Styx: Shards of Darkness Review – A Terrible Character in an Interesting World

Posted March 28, 2017 by John Newby in Video Games

Developed By: Cyanide Studios

Published By: Focus Home Interactive

Release Date: March 14, 2017

Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC

Price: $49.99

After years away from the limelight, stealth games have been enjoying a revitalization. Splinter Cell, Arkham Asylum, Dishonored, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution have all enjoyed time in the spotlight, but they are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Other developers have been toiling away and releasing their own entries in the stealth genre, just to a little less fanfare. One such company is Cyanide Studios, who have a new release about a very vulgar Goblin assassin named Styx.

The sequel to Styx: Master of Shadows, Shards of Darkness is actually the third game to take place in the dark fantasy world created for 2012’s Of Orcs and Men. And dark fantasy truly is the perfect description. Unlike Lord of the Rings and other similar universes, Shards of Darkness is set in a world where Humans are drunken jerks and Elves and Dwarves capture and sell/murder Goblins. Everyone travels by Airship or balloon, and powers stem from Quartz and Amber. It’s a crazy, messed up place that serves as the perfect setting for political intrigue and some disturbing ritualistic sacrifices.

There are some really cool details in this world.

Set over the course of nine missions, Styx’s journey to figure out this intrigue pairs him up with both a Human soldier and an Elvish outcast and takes him to two main locales in Korangar and Thoben. Korangar is a prison like city filled with Dwarves, Trolls, Elves, and evil bugs. It’s a dark, depressing place with death around every corner. Thoben, on the other hand, is a city of hunters filled with human soldiers and Dwarves. It’s a bright town with plenty of pubs to explore. The danger is just as prevalent, but the enemies are slightly easier to dispose of. Styx alternates locations throughout the story, going back and forth depending on the mission requirements. While it is fun to see Thoben and Korangar multiple times, the recycling of level assets is a little jarring when you accidentally take the wrong path based on previous knowledge. 

A Dwarf in Thoben

Completing each of these missions quickly and quietly is actually quite the task. You are rewarded medals for beating a mission quickly, avoiding setting off alarms, collecting tokens, and refraining from random murder. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, that’s not the case for a few reasons. First off, you get penalized for killing enemies, but there are only two options for dealing with foes–murder or distraction. Distraction is entertaining in that you can throw items to make noise, drop chandeliers, or clone yourself to cause havoc. However, cloning is only a limited option given that Amber is more difficult to keep on hand. As is turning invisible and sneaking around. The best option for distraction is to throw sand that kills flying bugs and extinguishes lanterns. Sadly, I didn’t actually know that this was an option until the penultimate mission.

Amber Vision highlights enemies.

Murder is a much easier option considering the tools at your disposal. Styx has a dagger and throwable darts that can kill the basic enemies, and he has poison traps to deal with the harder armored foes. If that fails, Styx can always poison the water supply and bowls of food. Plus, the world is filled with acid barrels, trap doors, and booby traps that can kill enemies just as easily. Finding them is just a simple matter of activating Batman vision…err, Amber Vision. Interestingly enough, the game penalizes you for killing enemies, which can be frustrating. Considering that this is 2017, you would think that Styx would have nonlethal options for dealing with enemies, but this just isn’t the case. At least you can hide bodies in chests and closets to avoid attention.

Hide that Elf.

The other factor that makes earning medals more difficult is the time factor. Completing a mission can take quite some time depending on your skill as an old school stealth gamer. The recommended time for each mission usually sits between 15 and 20 minutes for the gold medal, but that’s really only possible if you go straight to the objectives without exploring or completing the secondary objectives. And that’s a shame given how interesting the world is. There are multiple little easter eggs and crafting components that can be found if you put in a little effort, but those do take time to track down. Simply exploring can push the completion time to around 30 minutes, which results in a silver or bronze medal. But why do these medals matter? 

