When it comes to a stealth game, Cyanide Studios has put together a combination of elements that from the get-go feels surprisingly intuitive and believable. In this follow-up from the first Styx game you play a smart-mouthed goblin assassin who has a few tricks up his sleeve when it comes to getting what he wants in this dark fantasy world.
Fortunately, if you’ve never played a stealth game like Dishonoured or Thief, coming to Shards of Darkness isn’t as daunting as it could seem. I made the mistake of checking out the controls before jumping into the game and was immediately overwhelmed by the number of things you could do. Well, don’t do that. Because really the game does a great job of helping you learn along the way. You could do a million things right from the start but at the earlier levels, just getting used to hiding in shadows, scaling buildings and learning when to kill -or not to kill- will be enough to get you to accomplish your mission. And there’s a great amount of satisfaction that comes from it too. Styx’s agility is something to be marveled at and the fact that you can climb on just about anything, swing on ropes and leap great distances tended to bring out the parkour-thrillseeker in me.
As you progress, you’re slowly made aware that Styx’s abilities give you a huge choice of how you want to play the game. The story doesn’t really change either way, but how you get to your goal does. With abilities that include going invisible, whistling for attention, crafting, poisoning food, booby trapping and cloning yourself, you’re really only limited by your imagination. Personally, I’m a fan of drawing a straight line to my goal which lead to me killing a lot of people and hiding a lot of corpses.
I was glad to find out that it wasn’t open world. Each stage is just wide enough to give you a sense of exploration, but not so large that you’re going to forget what you were doing in the first place. There are secondary missions, like collecting items, but they stay pretty simple and allow you to keep the main thing the main thing. If you want some extra challenge, you can go for the gold, silver or bronze swiftness award for time required to accomplish the mission or the mercy award for the least number of people killed.
When it comes to the little things that make a game go from good to great, Shards of Darkness shines. Styx’s voice acting is brilliantly done. He’s just the right balance of sarcastic and self-serving – just the way you’d imagine a goblin assassin should be.
The world itself is beautifully rich. If it were a wine, I’d describe it as dark fantasy with notes of steampunk, alien and oriental. Trust me. It’s a good combination. The story is simple enough that you never feel lost but interesting enough that you don’t feel detached.
But the best thing that makes this game awesome is the saves. Let’s face it. No matter how great a game is, after you’ve done the same thing 50 times due to epic fails, your enthusiasm is bound to wane. You know what? You don’t have to do that here. Because you can save at almost anytime anywhere with just one button press. It’s that simple.
When it comes to cons, I really feel like I’m just being picky because there aren’t very many. There are some difficulties with camera positioning where what you can see just isn’t very helpful. I wish there was a zoom out functionality so you’re not staring into a piece of wood or the side of a door. But in all honesty, this didn’t happen often enough for me to be that frustrated. Some other small things include the fact that it’s sometimes difficult to tell if someone is in the same room as you or actually one floor away as the level of the footsteps sound the same. I do wish there was an option for 7.1 surround sound to help with this, but once again, it’s not that big a deal. And just a brief pro and a con: there is a co-op mode where you can buddy up and do the same missions with another goblin friend – which sounds amazing, but it’s difficult to find a game so I never actually got to try it.
So my final verdict? Styx: Shards of Darkness gets a two thumbs-up for me. Even though I’m primarily a multiplayer-kind of gamer, I felt like there were so many hooks about this game that kept me motivated and looking forward to the next session.