Review

Styx: Shards Of Darkness Review

  • First Released Mar 14, 2017
    released
  • PC

Styx to the formula.

As you sit atop a wooden beam observing patrol patterns, you plot a series of moves: fire a bolt at the overseeing guard right when another walks into your acid trap, swoop in to snatch the loot and run off before anyone else notices. If it doesn’t go according to plan, you’ll cloak, hide in a closet, and slip out as the investigating party turns its backs to your exit. Styx: Shards of Darkness attempts to deliver such thrills, and at times it succeeds. However, these moments are sparse since you’re rarely put in a position where cunning is required. Ultimately, the game adheres to typical stealth conventions and pits you against foolish AI, with mission objectives that fail to make the most of the game's sprawling environments.

Shards of Darkness marks the return of the titular protagonist Styx, a foul-mouthed Goblin who originated in the 2012 RPG Of Orcs and Men. The 2014 prequel Styx: Master of Shadows was the spin off that made the shift to third-person stealth-action. Neither is required to engage in this new low-fantasy adventure, though some things remain constant. The substance known as Amber governs the world as an energy source. Humans, Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs are caught up in a power struggle while Goblins, like Styx, are treated as vermin.

A new material, called Quartz, shakes up the established political landscape and you embark on a journey to unravel its implications. However, twists and turns throughout the story lack any sort of gravitas. The supporting cast of characters like Helledryn and Djarak are integral to the events that unfold, but their motivations aren’t quite clear or put into a larger context. The same can be said about Styx, who seems to be suspect of those around him but is willing to go along with whatever plan his newfound partners put together without much thought. His convictions are flimsy and hardly go in any direction.

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Styx himself is written to be comically vulgar, but attempts at humor fall flat. The heavy-handed self-referential and fourth wall-breaking quips throughout the game aren’t clever and often don’t fit the tone of the world. Important story events that occur mid-mission--that should induce panic in those within the vicinity--don’t translate to much of any consequence in-game. The premise is primitive, and the story only serves as a vehicle for the thrill of avoiding detection or executing assassinations.

The majority of your main quest is subject to making it to a certain point in the level or snatching a specific item. Hardly are there ever twists or curve balls in the mission parameters to keep things interesting, aside from a mid-game break in the traditional mission design. While side objectives emerge as you traverse levels, they often result in simply going to another room you wouldn’t otherwise or killing a certain NPC. A few puzzles are sprinkled here and there to break up the pace, but feel more like a diversion than a compliment. The sense of trepidation from other stealth games or situations that require you to think on your feet are few and far between.

Shards of Darkness would be nothing without its fluid controls. Running, crouching, and jumping are responsive and complement the opportunities to interact with your environment. A cover mechanic makes Styx adhere to the nearest wall and often recognizes your intended cover. That same button also lets Styx grab onto the ledge if you walk off the edge of a surface, which helps avoid dangerous falls and makes engaging in wall scaling a breeze. Leaping for ledges to reach new heights or shimmy across to bypass a locked door provides a smooth flow for combing through the levels. Scaling cliffs at the port in Korrangar highlights a sense of verticality and the ability to engage these heights.

A five-pronged skill tree is in place to help build the type of character you want Styx to be; learn to craft new items through the alchemy tree or earn the talent to assassinate enemies from above in the kill tree. Amber--akin to mana--fuels Styx’s powers. Spawn a clone to act as a controllable dummy and lure enemies or cloak to simply pass by unnoticed. Amber vision highlights key objects within the surrounding area, and doesn’t cost anything to activate, though it will fade out as you move. These abilities form a neat toy box to pull from throughout the game.

Styx also has a few tools at his disposal, such as acid traps and deadly bolts for a lethal approach, and balls of sand to extinguish fires and glass bottles for distractions. One of the more useful items is the odorous vial, which masks your musty goblin scent from the sharp noses of dwarves who will detect you if you’re in their proximity. These items can be picked up along the way, but you’ll more commonly acquire them by crafting from raw materials. The crafting system is simple and functional, and gives a slight incentive to examine your surroundings.

So many tools and abilities are at your disposal and should make for enticing permutations in your encounters, but the scope in which you’re asked to exercise these capabilities is underwhelming.

