Styx: Shards of Darkness Review

Styx: Shards of Darkness Review Darryl Linington
Storyline
Gameplay
Graphics
Sound
Lasting Appeal
7
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Styx: Shards of Darkness follows up on 2014’s Styx: Master of Shadows, which was by the account of many an underrated sleeper hit in the stealth action genre. Though it was well received even without building a hype, it did not quite reach success in the same flare as other sleeper titles to the likes of Shadow of Mordor. Mostly due to clunky controls, annoying quicktime combat and recycled assets, which are areas that Shards of Darkness improves upon.

A direct sequel to the original, the story of Styx: Shards of Darkness unfolds after the events of the first game are wrapped up. Improving immediately on the recycled environments found throughout the first game, SoD takes you on an adventure through a number of different and interesting locations, making for a far more diverse experience than Master of Shadows was. The world is spectacularly themed to its inhabitants. Areas inhabited by elves and dwarves look grimy and industrial, with the beautiful contrast brought on by elven workmanship and architecture.

Styx has gone unchanged, cynical as ever, and still as rude and temperamental as can be expected. If anything his antagonising as a protagonist is refreshing and as always welcoming. Thieves are expected to be arrogant and devoid of empathy, Styx brings this all in pretty well, even if often a little cringe-worthy. An obvious and most welcome change to Styx though, is his movement and agility. With such diverse environments, perfect character control plays a key role in the enjoyment factor. Climbing, jumping and traversing obstacles feels a lot smoother than it did in the original, becoming even more apparent when skulking around using the numerous given routes and paths to reach your destination. Now emphasis needs to be placed here, SoD really opens up Styx’s world, moving far away from the linearity forced upon you in the original, it makes the game feel like more of an adventure and obviously adds a lot of variability to how you choose to approach objectives. The sheer replayability added to the title due to this is a massive step up from MoS.

SoD also makes great use of the environments, allowing you to easily adjust your path by using elements to the likes of ropes and grappling hooks as you attempt to remain unseen. This added a fair amount of immersion to the game and queueing in up with Styx’s skill set, a very many things are made possible in situations you thought you were stuck in. Allowing him to cloak for a short period (often too short to be useful) and create clones as his affliction with amber gets stronger, Styx has a myriad of tricks up his sleeve that can alter and improve your odds in almost any situation.

Styx still very much prefers to stay away from combat, and with good reason – he’s pretty useless in physical confrontations, unless he has the stealthy, unseen advantage of sneak attacks. Getting caught up in any form of fight is a no-no and you’d be best to get out fast or you’ll be loading up a save in no time. This is a little disappointing as I would’ve enjoyed being able to at least hold my own against a single, brutish human. Now either I am just horrible at the game, or the premise of the stealth focus is solidly reinforced by unbeatable odds when spotted. This is not at all a bad thing as games like the Indie gem, Inside, has proven. Does it feel as well executed in SoD? I can’t quite say it is given the game’s added depth pushing far beyond a rather simple concept, but it comes damn close and you learn very early on that conflict is best avoided.

While on the topic of brutish, overpowered opponents. The AI is quite a bit off mark, making everyone seem a tad simple themselves. Following a common “Maybe it was the wind” RPG AI trend, the enemies are often dimwitted and don’t search for you quite as well as you’d expect. Now there is a very thin line between fun and chore, when you take the thrill of the chase and try and balance it with smart AI. If they’re too smart, you get caught too often leading to many more attempts than you’d like. While if they’re too dumb, it affects immersion and more often than not can lead to boredom. Styx does the latter, which makes for an easier game as you can exploit the stupid AI by just being patient, but as mentioned, affects immersion in the long run.

Besides the AI, Styx does have some other shortcomings. As likable as Styx is, he’s breaking of the fourth wall and general off hand remarks do tend to make me cringe more often than not, which I feel isn’t as necessary as the developers thought it to be. The plot too, is a little thin. The characters, storyline and overall drive of the storyline is not gripping or that engrossing to keep one interested for hours on end. This is mostly due to out of place Side quests which often feel like they’re randomly generated and a main quest which is far too predictable featuring elements we’ve seen many times and lacking some originality.

Conclusion:
Given that the game also features coop, the replayability value spikes. Balanced by spawning one of the players as a clone and requiring a great amount of synchronicity between both players, its makes for a great addition which has you rely on each other severely, as a single slip can cause havoc and a restart.

Don’t let these issues deter you from enjoying Shards of Darkness though. A story itself can carry a game, but often solid gameplay that’s enjoyable enough can easily drive you through to the end. AI, combat and plot aside, SoD has all the elements of a great stealth action game. Lurking in shadows and using a vast skill set to outmanoeuvre obstacles and enemies while you work your way through a maze of possibilities in itself is a very enjoyable activity. Overall Styx: Shards of Darkness is great improvement in the franchise and a must have for the stealth-action fans even if I would suggest you grab it on a sale.

Styx: Shards of Darkness was reviewed by Jacques Du Plooy

Edited By: Darryl Linington
Contact: Darryl@techitout.co.za
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Follow @DarrylLinington on Twitter

Editor of Tech IT Out. Former radio host of Cliffcentral.com. Former Editor of IT News Africa and ITF Gaming. All round techie, gamer and entrepreneur. For Editorial Enquiries Contact: Darryl@techitout.co.za or via +27788021400.