Unforgiving and Uncomprising Stealth, with some attitude along the way
Styx: Shards of Darkness is a bit of a quirky game in today’s industry landscape. It hearkens back to the older days of Theif and other stealth classics where combat is a last resort – yet it aims to compete with the faster paced stealth games of our time such as Dishonored 2 and, yes even the Theif reboot. Styx adds a lot of character to the field though – how many of those games can boast a foul-mouthed, centuries old Goblin who breaks the fourth wall to chastise you whenever you die? (My favorite so far has to be when Styx mentions how the game says “You Died” when in reality he died and the player was likely going to be getting laid soon – though on further inspection Styx rescinds that prediction.)
Styx: Shards of Darkness takes place primarily in the Elven city of Korrangar, though early on in the game the locations are a bit more varied - the decrepit Human city of Thoben and traversing moving airships for example. Although the game only has about nine total missions, those missions are broken up into various phases, so the game doesn’t feel overly short as a result. High priestess Lyssril plans to gain invincibility through the gaining of Amber and Quartz – two elements that give the Elven army immense power, as well as provide Styx with the magical abilities he has as well.
Styx himself adds a lot of character. His in game narrations drive the story forward as he describes the setting and what it means, while his observations of the races around him provide some insight into how this Goblin sees this world. The writers decided to throw in lines making fun of other genres and games as well – such as Styx questioning out loud why there was no convenient “pile of straw” to jump into while standing on the edge of a tall building. Moments like that, as well as the death comments, make Styx – an antihero in many respects, the most likeable character you encounter throughout the game.
In Shards of Darkness, the shadows are your friends. This is old-school stealth – you are meant to take your time, hide and never be seen. Combat – if we can even call Styx’s ability to somewhat parry attacks when he’s caught, combat – is to be shunned. Styx is at his best when he is slinking about unseen and unheard. Through the use of Amber, Styx is able to become invisible for brief periods of time or cough up a clone to distract guards who might be in his way. These abilities are incredibly helpful, and do not feel overpowered. In fact, I would argue they are underpowered – Styx can only remain invisible for a few seconds while the clone is about as weak as a kitten. Yet they have their uses and I’ve made it past some incredibly sticky situations as a result of these skills.
The controls of the game are pretty well implemented, whether playing on a controller or a mouse and keyboard. In the end I found myself opting for the former, purely because I could lean back in my chair to play the game, however it’s not because the developers prioritized one over the other.
Where Styx falls short is the quality of the voice acting, as well as some of the animations during cutscenes. While playing, Styx is animated incredibly well – each movement having a smoothness to it that is indicative of Unreal Engine 4 titles. However, once a cutscene happens, all of the major players are stiff, emotionless dolls – the lipsync especially puts one off. The quality of the actual character models and environments are pretty top notch, especially thanks to UE4’s materials based rendering system, however once they are put in a cutscene the faults are exposed quickly.
With each action you take or when you complete an objective you ear skill points. These can be used to improve Styx’s abilities throughout the course of the game, such as giving him better stealth capabilities, or the ability to assassinate enemies from above if timed correctly. The progression was ok, but I found myself skipping whole trees in favor of others – I barely touched the cloning tree, instead making sure I could sneak and kill (when necessary) better than normal.
Performance Test and System Requirements
Styx: Shards of Darkness runs incredibly well on PC – I’ve not noticed any major issues or hitches with the framerate, not have I been hindered by the appearance of a shoddy port. Developer Cyanide Studio really outdid themselves in making sure the PC version of the game felt as though it was built with the platform in mind. That said, it’s not without shortcomings. The options menu doesn’t really tell you what each option means or does (such as Anti-Aliasing, the settings being “Low” to “High”), as well as the overall settings being a bit skinny on customization. Additionally I wasn’t able to downsample from 1080p to 1440p; the game seemingly didn’t recognize all of the other resolution options my GTX 980 gave me other than 1080p and 4K. When playing on my i7-6700K powered desktop at 1080p with every setting turned to its max, Vsync off, I saw framerates in the 80s.
Minimum System Requirements: OS: Windows 7/8/10 (64-bit) Processor: AMD FX-6300 (3,5GHz) / Intel i5-2500 (3,3GHz) Memory: 8 GB RAM Graphics: 1 GB, AMD Radeon R7 260X / NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 DirectX: Version 11 Storage: 11 GB available space
Additional Notes: INTERNET CONNECTION REQUIRED FOR THE ONLINE GAME
Recommend System Requirements: </b> OS: Windows 7 / 8 / 10 (64-bit) Processor: AMD FX-8350 X8 (4,0 GHz)/Intel Core i7-4790 (3,6 GHz) Memory: 8 GB RAM Graphics: 4 GB, AMD Radeon R9 390 / NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 DirectX: Version 11 Storage: 11 GB available space
Additional Notes: INTERNET CONNECTION REQUIRED FOR ONLINE GAMING AND GAME ACTIVATION.
Game Tested On: OS: Windows 10 (64-bit) Processor: Intel i7-6700K (4.0 GHz) Memory: 16 GB DDR4 RAM (3200 MHz) GPU: EVGA GTX GeForce 980 SC DirectX: Version 11
Where to Purchase and Price
Styx: Shards of Darkness is currently available on Green Man Gaming priced at £31.57, although you can get it for slightly cheaper with the VIP offer of £29.79, if you register for an account on the store.
STYX: SHARDS OF DARKNESS VERDICT
Styx: Shards of Darkness is an incredibly fun game - provided you are ok with slowing down the pace and willing to put up with uncompromising stealth. If you are looking for an action heavy stealth experience, this isn’t really your cup of tea. However, if you’re like me (though I’m terrible at stealth on the whole) and want a great, difficult challenge, Styx: Shards of Darkness might be right up your alley.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Early on in the game having to sneak around moving airships added such a great rush to the feel of the game. It was difficult – not many dark places on the deck to hide so it became less clinging to the shadows and more about pure stealth – hiding, waiting and making moves only when you were absolutely sure nothing bad would happen. Such as the time I used a rope to cross between two of the airships only to be seen by a guard not in my original line of sight. Having to escape detection while on a moving airship provided a rush that propelled me through the next three missions in one sitting.
Styx provides a ton of character and spark to otherwise gloomy and dark settings
The uncompromising stealth gameplay is refreshing in today’s gaming landscape
Controls feel great no matter which input you use
Voice acting could be better
Sometimes the AI is a bit wonky, so the stealth gameplay becomes an annoyance
Combat could be improved to add more than an imprecise parry