In a world where most games these days are pretty light on stealth gameplay, be it your Dishonoreds, Deus Exes, Metal Gear Solids, Hitmen and endless Assassin’s Creeds. It is indeed pretty rare and refreshing to find a game that centers its story and gameplay mechanics around stealth alone. The last game that comes to mind that was wholely based on a stealth mechanic and story line was Thief released back in 2014, but it was a terrible disappointment for me as a long-time fan of the franchise. Along comes Styx the foul-mouthed goblin and “hero” of the franchise. Set a couple of years after the events of Master of Shadows the original and first game in the franchise. As mentioned before, you play as Styx a rather obnoxious loudmouth goblin who can talk. Styx: Shards of Darkness’ story is one of double-crossing and uneasy alliances.
Styx is tasked with infiltrating the Dark Elven city of Körangar to uncover why the dark elves have joined forces with the Dwarves, and the only thing both races have in common is a mutual hatred of you guessed it goblins. And no you don’t need any prior experience or knowledge of the first game to be able to understand and enjoy the second game in the franchise. Make no mistake Shards of Darkness is a stealth game through and through and has more in common with the original Thief or Splinter Cell than with Assassin’s Creed. Styx places the emphasis on being clever and sneaky. You can slit throats from your shadowy hiding spots, but make no mistake once you have been spotted it is pretty much game over. Styx is a thief and as such he is pretty fragile when it comes to hand to hand combat.
Styx has a plethora of tools in his stealth based arsenal. From making yourself invisible for a limited period to vomiting up a clone of himself that can be independently controlled. Yes, you heard right he can vomit up a clone of himself. Your clone is pretty handy not to mention disposable when wanting to create a quick distraction. Other tools in Styx’s arsenal includes: poison, darts, traps, pockets of sand to snuff out torches and breakable glass bottles you can throw as a distraction. And make no mistake you are going to need every one of those tools if you are going to survive the 15-20 hours it will take to complete this game. As you progress through each level you gain experience points for completing main-mission, side-quests, and stealth goals.
Which include not setting off any alarms during a mission, to not killing a single guard and completing a mission as quickly as possible and collecting various items. All the points you collect doing and meeting these goals can be used to upgrade his thieving abilities which include the ability to craft bigger and deadlier traps. A nice addition is the ability to remove your skill points and redistribute them at certain points in every level, so you are never stuck with the same skills and you can experiment with the skills that suit your play style the best. There are no set paths or suggested routes in Shards of Darkness instead, it is left up to you the player to keep your eye out and make your own routes using the shadows and environment around you to your advantage.
You can choose to either move through the outskirts of a level using the wall grips and ledges provided and jump from rooftop to rooftop and avoid detection. Or you can make it more challenging for yourself and cut a line right through the center of the level using your invisibility and a well-placed distraction or clone. I got plenty of enjoyment and a sense of accomplishment, seeing the route I envisioned working without getting detected by the guards or setting up the perfect trap or ambush and pulling it off without anyone noticing I was even there. There were many occasions while playing Shards of Darkness were I thought to myself: “I could have approached the situation better” or “I should have taken another route through the level.”
I was blown away by how many options you had to approach a situation in a game, so much so that I sometimes reloaded my last save to try a different method. And any game that actively makes you want to replay certain situations just to see how it turns out is surely doing something right in my book. All this would be nothing without the fluid controls that Cyanide Studio’s incorporated into Shards of Darkness. From running, crouching and jumping and taking cover everything Styx does is extremely smooth and responsive. Making your kills and takedowns even more satisfying. The environments in Styx: Shards of Darkness are absolutely massive for a game of its type, so it is well worth your time to explore every nook and cranny of its environment.
All of this is brought to life using the Unreal 4 engine, and considering this is not a triple A studio the amount of detail and work that has gone into this game is astounding. The game is not without its minor issues though. The initial loading times for the game when starting up were a bit long, but once loaded up reloading and saving were pretty quick. The other issue is the controls, they can be fidgety at times, too often, I fell to my death purely because Styx did not leap at the exact moment I commanded him to. This can be frustrating at times especially while you are busy mid-sneak and you are trying not to be noticed by the guards. Lucky the game has a shortcut button for quick saving/loading on the Playstation 4 which should be standard practice for any game of this nature. No more need to go into the menu to quick save/load.
I see a lot of reviews slammed the game for its poor combat system really?! This is a stealth base game, not a hack and slash game combat is not an option. You aren’t supposed to be facing enemies head on. Another issue reviewers seem to have is the fact that Styx breaks the 4th wall like Deadpool. And that his sense of humor is a bit much for these reviewers who clearly lost theirs a long time ago. And yes I am aware humor/comedy is subjective but to me, Styx is a welcome change of pace as protagonist. He is a character, snarky, scheming and yes he makes the occasional quips and dated pop-culture references. That alone gives him a definable personality. Styx: Shards of Darkness is a solid stealth game with plenty of humor and style. And it harks back to the old-school hardcore stealth games of the past.