The foul-mouthed green-skin is back in this silent-but-deadly title from Cyanide.
Styx: Shards of Darkness focuses once again on the titular character, as players find ways to manoeuvre through a series of large scale and beautifully designed levels, whilst choosing to either skillfully avoid detection from the enemy, or simply hacking them to bits, one by one.
Firstly, this epic fantasy game looks gorgeous. Although at times the animation of some of the NPCs can seem a little off, and on occasion, the lip-syncing can be a bit out of time, the game is otherwise polished with some great details and is a world far from our own. Mythical beasts, huge cavernous cities and great, hulking airships provide this steampunk-esque world with jaw-dropping centrepieces.
Sadly, although this game is dripping with themes and visuals commonly found in most epic fantasy RPG titles, it feels as though you only get to take a small percentage of it in. Most levels are left barely explored as you quietly skulk around the darkened alleyways and through cracks in the enemies defences, avoiding detection. I felt a little disheartened completing each level, knowing that some great in-game craftsmanship would have been overlooked, simply because I was too focused on not getting spotted. This is such a stealth-heavy game, it’s almost at fault. Thankfully, Styx has a couple of manoeuvres to spice things up if you do decide that sticking to dank alleyways and musty corridors have become a little boring.
Styx has a number of skills ready at his disposal and some that players will have to unlock like invisibility, which despite sounding a tad overpowered for a game that focuses on stealth, is time-limited. Like the rest of his skills, Styx requires “amber”, the game’s idea of a mana-like resource, to use these abilities, so you can’t always rely on them. At times, you’ll have to rely simply on patience and cunning to overcome the obstacles the game throws at you. The skill tree is well constructed and early in the game, you can scope out the abilities and upgrades you wish to unlock, starting work toward them from the moment you begin.
Alongside the skills at hand, Styx will also be able to craft tools used for aid in missions. By gathering items scattered around each level, Styx will be able to craft iron darts, to take out enemies from a distance, potions, for healing on the go and other such support items. The lootable materials that litter each level are often in short supply, so mission progress doesn’t become reliant on these.
Styx, our protagonist, is as charming as ever. Popularised initially in the 2012 release, Of Orcs and Men, he remains brash, cocky and painfully witty. His engagements and dialogue with other characters throughout the game are humorous and the character maintains a certain “Deadpool-ness” about himself. Upon death, Styx will break the fourth-wall with crude remarks on your sloppy gameplay, adding once again to the entertaining dynamic and characteristics of the titular character.
Storywise, it’s okay. It’s no Tolkien, but Shards of Darkness has all the elements needed in a fantasy story of good vs. evil. Dark elves, dwarves, humans and of course goblins all play major roles in the questline and make for a good cast in this beautifully creative fantasy world.
Sadly, not all is good, as the game is not without its faults. In a playthrough that centralises it’s mechanics and gameplay around the element of stealth, it’s not surprising that the player-controlled character is pretty poorly equipped when it comes to hand-to-hand combat. Little Styx is usually no match for a hulking great human and with just a few seemingly harmless taps of a sword, you’re dead. This, I understand, however, if the game gave me a fighting chance to combat this, I wouldn’t be so at odds with it. The combat is made up of a poorly executed QTE. Well, not even a QTE, just a mashing of the X button each time the enemy takes a swing. However, there’s no clear indication of what counts as a parry and what doesn’t. More times than not, what I felt was a well-timed counter-attack, would end with Styx laying on the ground in a pool of goblin blood. Usually, when confronted with a battle I would tend to opt for the flight option, rather than to stick around and attempt to fight.
Whilst the issues I had with the combat mechanics were more down to design, rather than bugs, the game isn’t completely glitch-free. At times, NPCs would clip into walls, get stuck behind barrels and crates or miss the absolute obvious signs that a murderous, blood-thirsty goblin was only a few feet away from them. Whether this is down to a glitch, or the developers giving the AI cataracts, I don’t know, but I do know that it got pretty frustrating with how easy it could be to outrun and hide in plain site from the dumbfounded guards.
Overall, Styx: Shard of Darkness is close to being a great game, but falls just short of the line. It’s beautiful visuals, original and creative sets and imaginative world are a joy to play within, but the sloppy combat, poor AI design and cheap animation, leave this title a few points short of greatness. Whilst the time I spent with Shards of Darkness was somewhat enjoyable, it won’t be a game that I’ll remember forever due to its many shortcomings and cheap feel.