Styx: Shards Of Darkness On Xbox One
A sequel to 2014’s Styx: Master of Shadows, and the third entry in the Of Orcs and Men series of games, Styx: Shards Of Darkness will not appeal to everyone. The game does away with a lot of the wishy-washy filler content we have come to expect from the genre, and instead provides us with a more focused traditional hardcore stealth experience akin to what you might find in some of the older Splinter Cell games.
If you haven’t played any of the previous games in the series, fear not, because it doesn’t really matter all that much. Although a basic understanding of the world and the races that inhabit it will certainly go a long way towards helping you better understand some of the in-game politics and the motivations of the characters, Styx: Shards Of Darkness is very much its own self contained story. Developer Cyanide Studios has had two games to establish some of the deep lore of the Styx universe, and it is definitely reflected in everything from the writing, to each of the game’s levels.
In fact, the world itself is one of the game’s key strengths, featuring some of the most diverse levels ever seen in the franchise. Everything from small shanty towns, airships to Elven strongholds are present in the game, and Styx has no problem traversing every tiny inch of them. Its honestly surprising how much choice the game gives you during exploration, with each location having so many entrances and exits, that you’re honestly spoiled with choice most times.
Its always an option to just walk right in through the front door, but there are alternatives if you’re willing to take the time and explore. There’s so much verticality in the levels, in fact, that you can spend hours just getting lost completing all the optional objectives. And none of this would serve any purpose if the gameplay wasn’t up to par as well, which thankfully it is most of the time.
As mentioned above, stealth is the name of the game, and every aspect of Styx: Shards Of Darkness’s gameplay reflects just that. In combat, the only weapon available to protagonist Styx is his trusty dagger. You can sneak up on enemies and either quickly assassinate them, or preform a slightly more time consuming muffled kill. More often than not, you’ll probably go with the muffled kill, as regular kills generate a lot of noise that attracts surrounding enemies.
And unlike his bigger, sturdier enemies, Styx himself is about as durable as a slice of bread, and can be killed with only one hit from most enemies, especially on harder difficulties. This encourages you to give more thought to how you want to approach each and every encounter, this responsibility eventually becoming ingrained in you after a few failed attempts. You can also always just ignore enemies outright, and the game even rewards you for taking as few lives as possible.
Styx’s powers are a blast to use as well, allowing him to literally vomit out subservient clones of himself to perform tasks such as distraction and the like. You can also go invisible for a few brief moments, allowing you to sneak past guards undetected. The game makes sure though that these abilities never seem too overpowered, and limits your usage of them with Amber, this universe’s equivalent of mana. Amber is a highly precious resource, and even the materials required to craft it are hard to come by.
As you eventually complete different missions and side objectives, you’re rewarded with points that you can invest in different skill trees to unlock new powers or different items or traps to craft. These range from new upgrades for your clones, to the ability to craft advanced traps such as acid trip-mines that instantly dissolve the bodies of any enemy that walks over them. These items prove to be crucial during some of the later parts of the game, and item management becomes almost as important as Amber.
In terms of graphics, the game looks absolutely fantastic, especially when considering how far the studio has come since the days of Master of Shadows. Proper use of dynamic lighting during both the regular gameplay and cutscenes can make the world jump out of the screen at times, and the contrast between architectures of the different races is something that never failed to catch my eyes. The utmost care seems to have been put into crafting even the most unremarkable of structures, and they’re made all the more pronounced when you take into account just how much time you spend exploring every nook and cranny of them.
While the game does quite a few things right, there are some minor problems that need to be addressed. First, the game has some texture pop-in issues on the Xbox One, where entire segments of a building would sometimes just constantly warp into and out of existence. Enemies would sometimes just walk in circles, and throwing breakable objects to distract them would have no effect. The controls also need some tightening up when Styx is high up ledges or swinging on ropes, as they just feel gimmicky most of the time. These are clearly not big problems, but they take you out of the whole experience, especially when you compare how well the controls are on the ground.
And then there’s our fourth wall breaking anti-hero Styx himself, whose constant remarks at everything from the state of the world to how enemies behave will no doubt be a deal breaker for a lot of people. Dialogue in the game is often times very cringy, and even though I personally loved the charisma and charm exuded by our little goblin friend, I understand how it can quickly start to get tiresome by the 5th time he points out how the “script” is actually supposed to go during a post-death cutscene. NPC dialogue isn’t any better either, in case you were wondering.
But all in all, the game was a joy to play, and Styx the thieving goblin is a very welcome change from your typical grizzled war hero. His jokes are cheesy and lame, but that all just adds to the whole personality of the game. Sadly though, the same cannot be said for the rest of the characters and chances are that you won’t be coming back to the game for a long time after your first playthrough.
In conclusion, Styx: Shards Of Darkness is a unique beast. In a time where every game seems to be committed to diversifying their gameplay as much as possible, and appealing to as wide an audience as possible, Styx: Shards Of Darkness is unconventionally pure in its approach. It is a stealth game through and through, and despite it’s flaws, is still one of the better games to come out in the genre for a long time.
Score: 4/5 – Great