Let the Amber Consume You – A Styx: Shards of Darkness Review
From Cyanide Studios, the successor to Styx: Master of Shadow, comes Styx: Shards of Darkness. Yes, the stealthy goblin Styx is back. It is–for all intents and purposes–the perfect sequel to its predecessor. Find out why after the jump!
The original Styx stood as a prequel to the studio’s mid-level indie Of Orcs and Men and remains one of the developer’s most popular games, and its sequel is no different. Harkening to Arkane’s Dishonored 2, SSoD expands on positives from the original title in combat/stealth play, upgrade trees, narrative, and overall world-building, ultimately placing the sequel on a slightly higher pedestal.
Climbing accuracy, however, remains unimproved, which could make, or break a playthrough. Being a stealthy goblin has its perks and one of them is being able to scale walls and ledges, scoot through narrow tunnels, and hide under low tables. In the original, Styx sometimes had issues with overcompensating distances when jumping from handhold to handhold, and the sequel has fared no better. In fact, it is almost worse than the original, as sometimes, that sneaky goblin will overshoot his jump by wide margins, possibly ending in disaster. That doesn’t mean gameplay is busted. Quite the contrary, the remainder of the controls are tight and responsive.
The expanded arsenal of skills and weapons give players more agency to play their own way. Do keep in mind however, this is still a stealth-based game and weapons are still limited to throwing knives and other skill-based weapons like acid traps which may be purchased through the skill tree, were the player so inclined.As with its predecessor, SSoD offers the goblin’s staple skills, invisibility, creating and controlling clones, amber vision, and standard stealth attacks like aerial and ledge kills. The sequel capitalizes on their usefulness with some minor, yet effective additions. For example, Styx can craft (crafting? In a Styx game? More on this soon) cloning eggs and toss them to a ledge previously unreachable, and assume this clone’s position. The action destroys the clone in the process, but Styx is now at a place he was unable to previously traverse. The next level for this particular skill allows Styx to recover health when “jumping,” so to speak, to the clone’s position.
Styx also has interchangeable outfits and daggers. Once the appropriate skills are unlocked and outfits/daggers found and/or crafted, he can equip them at hideouts. Specific outfits and daggers offer–as one can expect–different stats and purposes. For example, the alchemist armor allows Styx to craft on the fly without needing a crafting table (meaning, if you have all the required items for a health potion–of which you used the last–you may craft as many as you can), as well as deeper pockets for carrying more vials of health potions, amber, cocoons, and any other tool/item. Once the amber dagger skill is unlocked, Styx can equip a dagger that allows him to fill his amber gauge with each kill. There is a catch, however. If Styx takes damage, his amber gauge depletes the same amount it would fill.Note, I am unsure if there are more outfits and weapons for our sly goblin; these are all I have unlocked thus far, but I am also only five missions into the narrative and there may be more to find.
And, logically, that brings me to narrative. As with the first installment, SSoD offers a mostly linear plot. There are some small twists here and there, but nothing Inception-worthy. This is typical fanfare for stealth-based games (discounting any of Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell titles, as their plots revolve around espionage) and it isn’t necessarily a negative attribute. Stealth games are usually gameplay-focused than the cynosure of narrative, and again, there’s nothing wrong with that. Styx games are a blast to play for those of us who enjoy stealthy approaches.
That being said, those that prefer the guns blazing, balls to the wall, LEEEERRRROOOOYYYYYYYYYYY JENNNNNNKIIINNNNNNSSSSS approach, will most certainly not enjoy this game. This game challenges how we as players think about attacking mission structure, nearly forcing us to strategize and prioritize our objective paths. The game accomplishes this by offering medals in four categories: swiftness, alarms, kills, and thief. In order to achieve gold on each, one must complete the entire mission under fifteen minutes, set off NO alarms at all, kill ZERO enemies, and obtain ALL coins hidden throughout the mission area.
These medals aren’t end-all-be-all for the mission. Players are not forced to complete them and I, myself, have been unable to complete any mission in that time while trying to complete the others as well as secondary objectives. That does not mean doing everything perfect is not an option. It just means it’s difficult. And that’s a good thing for this genre. It’s a good thing in general, really. It gets us thinking and that’s one thing video games have always been sneakily good at.
While Styx: Shards of Darkness is not perfect, between climbing accuracy, [barely] less-than-optimal graphic output, and typically surface narrative, the game does a great job evolving the genre underneath the shadow of the Dishonored franchise through a quirky and comical character, unparalleled world-building, and intriguing skills. It is a game meant to challenge how players attack their mission structure and play style, and challenge it does.
I give this game a