I’m quite the fan of mythical monsters. I’m not sure what started it, whether it was watching Jason and the Argonauts on the telly every Christmas or my fascination with sci-fi and horror, but one thing I know for sure is that when a new game comes along that offers a story following a mythical creature, I’m going to be diving into the experience. The latest title to offer me my fix is the sequel to 2014 stealth adventure Styx: Master of Shadows, as cheeky goblin Styx comes back into the fray once again with Styx: Shards of Darkness.
I quickly fell in love with the original game, after all, I’m a big fan of stealth games and my first thoughts when I played it were how much it reminded me of the Hitman games. One thing I found however was that It was maybe a little simple if you’d played many stealth adventures before. This time round though and things are certainly different. It isn’t a walk in the park, and you will die over and over again, so if you’ve come looking for a game to ease you into the genre, walk away now.
Styx: Shards of Darkness places you in the shoes of the ugly, green, foul-mouthed goblin on his latest quest to infiltrate the Dark Elven city of Körangar as you look to uncover the reasoning behind why the Dark Elves have formed an alliance with the dwarves.
Doing this will mean using the best of both your cunning and wits, as well as utilising the most on point stealth skills in the business if you hope to be passing the patrolling guards that accompany each level. The difficulty doesn’t come about due to the A.I. being blessed with life-like responses, but rather the weak nature of Styx himself. You see, Styx may look quite the terrifying little beast, but despite the grizzly look, he’s actually rather terrible when it comes to defending himself against the bloodthirsty guards who have a pet hate against all Goblin-kind. In fact he’s that inadequate after being spotted, that it’s only really a well-timed parry which will grant you the ability to kill off attackers, as at all other times you have to rely on sneaking behind for a muffled strike – at least if you hope to progress. As there is no proper attack button to speak of, this really makes any engagement with the enemy a death sentence; at least until you’ve maxed out the skill tree that is.
There is a reason for the overbearing aggression against the little green monsters however. You see, Goblins such as Styx are seen as vermin, and the fact that Styx can actually talk doesn’t seem to gain any leniency with the local folk either, with those claiming to know of this weird little freak of nature speaking of Styx as a folk tale; something which can often be heard in passing when sitting on a beam above the patrolling guards, as you attempt to learn their patrol patterns. Goblins carry so much of a bad name that the C.A.R.N.A.G.E group even have rewards and posters for reporting anything remotely goblin looking to their witch hunt parade.
However, Styx’s second adventure has him commanding a better known disguise in some parts of town at least, as this time it is that same C.A.R.N.A.G.E group that are asking for your assistance. If there is one thing they hate more than goblins it’s not being in the loop on the local going-ons, and with Dark Elves seemingly joining forces with the Dwarves, it seems the wise tales of Styx’s persistent mastery of stealth has seen him called upon to aid C.A.R.N.A.G.E in silence – with a hefty price tag for his efforts of course.
There are eight levels to be found in the latest outing, but getting through them to unravel the mystery behind the new alliance and the much-wanted information that is causing a ruckus amongst the political beings of the land, is something that will require some serious skill – something I found to be quite daunting when playing through. I don’t want to find myself breezing through a game with next to no challenge, and I’m not exactly bad at gaming, but it seems the gameplay found in Styx is a lot harder than you’d come to expect from even the most hardcore stealth adventures such as those found in Hitman or Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell. Of course that doesn’t make Styx a bad game, instead it makes it a rather refreshing experience, but when you find yourself dying repeatedly on just the first few missions it can become something of a patience tester, which in turn, can result in turning it off for several hours.
One thing that can make things a lot easier is in the co-op. Unlike the first outing, Styx: Shards of Darkness is fully playable in co-op with a partner joining the ride as one of Styx clone goblins. That said, A.I. encounters are still as challenging, but having a friend along for the ride can often help avert attention away from Styx. You will need to head back for a revive should you go down, so bear in mind that it doesn’t give you a new-found invincibility however.
Other than the standard main missions, there are several other things to focus on during the game. Side missions are present along with a varying collection of useable items and Amber, all of which can be used for crafting ammo and potions as well as helping keep Styx’s magical powers working. Side missions aren’t all that interesting though with most simply requiring nothing more than the tearing down of all posters in a level – and that in itself can get quickly repetitive.
Unfortunately, crafting is just as mundane. It has to be said that there are several different things to craft, but the ingredients to craft them aren’t exactly in hard to find places, with most scattered amongst tables and boxes you will have to walk past at some point anyway. This is a shame as Styx: Shards of Darkness feels a lot bigger in level size compared to the original and it would have been nice to see the level design put to good use.
Finally, there is the Amber. Now Amber isn’t exactly strewn throughout the game, I can’t even remember seeing it just laying around but when you have it, your meter glows and you can begin to use the abilities that make Styx the menace he is. This can include vomiting a clone of himself which can be extremely useful when playing solo to distract guards, or turning invisible for a brief period to sneak past guards. You can even throw up poison in drinks or on food to incapacitate any guard or person that goes anywhere near it. Unfortunately, these aren’t exactly enough when dealing with an entire land of anti-goblin folk and it would have been nice to have a much wider selection of abilities.
There are a couple of things that make Shards of Darkness rather enjoyable to play. First up is the beauty of the game, with everything showcased with gorgeous visuals making the world a one stop shop for those panoramic views. More important than the views however are the movement mechanics and throughout players are expected to jump, sneak, swing, hang and do all sorts of different things to get past incredibly well guarded areas. The fluency in movement in which you do all these things could not have been more spot on and when there are still so many triple-A games that fall at this hurdle, seeing Styx excel was certainly impressive.
Overall and Styx may not be the most anticipated stealth adventure of the year, but it’s definitely one you should be checking out If you’re a fan of the genre. Gameplay can unfortunately start to feel repetitive after a string of deaths, but those happy to take their time will find an adventure to enjoy. Unfortunately, with a lack of excitement past the main missions, Styx doesn’t have what it takes to match the big guns like Hitman in the stealth market and the A.I. could also do with being a bit more human-like.
But then, in the end there is still a reason to play, just maybe after the price point drops a little.