Unlocking medals and completing extra objectives results in important skill points. These can be used to purchase perks for Styx’s abilities. Some affect his clones while others add more items to craft. My personal favorites were those that let Styx murder enemies while remaining invisible. This made it much easier to sneak up on a room of baddies and take them out one by one without causing a panic.

The skill tree.

Sadly, I never earned quite that many points or medals during 25 hours of playtime. My missions took 50 minutes of in-game time on average because I tried to explore and slowly plan out my options. Granted, the time actually extended to around two hours once you accounted for the multiple deaths and rage-induced restarts.

And yes, deaths and restarts happen all too often during an average playthrough. Some are caused by a general lack of skill after years away from true stealth games. The rest, however, are caused by an extremely frustrating lack of control over Styx. You see, that mouthy little Goblin can traverse the worlds of Korangar and Thoben by jumping and climbing from ledge to ledge in order to avoid guards and bypass locked doors. This traversal adds in a Dishonored level of options for infiltrating each area, but there is a major side effect in that Styx is a nightmare to control.

Follow, but don’t get spotted.

The little Goblin is fine when he is crawling through holes and under tables, but he turns into Luigi from Super Mario Bros. 2 once you hit the jump button. For those who haven’t played the Super Mario Bros. 2, let me explain the jumping mechanic this way. You hit the button, and Styx/Luigi flies up into the air while floating in a wayward fashion. There is no weight to the jump, and you have no idea where he will land. Basically, I spent 25 hours hitting the jump button and praying that he would latch onto the intended area. This overall lack of control made stealth sequences and the two boss battles extremely frustrating. For example, trying to jump between wood beams while following a mark Assassins Creed style was a total gamble. Styx occasionally landed on the beam but mostly overshot the intended target and landed amidst guards. This prompted immediate death because the parry system only works on one guard at time, and defending yourself or running away is impossible.

The worst part about dying that often is that Cyanide has special little death videos that pop up before you can load a save. Remember the taunts in the Arkham series where the Joker, Penguin, or Riddler would make fun of Batman for failing a mission? Well, Styx has these as well, only they aren’t funny. To be fair, I didn’t find references to American Pie or jokes like “is that a controller in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me” funny 18 years ago, and I certainly don’t in 2017. But I may not be the target audience. What I do know is that the randomized order of death videos can occasionally cause the exact same joke to pop up twelve times in a row, just like when Styx told me that he would come out and take the controller while I went into the game and died…painfully.

I saw this video 12 times in a row.

And in case you were wondering, yes, Styx does break the fourth wall every time he opens his mouth. Some critics have referred to him as a little green Deadpool, and this is true at times. The main difference is that Styx’s jokes and instructions to complete a mission properly are just irritating. He constantly reminds you to move the controller, because he is bored, or he points out that certain missions have to be completed without setting off any alerts. Of course, the fourth wall breaking isn’t limited to instructions about each mission. No, Styx also likes to remind you that he has played Assassin’s Creed and knows about Batman and The Terminator. He never shuts up. Look, I understand that Styx is charming to some people, but he made me play Shards of Darkness with the television muted.

My feelings about Styx in one image.

By far, Styx: Shards of Darkness is one of the most difficult games to review. The assassinations are satisfying, the world is very interesting, and the skill trees are quite helpful for completing missions. Plus, the cloning ability creates unique methods for completing missions in a quiet manner. The real issue stems from the fact that Styx is a terrible character, the jumping mechanics are completely broken, crafting components are few and far between, and the lack of nonlethal options is just archaic. Oh, and one mission is the exact Scarecrow battle from Arkham Asylum, only with a different enemy. That seemed a little weird.

I would love to recommend Styx: Shards of Darkness to fans of Arkham Asylum, Dishonored, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but this fantasy-themed stealth adventure will only appeal to the most old school stealth gamers…or people with infinite patience.


About the Author

John Newby

A random dude obsessed with coffee, blue heelers, and most nerdy things. Big fan of Star Wars, Borderlands, Arrow/Flash, and a whole lotta video games. The Saboteur is underrated, and Silverado is the best movie ever made.