Review: Styx: Shards of Darkness — Almost a master

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Styx: Shards of Darkness is a stealth-action game from Cyanide Studios and the sequel to 2014’s Styx: Master of Shadows. For those unfamiliar with the team, they’re currently developing the fantastic Call of Cthulhu and other eerie projects. From my time with Styx: Shards of Darkness, it’s clear that the sequel rectifies the narrative and technical shortcomings of the original. The plot follows the foul-mouthed titular character as he tries to steal a powerful scepter for a villainous organization.

[shunno-quote]Environments in Styx: Shards of Darkness are expansive[/shunno-quote]

As with any plan made by a rash goblin, it goes terribly wrong and the rest of Styx’s journey ends up being a pretty basic adventure. The narrative is just used as a conduit to hop between the game’s half a dozen locations. While the locations are gorgeous, the game could’ve used a stronger plot.

The environments in Styx: Shards of Darkness are expansive—as well as stunning for its budget—with numerous ways to get to your target. It’s similar to Hitman in that sense. While the game may appear easy at first due to seemingly basic enemies, it gets progressively more difficult due to the complexity of the levels and the positions of your opponents.

Enemy variety is very impressive as well. There are humans who primarily work by sight and blind insects called Roachers who track you by sound. Beings like Dwarves can even smell goblins! The game’s level design introduces combinations of certain enemy types to keep you on your toes at all times. This is where Styx: Shards of Darkness is undoubtedly at its best.

[shunno-quote]Styx: Shards of Darkness is designed to encourage multiple playthroughs[/shunno-quote]

The character of Styx has to be the most enjoyable aspect of the game. The wise-cracking goblin at first seems like he’s going to get on your nerves but eventually grows on you. It’s a refreshing change to see a game break the fourth wall, especially a fantasy game because it’s so rare. Styx: Shards of Darkness doesn’t take itself too seriously and that’s why it works.

There are numerous tools at your disposal to overcome any challenge. Styx has powers like invisibility, the ability to clone himself, and can even craft a variety of lethal items. Apart from that, the game auto-saves every few seconds so you never feel like you just lost a lot of progress even if you die frequently. Styx: Shards of Darkness is designed to encourage multiple playthroughs due to the differing ways players can reach an objective and the tools in their arsenal.

It’s not all peaches and cream though. Voice acting is a far cry from the quality of the game’s graphical assets. The voice acting from human characters in particular suffers from extremely stunted delivery. Other voice actors are passable but none live up to the quality of the visuals. This seems like a rather significant oversight from the development team. Voice acting adds to immersion but whenever a character opens their mouth in Styx: Shards of Darkness, it takes you out of the experience and you feel like you’re in an introductory drama class.

[shunno-quote]The combat is clunky so if you’re spotted just run away[/shunno-quote]

Another area where the game falters is combat. Other titles in the stealth genre are aware of the caveats when it comes to pure stealth gameplay. 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. The combat is clunky and unrefined so if you’re spotted just run away, don’t try to parry or you’ll be killed in a heartbeat.

While Styx: Shards of Darkness is a step above its predecessor, it’s still not the perfect fantasy stealth experience everyone was hoping for. The game exudes character and charm so that’s its saving grace. With some more polish to combat and better voice acting, it could’ve been a truly exemplary game in the genre. Unfortunately, in its current state, it’s more like a bolded footnote.

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