Styx: Shards of Darkness Review: Unforgiving, polished stealth
Don't forget to save.
Cyanide is back with Styx: Shards of Darkness, a direct sequel to 2014’s Master of Shadows and the third title in its Of Orcs and Men series.
Styx is a goblin assassin and thief, relying on the shadows to skulk around and achieve his objectives. An old-school stealth title, Styx can engage in limited combat with enemies – largely, the soldiers of C.A.R.N.A.G.E., Combatants for Attacking, Reaping, Neutralising and Annihilating all Goblins to be Eradicated – but fares far better when using creative ways to circumvent or silently eliminate those in his way. The name of the enemy force should give you an idea of the humourous side of the title too; frankly, it tries to be hilarious and often comes off as trying far too hard. Loading screens – of which you’ll see many, also try to show off Styx’s humour. While some are genuinely delightful – Styx sometimes breaks the wall as effectively and effortlessly as Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool – most rely on the character swearing in an attempt to be edgy. Because you’ll die a lot trying out different tactics, the poor gags get old even quicker than you’d expect.
In the three years between titles, it’s apparent Cyanide has learned some new tricks. You can immediately see the improvements from Master of Shadows. Textures are much improved, enemy movement is fluid and lively and load times are greatly improved. It’s not just in visuals that benefit in Shards of Darkness — Cyanide looks to have pick-pocketed quite a bit from the Thief playbook, including enemy vision cones and per-level grading for stealth, time taken and murders. Styx can still clone himself — useful to lure and distract enemies — turn invisible and use objects like grappling hooks to get out of view.
Available for Windows PC, Xbox One and PS4, the appeal of Shards of Darkness on PC is almost immediate – I imagine a faster quick-save feature would be quite useful. Styx is hard – almost punishingly so – so you’re going to need to save often. Hardcore stealth fans will be absolutely delighted by the challenge offered, while casual fans are best to stick to the first two of its four difficulty levels. You might want to turn the brightness up on your TV as well — even with brightness at maximum, it was damn hard to see what was going on in certain areas.
While its story is straightforward and a playthrough of Master of Shadows isn’t required to understand what’s going on, I’d still recommend playing the former. This sequel starts up assuming players are comfortable with its stealth controls, much to a player’s detriment. Master of Shadows’ tutorial is far more forgiving, going as far as to introduce the cover mechanic, something glazed over in this new release. It’s of great use, narrowing Styx’ profile and making him that much harder to detect. As Master of Shadows was a PlayStation Plus title in July 2015 and an Xbox Games with Gold offering in February 2016, it’s likely most will have access to the previous title at no extra cost.
The RPG elements of Of Orcs and Men are also upped in Shards of Darkness; while skill points are still awarded from successful main- and side-mission fulfilments, Styx is also able to craft weapons and tools right from the start. To craft effectively, you’ll need to scour levels and pick up as many ingredients as you can. It’s usually a trade-off between remaining away from enemy eyes or obtaining resources to make things like steel darts — very handy if you’ve been cornered by a soldier and in need of a quick escape. They’re equally as effective as a murder weapon, straight to an opponent’s neck, or a diversionary tactic, used to detach chandeliers from their mounts.
Styx: Shards of Darkness is an evolution of the franchise, and a marked improvement that stealth enthusiasts will greatly enjoy. Don’t expect to run around, daggers raised, and succeed in this one. If a high-quality stealth title is right up your alley, you won’t do wrong with Styx… just turn down the volume in-between deaths.
Styx: Shards of Darkness was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.