Fans of stealth game Styx: Master of Darkness have had to wait 3 years for a sequel but the mean looking goblin thief is back in Styx: Shards of Darkness. In the new game, Styx is based in the rundown town of Thoben, a slum on stilts perched high above a massive swamp. The goblins that moved into the humans area are known as The Green Plague and considered a pest to be wiped out, so Styx skills at skulking around are very much essential in this town. Our antihero’s main interest is parting people from their valuables, and spends his days lurking in the shadows, hiding in cupboards or under tables, peeking through keyholes and listening in on conversations. Styx also has some impressive acrobatic skills with his ability to climb, hang from ledges and jump large gaps and is not only a thief but a deadly assassin as he sneaks up his victims before dispatching them with a sharp knife to the throat. Moving around stealthily cannot be taken for granted however, as the AI is fairly intelligent, and any little sound like bumping into the furniture or an ornament will have a nearby enemy investigating where the sound has come from.
Thanks to a good character skill tree you can build your character to the way you prefer to play, with areas covering Alchemy, Cloning. Kill, Perception and Stealth. Cloning was a very useful ability that was a bit out of the ordinary, where you can produce a doppelganger to use as a distraction to enemies while the real you makes his escape in the opposite direction.
One aspect of the game that can make things very difficult is that your character is pretty awful in straight combat. Often the confrontation can’t be avoided as once the enemies near you are alerted to your presence, they don’t lose interest in finding you. The humans are more powerful than your goblin in a straight fight, and your best bet is to hope you can parry the attacks well enough to give you the opportunity to escape. The game has quite a high learning curve and until you can develop your skills, you may die quite often. The button mapping doesn’t help in this respect, I think a bit more thought could have been done to make it feel more instinctive and quite a few times I accidentally performed the wrong action which led to an untimely death. The autosave points are quite far apart so its best to manually save often until you have more confidence in your ability, as being knocked back a good few minutes in your mission can get very frustrating especially as its coupled with some fairly slow loading times. One saving grace and certainly a highlight of the playing experience is when you die, you get Styx full menacing full screen and in your face, hilariously berating how poor your skills were in getting him killed.
Just like the last game, the graphics are fantastic and the characters are animated superbly, and with a click of the right stick you get an Assassins Creed style radar mode showing your enemies in a red outline and anything in sight that can be interacted with showing up in yellow. You can see instantly the items that can be picked up as treasure or items to use for crafting, and the trunks and cupboards that are handy for hiding in, or for concealing the bodies of your vanquished foes.
There is a good co-op mode online, where you take the role of Styx and your partner plays his clone, keeping the same skillset as you and with the hit points shared equally between you. The in-game achievements are split equally between those that you’ll pick up via your natural progression in the story, and then the rest are for the more dedicated achievement hunter.
The game is split into 9 missions each of which have 4 medals you can win, encouraging you to play through again until you get them, as they are for things such as getting through the mission in a certain time, finishing without making a kill or without being spotted by any guards, you get the idea.
Styx: Shards of Darkness may have gone under the radar of most gamers, but it’s a tricky, challenging game with a great look and sense of humour that should be a good addition to the collection of fans of stealth games.
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Many Thanks to Bastion for the review copy