Styx: Shards of Darkness is the sequel to 2014’s Styx: Master of Shadows, and third in the Of Orcs and Men series from developer Cyanide. Players control a smartass goblin named Styx, a master of stealth, and thief extraordinaire. Sneak past guards and utilize interesting gameplay mechanics in masterfully-built and darkly beautiful levels. A huge improvement over the previous installment, Styx: Shards of Darkness is one of my favorite “stealth based” games.
Best explained as a combination of Assassin’s Creed gameplay, Lord of the Rings fantasy setting, and Deadpool comedy, Styx: Shards of Darkness takes some great aspects from each. Our anti-hero Styx likes to break the fourth wall and joke in a very NSFW manner. Lots of pop culture references will keep the informed giggling. Styx lives in a very dystopian fantasy world, designed to be both beautiful and decrepit. Utilize Styx’s version of eagle vision, “Amber Vision,” to plan ahead, as there are always many different paths toward your level objective.
Styx: Shards of Darkness is all about planning. The wonderful level design does a great job of making the player really consider how to get to the objective. Paths are not as obvious as some AC game players may be familiar with. Sometimes, jumping from ropes and ledge grabs can be frustrating. But at least you get a nice random quip from our sarcastic goblin when you fall to your death. You will be rewarded most if you find a play style you enjoy and works for you. You can create a diversion with one of your clones or by throwing a bottle, then sneak up and sabotage the alarm. Players can then choose to drop a chandelier on a group of guards; it’s deadly and a diversion.
As you progress, players accumulate points they can assign to various skills, such as stealth and crafting. These are reset after each level and players can find what works best for them. Stealth upgrades were a huge help to me as it’s such a major aspect of Styx: Shards of Darkness. Avoid combat if all possible. While not as insta-death as the original Styx, being discovered will open the ability to parry attacks, which, if timed right, you can then kill your opponent afterwards. Players also have more time to now flat out run and hide. It’s saved my butt a few times. There are so many places to hide and peek your surroundings. Just be careful, the AI isn’t half bad, and at times, I’ve been pulled out of a barrel and killed.
Utilize other skills, such as turning invisible for short periods, and don’t forget to poison food when possible, Styx’s barf is majorly toxic, gross fun. Eventually planting traps can be a blast as well. In some aspects, it feels like the Deception series, waiting for your victims. Styx: Shards of Darkness provides at least 15 hours in the main story, with some level reuse mixed in that was a bit disappointing. If you enjoy the game though, going back and doing it again is half the fun, finding new and interesting ways to fulfill your objective adds variety. The game also includes a co-op element if you have a friend to join in, but unfortunately, I was never able to test it. Toss in a basic crafting and mat collecting system and rewards for how well you complete a level and it didn’t feel repetitive at all.
Styx: Shards of Darkness is no pushover. You will not be able to just muscle your way through levels like Assassins Creed allowed at times. You must be Styx. You must think of ways to avoid combat and still kill, steal, and make your way through the levels. The initial load times can be long and with the amount of times you will die, Styx: Shards of Darkness can be frustrating, but it was always worth it for those “ah-ha!” moments and gratification of finding the right path, or just torturing the guards for a laugh. If you enjoyed the sneaking aspects of the Assassin’s Creed and Dishonored games, and the raunchy humor of Deadpool, all thrown into a world ripped right from Tolkien, you will enjoy Styx: Shards of Darkness.
Styx: Shards of Darkness is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This review is based on a copy provided for that purpose.
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