Styx: Shards of Darkness is the second game in this spin off series which originally was inspired by events that unfolded within the game Of Orcs and Men. Styx was a bit of a fan favorite as the smack talking uber thief/assassin goblin companion and was granted a starring role in Styx: Master of Shadows, which was popular enough for Cyanide Studio to dive into crafting this sequel. While I personally found Master of Shadows to be a bit of a chore to play, I was still interested in trying out Shards of Darkness, so when it crossed the ethereal wooden surface of my existential desk, I was glad for the opportunity. Styx: Shards of Darkness improved on everything quite a bit and I found myself quite enjoying the adventure.
The story in Styx: Shards of Darkness starts out innocuously with Styx simply pulling off a theft for his employer. However, things change when it comes time to collect his payment and is confronted with an opportunity to team up with an enemy faction to acquire a trove of Amber, a substance that in the game is both narcotic and also something that enhances your natural abilities when consumed. There is certainly nothing Styx enjoys more than a vial of Amber, and so he agrees to the undertaking, and what ensues is a fairly epic journey wherein he unveils the root of several mysteries including the actual origin of the Amber that everybody holds so dear.
All in all, the story was interesting and well thought out. More importantly in my opinion, the dialogue was witty and ofttimes hilarious. Additionally, they looked at the fourth wall and decided that was for chumps, and so the fourth wall was broken repeatedly throughout the game, lol. It is worth noting that the language in this game is explicit, un-remorseful, disgusting, colorful, and unrelenting. You will probably want to contemplate your own level of comfort with such things, and definitely will want to consider that before buying this game for your children.
7.5 out of 10
Styx: Shards of Darkness is a stealth game through and through, and the gameplay reflects this fact in stellar fashion. The level design is open and allows you to play in any number of ways while still retaining your ability to approach the missions with the requisite level of stealth.
This is made eminently possible via a very solid upgrade system that allows you to control the type of stealth you would like to incorporate. If you’ve played the previous game, you are already familiar with the homonculous system that allows you to use Amber to create a goblin to distract enemies and draw them away from your location, trigger traps and alarms, and so on. This is actually a very clever system that I used often in the previous game, although in my playthrough of Shards of Darkness, I personally opted to focus on other aspects of stealth and only used this ability tree sparingly. However, it is worth noting that fully upgraded, the homonculous system is arguably the most powerful of Styx’s potential abilities.
I personally favored the invisibility and senses ability trees along with the crafting and improved kill trees. If you aren’t super thorough, you should still be able to max out four of the five ability trees before you complete the game. A nice aspect of this game is that you can respec anytime you want to as long as you are at a skills table (which is where you will spend your upgrade points).
Equally important is Amber vision, which allows you to see things such as treasures, enemy line of sight and paths, etc…
Crafting also plays an important role in this game, from crafting health and Amber potions, to building traps, acid solutions, darts, and so on to confuse, confound, and/or kill enemies.
The level design in each mission allows a patient player to make no kill runs, and fast player to speedrun, and pretty much everything in between. I didn’t actually finish a mission where I didn’t kill at least a couple opponents, but I am also a more impatient player than some. The completionist will want to explore all aspects of gameplay as trophies/achievements are represented by all forms of play.
Combat is obviously better had via stealth, and you will not be able to stand toe to toe with any opponent for long. You can parry though, and this will allow you to either maneuver for the kill or more likely flee out of eyesight to hide and try again. There are manual saves in the game, but the checkpoint system is also pretty forgiving overall.
Plenty more could be discussed regarding the gameplay in Styx: Shards of Darkness, but I will leave things here. This was an excellent example of what diligence in developing a game can do to make a stealth experience worth having. I don’t know if it is on par with the Dishonored series, but it isn’t far off and has definitely leap-frogged the Thief series in this regard.
9.5 out of 10
The graphics in Styx: Shards of Darkness are nice. I wouldn’t call them top tier by any means, but the world was captivating regardless, from the dinginess of some areas to the majesty of others, everything was quite well done. The character animations in particular were excellent and the cutscenes were engaging.
7.5 out of 10
The audio….oh man the audio. If the gameplay wasn’t so on point, this would easily be the stand out aspect of Styx: Shards of Darkness. In fact, audio plays a major role in your ability to navigate through the three distinct areas of almost every mission. It allows you to track enemy movement even when you can’t see them and alerts you to potential danger or places of interest (or both). From an ambient standpoint, the world really comes alive, and this is reflected not only in the enemy sounds, but also the sounds of the world itself (hence ambient lol).
The voice acting was also top notch. Saul Jephcott as Styx was spot on and awesome, but I thought everybody did a great job with the characters and the dialogue. There was a definite synergy between the actors and this carried through their every interaction.
9 out of 10
While often juvenile, crass, and plain silly, Styx: Shards of Darkness was a magnificent follow up to Master of Shadows and really has done some work at setting the bar for stealth game design. The missions were well designed and flowed perfectly, the actual gameplay was almost perfect, the story was fun, and the audio tracks were spot on. This is a game that deserves to be played. All told, I spent about 25 hours with Styx: Shards of Darkness and enjoyed every moment of it. It also carries high replay value given all the gameplay objectives and styles available.