Title: Styx: Shards of Darkness
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Price: £40 / $50
TL;DR: Imagine Thief’s Garret was green and sassy, then you’ve got Styx.
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Remember them? If you’ve played anything other than FIFA or Call of Duty, chances are you’ve come across a goblin at some point in your gaming life. Usually, goblins are saved as lackeys to test you, other times they may be the antagonist, but very rarely they are the hero. Styx: Shards of Darkness is certainly one of those times.
You take on the role of Styx – a foul-mouthed master thief. The game is a stealth adventure in its purest sense, offering a fairly satisfying story, as Styx’s goblin race –nicknamed the “Green Plague” are being culled by the humans. Without spoiling the story, Styx: Shards of Darkness offers a fairly conventional plot, as you seek to uncover the reasons behind the nefarious scheme against the goblin race. Whilst the plot won’t be the source of several fan theories, it does enough to provide a backdrop for a game that provides a somewhat limited, yet satisfying adventure.
So the story is kind of ‘meh’, but what about the actual gameplay? Well, the game is a mixed bag. Styx is very much a game for stealth players. There’s no real alternative to sneaking around – unless you enjoy being murdered again and again – but this stealth aspect is realised very well. This means that barrels, chests, wardrobes, zip-lines and old-timey vents will be your best friends as you manoeuvre through the environments. It is possible to go through the whole game only killing the plot sensitive targets, though I’d be surprised if you managed it on your first playthrough. I got very stabby very quickly on the first level.
Despite the game not allowing the freedom of combat and stealth that the likes of Dishonored or Hitman offer, Styx provides a dense collection of environments for players to use to their advantage. With multiple routes to explore, the game offers a huge re-playability factor as you find ways to evade patrols, murder guards silently, and try to beat your completion time.
The game’s levels offer a limited mixture of environment, though they’re spaced out enough to allow players to become accustomed to their surroundings before the game throws you out into the proverbial wilderness. The game switches between the medium scale towns and the claustrophobic dungeons and caverns of the Elven city Korrangar.
The subterranean levels, I found, fall short of providing an environment that allowed me to play with any specific stealth techniques. The cavernous interior tends to become somewhat clumsy, as you’re never quite sure which parts of the wall you’re able to latch on to – something that became an aggravatingly common source of death for me as I jumped to a wall, only to fall to my death. Instead, you’ll tend to evade enemies on foot by hiding in dark corners and using cover. This succeeded in creating a growing sense of desperation in my play style but nothing that made me want to revisit these sections.
Far better executed are the above ground environments – specifically the various towns you play through. As I already mentioned, these environments are surprisingly dense, allowing you to use the surroundings to your advantage. The towns you play through carry a far more open feel to them, allowing you to slink in and out of vents, traverse across the rooftops of buildings, and plan your routes far more effectively. The game may have you acting on the fly on occasions – which you will, since you’ll rarely feel like the design is unfair or poorly made. There are always ways out for you in these scenarios, it’s simply a matter of patience and timing.
Within the game, Styx is able to learn various skills in order to better equip the player for a pretty steep difficulty curve. The skills are broken up into five traits: Stealth, Cloning, Killing, Perception, and Alchemy. Each category has around eight or nine skills for you to unlock, with some very clever ideas nestled into each set. Perhaps my favourite being the ability for a clone created by Styx to explode into a poisonous smoke bomb when destroyed, which stuns enemies for about ten seconds.
In the alchemy section, Styx can learn new tools for him to craft, ranging from clone eggs, poisonous bolts, and acid traps. My only qualm with the crafting system – and this goes for much of the skill tree as well – is that the resources needed to build any of these items or refill your amber gauge are so sparse within each of the levels, that I was lucky to have more than one arrow. This is the case for the skills as well, Styx can become invisible at will, or spit out a clone, but the amber needed to use these skills means that I was only ever able to use an ability once for a few seconds, and then have to go about forty minutes relying on my own bad-ass stealth skills.
It’s a nice – perhaps necessary – inclusion of skills and items. Though, if a player can only use a skill once, or only create one item every forty minutes, I feel that this inclusion simply becomes superfluous. If there had been a reward of amber and the resources needed for crafting items after each level, then players would actually be able to mix up their play style in the game but alas, no such space is given. Oh well, I’ll just go and hide in a barrel.
Overall, Styx: Shards of Darkness offers a worthwhile chunk of gameplay. The re-playability factor is pretty big, with target times for level completion, and “insignias” available for completing difficult challenges. And whilst the plot is utterly textbook, and the level designs are a mish-mash of good and bad, the gameplay offers an excellent stealth experience for you to dip in and out of until Hitman Season Two arrives.
- Overall, a great set of levels that offer dense environments for players to explore their options
- Styx – in short bursts – is a fun and loveable protagonist
- The zip-lining is brilliant – I never got tired of it
- The abilities and items are rarely available, making them somewhat superfluous
- The mechanics can be a little unfair, especially in the dungeon levels
- The lack of alternative to stealth means that the game is limited in premise
The game is rated 16+ in the UK, and “M” for mature in the US. The game contains frequent strong language, graphic violence, and one sassy goblin.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail copy supplied by PR