Styx: Shards of Darkness is the follow up title to 2014’s Styx: Master of Shadows, and the next game to take place in the world of Orcs and Men. Shards of Darkness follows Styx, the titular Goblin, in his adventures of being the most cunning and stealthy creature in the land, taking him to impossible places with an impossible mission.
Styx: Shards of Darkness, now referred to purely as Styx for the sake of this review and time, is a third person, stealth-action, over the shoulder game, that gives goblins a bad name in the sense of manners, but a good name in the sense of being a fun video game. The gameplay is very similar to that of games such as Splinter Cell, and Assassin’s Creed to an extent, that allows the players the freedom to control the main character in a stealth environment, with a main goal as the objective. One of the best aspects of this game is the freedom it allows you when completing missions. You will start at point A, and be tasked with getting to point B, but in whatever way you see it fit, in regards to the scenario and the type of play that you prefer.
The levels are designed in such a way that you can make use of many of the games mechanics through man different routes, with a different outcome or scenario each time you attempt to achieve the goal. The game adopts a very trial and error type of gameplay, in the sense that certain mechanics, or a combination of certain mechanics, are best suited to different tasks and different locations in a level, which forces you to try different aspects of the game that you may not have normally used.
You also have the option to tackle a level head on, and run in guns, or blades, blazing. The combat in this game is very difficult in comparison to the stealth aspect, which almost tailors your gameplay to follow a more stealthy and hidden path in order to utilise the core mechanics of the game and help craft the narrative.
The gameplay and level design are my favourite aspects of this game, both work hand in hand in order to bring the best experience to the player, and allow a sense of independence when crafting your adventure through the world of Styx. It allows many different options and avenues to explore, offering a deep level of replayability, with different outcomes depending on your style of play.
Following on from replayability, each level comes with it’s own list of challenges that may also craft the way you tackle a certain situation. Some challenges require you to complete certain objectives in a certain period of time, others may require you to kill as less people as possible, while others require you to collect a number of collectibles scattered throughout each level. These challenges also add to the replayability factor, as once area that was easily traversed previously may not be done in the same way in order to achieve the requirements of certain challenges.
Challenges offer rewards for completion, with different levels of rewards ranging from Gold, Silver and Bronze.
At certain points through the game you will be given the opportunity to visit Styx’s hideout, where you can upgrade you skills from your stealthy abilities, to your killing prowess, or how crafty you are with crafty items. You also have the opportunity to replay any mission you have already completed in order to gain some sweet, sweet skill points, which are then used to further your skill trees.
Now let’s talk about the goblin himself. Styx is a cunning and witty goblin, akin to that of Deadpool or Conker for you older gamers out there. There is a very fourth wall, meta vibe to the game, and in certain situation Styx will directly refer to the player and make insulting comments, critiques on your gaming ability, all while quoting Shakespeare, Terminator, or many other forms of popular cultural. There is no actual meta references in the body of the game, however Styx maintains his outlandish charm throughout, which certainly merited a chuckle or two on several occasions. However this addition to the game may not be to everyone’s taste, the more you die the more fourth wall breaking insults are thrown your way, and although these loading screens can be skipped, they may become more of a novelty after a while for some gamers.
Another aspect of the game that I loved was the look and the graphical presentation that was delivered upon playing the game. The sword and sandal, fantasy-dark souls esque environment gave the game an eerie but beautiful atmosphere that brought the game to life in many different ways. The aesthetics of the buildings, locations and NPCs that populated the game world certainly added to this atmosphere, and it was a pleasant experience to explore, with some visually stunning areas and landscapes being created in Unreal Engine 4. On the flip side of this, I can see some gamers growing tired of the repetitiveness of some of the aesthetics used throughout the levels. The game is very diverse in this sense, however there are a few areas that are similar to areas earlier in the game, that again some gamers may wish for a different location to explore.
This is a very few and far between aspect of the the style of the game, and it won’t effect a lot of people, however I can understand an argument of this nature.
My biggest gripe with the game though is the NPCs and low level enemies that populate the world in which Styx has to overcome. The first issue I have is in regards to the voice acting for the throwaway characters, such as guards, civilians, and soldiers. The acting is bland, can be quite boring depending on the situation and the conversation being had, and non memorable in any way other than being pretty bad. This is shame especially considering the effort put into Styx himself and having such a charming personality.
The other main issue I have with the NPCs is the level of pursuit they put in when you are spotted or an alarm has been raised. The level of detection can be quite low in certain scenarios, especially when walking directly past or behind enemies, which makes areas of the game easier than they should be. It’s also quite easy to escape pursuit or lose detection simply by running into a building, or into a different room. A lot of the time NPCs will immediately give up pursuit as soon as line of sight has been broken, without any attempt of finding the player. This doesn’t happen in every encounter, however it does happen more often than I would have liked, taking away some of the challenge to certain areas.
Overall, Styx: Shards of Darkness is a solid third person stealth adventure, that is different from your average game, that offers fantastic gameplay and non-linear level progression that encourages the player to make use of many different mechanics as possible. The way the levels are designed, along with the sub challenges presented in each level, offer deeps levels of replayability that should have you hooked for hours and many different playthroughs. With an interesting main character, and beautiful locations to explore, it really is a treat to explore and lose yourself in.
- Gameplay is stellar, with varied mechanics and items at your disposal
- Non-Linear level design that allows you to ‘craft your own approach’ based on the situation
- Styx as a main character is solid, with more fourth wall breaking meta jokes than you can shake a Deadpool shaped stick at
- The style and graphical presentation of the game is great, especially on a high end PC.
- High level of replayability due to the non-linear structure of levels and the optional challenges presented to the player in each
- NPCs could use some work, especially in the voice acting and the stealth detecting AI
- Overall plot is somewhat predictable in some areas
- The aesthetic style of the game may become somewhat repetitive in regards to the style of the buildings, locations, and world filling items
Styx: Shards of Darkness is released on 14th March 2017, on Xbox One, PlayStaton 4 and PC.
I also made a video review of this game, if you wanna see my stupid face when also talking about this game, you can find it here:
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