When playing most Stealth games, you need to be patient and prepared, always ready for that perfect opportunity to strike. Playing Styx: Shards of Darkness is no different, but it takes a while before the game becomes more enjoyable. There are some AI issues, certain commands don’t work as well as they could, and the camera can play havoc when you’re evading, but there is a charm to Styx the goblin that you don’t always get in videogames.
Our green-skinned hero returns for another adventure, and he’s been hired by humans to see what’s going down in Körangar, the city of the dark elves. Even though Styx is a master of stealth, he’s offered a chance to infiltrate the impregnable city to work out why the elves are forming an alliance with the dwarves. It’s an enjoyable story filled with magic and fantasy, but it is the titular character that makes the game so much better.
Constantly breaking the fourth wall, Styx is basically the Deadpool of the goblin world, and he sounds a lot like the late, great Bob Hoskins. He’s a playful rogue, making humorous references to movies like Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and even takes harmless jabs at Assassins Creed (“You may find me scaling roofs and climbing walls, but you won’t catch me wearing a stupid white tabard with a hoodie”).
It’s the loading screens between deaths that win the game for me: Styx makes fun of you, normally having some smartass comment to make after every time you die. Some of Styx’s zingers are “Did you stream that? I want a percentage on your best death compilation”, and “To be skilled or not to be skilled, that is the question. And fuck you is the answer”. There are loads, though, and they’re silly fun, even when you’ve heard the one about the pizza or the script for the umpteenth time.
The stealth mechanics and gameplay is the strong point, but if you’re not a fan of stealth, you’re not going to enjoy it. There are limited combat options, so if you’re detected, running is the only real option to secure your safety. You’ll spend much of the time climbing buildings, looking for opportunities and vantage points, and planning what you’re going to use to kill the many guards, and bosses you’ll encounter. You can sneak up on guards and kill them quietly with your blade, but this takes a little longer. A quick shank in their sides will take minimal time to execute, but it is louder and can attract any nearby enemies.
This is where you have to get creative. You can throw things like glass bottles and sand to create sound so that soldiers will investigate the noise, you can stub out fire to create bigger pockets of darkness to lie in wait in, you’ll also be able to make sounds of your own so that enemies will come to you, you can hide in barrels and crates to go undetected, and so much more. You have an amber meter, which is essentially your magic, and there are vials of amber you can drink to refill the gauge. You can turn yourself invisible, and create a clone so other enemies will attack it instead of you. When you complete a level without attracting any attention or completing all the objectives, you’ll unlock skill points to level up your abilities and even unlock new ones. You need to work hard to earn these points, too. It can be difficult to get these skill points, but you certainly feel rewarded for your patience and hard work. There are five paths in total, covering Stealth, Perception, Cloning, Alchemy, and Kill, so there are lots of ways to perfect your craft.
Another game mechanic is Amber Vision, and it’ll help you to see any climbable ledges highlighted in amber, and any nearby enemies highlighted in red. At first, the range of Amber Vision is limited, but this is one of the skills you can upgrade. The AI of the enemies is terrible, and you can get away quickly if detected. I also had times when a soldier was stood a few feet away, but couldn’t see me, even though I was stood under a big light.
Controlling Styx is normally pretty good, but it can be frustrating at times and it’s normally down to the camera. It’s quite easy to plunge to your death if the camera isn’t giving you much of an idea what’s beneath you, so don’t go thinking there’re any invisible walls on cliff drops or high up in the sky. Also, if you do spark the curiosity of a nearby guard, evading them can be difficult when they’re attacking you because the camera doesn’t always pan away to give you the best view of your surroundings.
Styx: Shards of Darkness is funny, entertaining, and has some good stealth mechanics for you to master. The challenges you’ll face will be varied, and manipulating the various environments for your own gain provides a diverse experience. There’s also a co-op mode in Styx which lets a friend take control of the Styx clone, but at time of the review we weren’t able to test this fully. When the stability patch goes live, we’ll test and add our impressions to the review. The game is worth playing for Styx alone, as he’s a character that likes to poke fun at typical videogame tropes, and never takes himself seriously.
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