Styx: Shards of Darkness Reviews

Official Site Review

By Cindy Minguez,
In Styx: Shards of Darkness, a direct sequel to Styx: Master of Shadows, we see the goblin thief taking on new missions with new abilities, but the same, gritty realism is evident in the game's environs and atmosphere. So, how does the new title hold up against the original and with stealth games in general?

Styx is back.Styx is back.

Styx is the titular character and a goblin with a special affinity for Amber, a magical substance in his world. In his newest title, Styx resides in the town of Thoben, a human slum surrounded by swamps. Humans are actively fighting "The Green Plague," an influx of goblins into human territories, but this struggle is a side note to what's happening in the game. Styx doesn't really care about the human-goblin conflict; his only concern is for himself and his business at hand, which involves relieving people of their valuables. The story becomes engaging rather quickly as Styx moves in on his goal in the first mission only to learn that someone has beaten him to it.

While the primary thrust is stealth — hiding under tables to overhear conversations, peeking through keyholes to get the lay of the land, and hanging from a ledge until the enemy passes you by — the game also provides lots of ways for Styx to deal with his enemies. He's a thief remarkably adept at stealth, but he could just as easily be called an assassin considering how many of his marks end up with a knife to the throat. In some ways, the game is more realistic than the previous iteration; stealth kills are no longer completely silent because the victim will make sounds of resistance, so if other enemies are nearby they will hear the struggle and come to investigate. However, the game is wonderfully varied and gives you plenty of other options, like acid traps, throwing people off ledges, or poisoning their food.

Styx's options are greatly enhanced by the game's improved skill trees. Five major skill trees exist covering Alchemy, Kill, Stealth, Perception, and Cloning. The trees are set up so that you're not forced to go in a straight line. Skills are interconnected in multiple ways, allowing skills to be skipped and thus giving the player much greater leeway in customizing Styx's ability set. His skills are greater than those available in the last game but you have to build up to the improvements. Clones are a good example; this time around, clones are more than just diversions. Styx can teleport to his clone's location, making a quick getaway possible or to save time in covering long distances, but this skill isn't available until later in the skill tree.

The skill trees have been improved.The skill trees have been improved.

As in the previous game, once guards go on alert, they stay on alert from then on so it's imperative not to draw their attention. In this, one can experience frustration — Styx is really bad in a head-on battle. Most guards can one-shot him with ease, especially on higher difficulties. The only chance he really has is to parry properly and stun a guard, allowing him to kill the guard or escape, and parrying can be tricky. Yes it's a stealth game, but after setting off an alarm so many times then sometimes it would be nice to just fight your way out, which isn't really something Styx is equipped to do. For anyone new to the genre, the learning curve is a bit steep as successfully negotiating zones without setting off alarms at every turn requires some patience, and the overly numerous controls just make that a little bit harder. With 13 different commands assigned to 12 different buttons, it's easy to make a mistake. For instance, instead of using LB to throw sand at a torch and extinguish it, you could easily hit RB by mistake and find yourself dodge rolling right into an enemy.

Those who have played the previous Styx title will once again recognize the beautiful attention to detail and the amazing graphics. Like the previous game, clicking the right stick will show you the immediate environment. Enemies are red, friends green, and collectibles or items with which you can interact are in yellow. The game is littered with plenty of cabinets and trunks in which Styx can hide or stash bodies that he wants to keep out of sight, and there are tons of nooks and crannies to explore. Small touches abound, such as the scabbard to Styx's dagger. When you're hidden, the scabbard will glow, so you don't have to wonder if you can be seen or not. Styx himself is so well created that he looks as if he could walk right out of the screen. He's very nicely voiced, as well, prone to smart remarks tinged with cynicism that reveal a good deal of his dark personality.

The new co-op mode is online only. The host is Styx while the guest is Styx's clone, sharing his HP (they each get half). You do not, however, share his skill set; whatever skills you have in your own game will be the ones you keep in co-op. The drop-in/drop-out mode may be played in either public or private matches. The new co-op mode doesn't appear to be required for any of the achievements.

Slide to new areas.Slide to new areas.

The game does a good job with the achievements. Many will be picked up during the natural progression of the game — finishing each chapter, collecting various items, killing a certain number of enemies in a particular way, hiding a set number of times, etc. Others will require more dedication. A half-dozen achievements involve gold insignias, including one that requires you to get them all for every mission. The game has nine missions, each of which has four medals or insignias that can be gained: finishing a mission with no alerts, finishing a mission with no kills, collecting the required number of tokens, and finishing within a time limit. Finishing a mission with no alerts will require numerous re-sets as you accidentally set off guards, while finding all the tokens can also be time-consuming, something that is inconsistent with the speed runs. Each mission will require at least a couple of playthroughs. Another time-consuming achievement will be to gain all skills.

Summary

Styx: Shards of Darkness maintains and improves upon the excellence of the first Styx title. Anyone new to stealth might find it a bit daunting to pick up at first, and the button-heavy controls don't help with this, but the game is well worth the effort. With its beautiful graphics, gritty realism, and engaging story, it won't take long for gamers to find themselves hooked on stalking through the shadows. The improved skill trees make customization possible and enhanced skills add to the enjoyment of the adventure. With a nice mix of easy and challenging, the achievements add even more to the fun. All in all, Styx: Shards of Darkness is a game you won't want to miss.
4 / 5
Styx: Shards of Darkness
Positives
  • Improved skill trees
  • Great graphics
  • Fun and challenging
Negatives
  • Steep learning curve for uninitiated
  • Cumbersome controls
Ethics
The reviewer spent approximately 12 hours skulking through the shadows, slitting throats, and exploring the game's mechanics, earning 8 of the game's 38 achievements along the way. A download code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
There are currently no user reviews for this game.