Sneaking past enemy guards while accomplishing devious missions is an often rewarding premise for a game. As a follow-up to 2014's Master of Shadows, Styx: Shards of Darkness continues the titular goblin's tale but is it any good?
For those unfamiliar with Styx, you control a smart-mouthed goblin appropriately named Styx. Doing so involves traversing stages while avoiding being spotted by enemy patrols. He's also quite an agile fellow as he can acrobatically explore environments just like in Ubisoft's classic Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. However, Styx isn't as capable as the Prince. The stages themselves are enormous and complex as they feature layers of intricately connected rooms and platforms. Exploring them becomes a rather tricky endeavor seeing as enemies can be placed where you least expect. So, activating your Amber vision to highlight points of interest is a necessity. Staying in the shadows while working past a handful of guards then scaling a wall in order to escape via a conveniently-placed hot air balloon and complete your mission can be a satisfying chain of events.
This time around, Styx has some handy new tools and abilities at his disposal. Besides helpful potions that can recharge his Amber and health meters, he can throw glass objects to distract foes, chuck sand at candles to put them out, shoot bolts into distant enemies to snuff them out, and use lock picks to get into otherwise inaccessible rooms. Using abilities depletes his Amber meter yet they allow him to deploy an invisibility cloak and create clones in order to cause chaos on their own. Speaking of which, you can play cooperatively where players control clones but you can only do so online which is a missed opportunity as playing local multiplayer would have been a fun inclusion. Anyway, these tools and abilities add a welcome layer of complexity to the gameplay.
Just like the original, Styx: Shards of Darkness comes across as a long-lost PlayStation 2 or original Xbox game. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about its graphical quality. Specifically, its atmosphere is reminiscent of series such as Legacy of Kain and Styx's attitude is very much in-line with characters like Duke Nukem and Conker. This sort of throwback will be welcome for gamers like me who obsessively played games in the early 2000s. It's a distinct framework that gamers don't see much nowadays.
The campaign in Styx: Shards of Darkness is composed of 10 missions including a helpful introduction that explains the gameplay rather well. Thankfully, these missions are lengthy as each one has you accomplish multiple tasks within different environments. However, the tasks themselves mostly involve the exact same setup: move from point A to point B without being spotted. When you reach point B, you may have to steal an object or forge a document but these goals are superficial as they don't alter the gameplay.
The only missions that don't follow this formula have generic goals such as "explore the shrine". Considering these usually lack specific waypoints, you may wander around completely lost for half an hour or so not even knowing where the shrine is. At that point, it's tempting to just give up and play something more worthwhile.
Finally, the controls in Styx: Shards of Darkness can be very unintuitive and finicky. For example, pressing up on the digital pad makes Styx whistle to attract enemies while down opens the inventory menu. These are literally the exact opposite functions as one gets guards' attention while using items can distract them. Why couldn't whistling be in the inventory menu? That way, no one would accidentally push it thus possibly ending their life in the process. Similarly, L2 opens the abilities menu while R2 helps Styx take cover or hang from ledges. If L2 opens a menu, why does pushing down open another menu?
When it comes to being finicky, swinging on ropes is very problematic as aiming Styx can make him miss the next rope by just a few degrees. Similarly, jumping from a ledge in order to successfully latch onto a recess in the wall seems random. About half the time, Styx will miss grabbing entirely and fall to his death. Speaking of perishing, you have to sit through Styx saying an awful joke whenever you die that usually involves vulgarity that only the most underdeveloped senses of humour would find funny. After that, a somewhat long loading screen occurs. Seeing as dying is often in rapid succession due to the finicky controls, couldn't it just put me right back into the game immediately? I swear; I died ten times more from falling due to the touchy controls than I did from enemies.
Styx: Shards of Darkness is a promising stealth experience with massive stages and an interesting blend of genres. However, its frequently frustrating and tedious gameplay make playing it often feel like a chore.
- + Good mix of stealth and acrobatic exploration within massive complex stages
- + Interesting tools and abilities
- + Will make you nostalgic for the early 2000s
- - Repetitive missions / ones without specific waypoints can be very irritating
- - Unintuitive and finicky controls
- - Annoying death and loading screens