Styx: Shards of Darkness Review
Do you like the idea of taking control of a snarky, fourth-wall breaking goblin who is hell-bent on sneaking around and robbing humans blind? Well then, have I got a game for you. Styx: Shards of Darkness is the follow-up to 2014’s stealth game Styx: Master of Shadows, which introduced the titular Styx, a wise cracking goblin full of surprises and special powers. Styx: Shards of Darkness promises to be bigger and better than its predecessor, with a larger budget and a change of engines according to developer Cyanide Studios. While it certainly is an improvement, it feels like Styx is still some ways away from the being the true tour-de-force he wants to be.
Whenever there is a change of engines, in this case moving from Unity to Unreal Engine 4, there is always the risk that things could go wrong. Cyanide Studio have skilfully avoided this, instead using the engine change as an opportunity to build a bigger and better looking world for Shards of Darkness. The biggest improvement comes in the form of the lighting, with light filtering in through windows and cracks in boards. In a game where darkness and the night are utilised frequently, the realistic filtering and utilisation of light is excellent. Textures on buildings and environments generally look great, but can sometimes be a bit muddy and unclear. Also, the same textures are utilised frequently, leading to most buildings looking extremely alike. This all supports the levels themselves, which are relatively large, with multiple paths for you to follow to complete your missions in your own way. Character models are quite detailed as well, with Styx in particular having received great attention to detail. While the game won’t necessarily win any beauty pageants with its dark and relatively drab art style, it’s a good technical showing from Cyanide Studios.
While the world itself looks great, the real test for any stealth oriented game is how well your character controls as you skulk your way through levels. This is where Shards of Darkness begins to falter just a bit. Styx is a goblin, as opposed to a human being, so you would expect him to feel a bit quicker than your standard thief. This is certainly true in Shards of Darkness, with Styx feeling fast even when crouched and in stealth. At times, Styx even felt a little too quick to respond to movements, with slight stick movements sometimes causing him to quickly dash out of cover instead of moving slowly. This took some getting used, but wasn’t necessarily a big problem. One issue I found, however, was that jumping and climbing could be quite imprecise at times. At times when climbing walls, I would find myself falling to my death instead of jumping towards the convenient handhold that was next to me. It wasn’t always a large problem, but it could get quite frustrating at times as I scaled the walls of buildings for a vertical advantage. Animations can also be quite jerky at times, never quite managing to reach the fluidity you would expect from a master thief like Styx.
As you go through the game, you’ll quickly get used to dying and Styx is more than happy to harass you for this. Every time you die the game cuts away to a short cutscene where Styx will berate you for getting him killed. It’s a nice touch, and is actually pretty cool the first few times, but there are only three or four different videos, so they get annoying pretty quickly. These sequences really personify the general tone of Styx and his, filled with cheesy one liners, fourth wall breaking jokes and masses of derisive comments about his enemies. This is all supported by some pretty good voicework for Styx, which perfectly matches the stinging rebukes that he so effortlessly flings. Outside of Styx, however, the voice acting and writing gets decidedly b-grade. Lines from other characters, even those integral to the story, tend to be delivered stiltedly and the writing itself is exceptionally average. While Styx himself is definitely the most important character in the game, it would have been nice for more budget to have gone towards the others.
The best feature of Shards of Darkness is its integration of an RPG-style levelling system that allows you to customise Styx’s abilities as you see fit. As you complete levels and special assignments within them you will earn skill points that can then be put into Styx’s abilities. You’re able to freely decide where to allocate your points, so if you want your Styx to be a combat heavy build, you can do that. It allows you to create a character that truly matches the style you want to play in and becomes all the more engaging because of it. It also encourages you to replay levels so that you can complete more assignments and unlock further abilities.
Overall, Styx: Shards of Darkness is a step up from its predecessor, but it isn’t quite as big a step as I had hoped. Styx himself is still a fantastic anti-hero and the freedom in skill allocation for the sardonic goblin make him more engaging than ever. While there are some flaws here, they shouldn’t be enough to stop you from enjoying your time as the green-skinned master thief.