the valor and labor of the developers putting cohesive pieces together making a mid-budget title like Styx: Shards of Darkness a force to be… not reckoned with, to be paid attention to. Granted, the cogs that make the machine of Styx: Shards of Darkness are well put together but the problem is, sometimes they all feel rusty, unpolished, broken, and does not work smoothly. I could not shake the feeling that something is missing, that something is wrong, for starters; the jump never feels consistent, walking on the ground and sneaking around works great as Styx is an incredibly nimble character, I can’t take that from him, but when it comes to jumping and climbing… nah the mechanics do not work well, your feet hardly find a ground to land on as oftentimes you find yourself falling off ledges not because you suck or the jump button is located in hard to find place (excuse my French) in where the sun don’t shine as Styx makes fun of you when you fail, but because the jump mechanics really sucks, hell; as much as climbing goes unlike Uncharted and Tomb Raider there were times I stood clueless with no idea to where I can or I should climb, ziplining is fine but swinging? Thank lord there are few swinging spots otherwise it could swing you right to insanity to frustration.
I can wholeheartedly say that stealth is the brightest cog in the machine, however it remains unpolished as well. The AI feels dummy and laughable sometimes, the enemies’ lines of sight and earshot is weak, they walk in small circles sometimes stutter through animations and clumsily keep bumping to each other in alert phases, I recommend turning up the difficulty which helps a bit.
The combat feels clunky as well; I know that this is all about stealth and embracing the shadows but that does not mean neglecting the combat altogether, in few occasions when you must take down at least one guy, you find out how helpless you are, the combat is an awkward quick parry and quick kill system that is not good at all.
Comes in the tail end of Styx: Shards of Darkness is a quite enjoyable co-op mode, pairing yourself up with a chum of yours can prove to be fun but however, in some missions instead of being a helpful hand relieving you of some of the burden, your bud can be a serious dead weight you will be more than happy to get rid of, unless a level of tandem in planning and moving is achieved, it can be frustrating. But overall; the moment when one goblin hurls a distraction object and the other sneaking behind and taking down the distracted guard makes the mode rewarding and satisfying.
Styx: Shards of Darkness’ presentation is significantly brighter than its predecessor, the foul-mouthed anti-hero Styx’s charisma and well induced characteristic traits makes him a lovable character to play with, his sarcasm dripping voice acting and dry jokes, not to mention the voice over are top-notch, however other characters are deprived from the same love and care given to Styx as they feel okay overall. The graphics, although not as shiny as AAA games’ it is amazing, the well-designed Tolkien-esque fantasy game World allows for a lot of replayability in hunt of the secondary objectives and fun challenges.
On PC, Styx: Shards of Darkness ran amazingly, and you can max everything out with a solid enough graphics card (in our case an 8GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1070). For the most part, we were able to get a respectable 60 frames per second throughout the entire playthrough, with no noticeable drops. The game gets bonus points for calling its maximum graphics setting ‘epic’, but as it’s a AA title, that adjective is a bit of a stretch. Still, with the dials on max, the textures look very clean and the shadows are very skillfully rendered. In terms of graphics settings, most of the staples are present, although I would have liked a slightly more detailed Anti-Aliasing settings. All in all, it’ll run terrifically and it won’t tax your machine too much
Styx: Shards of Darkness was reviewed using a PlayStation 4 and PC downloadable code of the game provided by Focus Interactive. The main review was done on PlayStation 4 by Muhammad Bukhary while the PC version was tested by Mazen Abdallah on a PC running Windows 10, with an 8GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1070 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 16GB of RAM. The game is also available on Xbox One. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Addictive and fun stealth system
• Impressive amount of variety in levels
• Loveable protagonist
• Well put together story and cutscene
• Amazing Tolkein-esque fantasy world
•Some cringe-y jokes, and pop culture references
• Overall lack of polish
• Weak AI
• Combat system
• Inconsistent Jumping, climbing, and swinging system