Enemy AI is a throwback to the early days of stealth games, and that’s not a compliment. They’ll go through the traditional behavior states, like searching, alert, and hostile phases. Guards searching for you will relegate their sighting to cliches like, “it was just a shadow,” or, “my mind was playing tricks,” as they return to a normal state. Enemies will occasionally keep you on your toes during alert phases as they’ll look in closets, under tables, and over ledges where you could hide. But if they lose track of you in a hostile phase or discover dead bodies--even of important figures--NPCs will eventually return to their patrol as if nothing had happened. Along with predictable patrol patterns, enemies are frequently in simplistic arrangements. They often act as separate entities and lack dynamic behavior. You’re often left unchallenged and can resort to unsophisticated solutions to complete mission objectives.

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Combat isn’t a focus of the game, and it shows. The system in place is reduced to a clunky one-button parry that allows you to pounce the enemy after a successful block. If multiple guards are in close proximity, the game will struggle to recognize which one you’re parrying and often negates your ability to make a kill in combat. Certain skills can make this easier, but you’re better off avoiding it all together. Even if it’s intended to be used sparingly in tight situations, its implementation is off the mark.

Despite these shortcomings, smooth traversal mechanics and useful abilities are supplemented by the sprawling environments and dense levels throughout the game. The scale of Hunter’s Village astonishes as you step out of a deep, dark dungeon and overlook this seaside city. It’s riddled with houses full of loot, guards that detect you in different ways, and objectives that take you through every nook and cranny. Hopping from house to house unnoticed, keeping your distance from nosey dwarves, while investigating the location of quest items is Shards of Darkness at its best.

Even the shadowy underground fortresses have a grand scale and inspire awe. But the underlying disappointment is that you’re rarely given much of a reason to explore. That is unless you embark on the search for tokens, arbitrarily scattered throughout each mission. And despite the well-crafted environments, the game recycles these locations at the halfway point of Styx’s latest journey.

If you’re in for a challenge, higher difficulties will make detection parameters more strict and disable the combat system entirely. Guards are quicker to reach a heightened alert state and will kill you in one melee attack. Styx can’t take much damage on normal difficulty, but to escape pursuing guards will require much more effort. Carelessness will get you killed so expect more of a trial-and-error experience. You also have the option to disable objective markers, separate from difficulty, and to encourage more exploration.

Co-operative play is a new addition to the series, and it allows you to play the story missions with a friend or a random player through matchmaking. You have the option to enable co-op at any point in a mission as a host in “Create a Clone” and a player searching for a game will connect. “Become a Clone” puts you in a search for a random game to join. This can be a fun feature but it’s more of a hinderance than an advantage, not because of unpredictable player skill, but because there are now two players that can get caught. It’s also impossible to communicate if you're not using a third-party chat service. Co-op alongside a friend is much more viable and makes for brilliantly fun instances, but note that disabled saving forces you to finish missions in one fell swoop.

The better moments of Styx: Shards of Darkness are confined to a path that has already been tread in the stealth-action genre, but that doesn't mean they aren't valuable here. The thrill of pulling off a flawless assassination as you smoothly sneak off with valuable artifacts is what makes these types of games worth playing. But its detractors--cliche writing, unsophisticated AI, and arbitrary quests--culminate to an experience that feels like it's stuck in the past.

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The Good
Fluid, responsive controls
Sprawling level design with a sense of verticality
Skills and environments allow for fun improvisation
The Bad
Primitive AI
Weak writing, attempts at humor fall flat
Bland mission objectives that often don’t make use of levels
Poorly implemented combat system induces trial-and-error
6
Fair
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Michael grew up revering stealth-action games like the original Thief and Splinter Cell. He spent about 20 hours with Styx’s new adventure on PC, completing every side quest presented, experimenting with different play styles, and experiencing the co-op mode. A complimentary copy was provided by Focus Home Interactive.
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Bkali23

i love this video game. if u dont like it or want to say bad words about it then don't come here at all and talk nonsense

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Progue

I don't believe that Gamespot managed to give a game from this franchise the lowest rating from all reviewers 2nd time in a row, again about 2/10 lower than most popular sites. I'd suggest Cyanide removing parrying completly so idiots writing these reviews would stop complaining. You're NOT supposed to fight, deal with it or just play on goblin.

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Ezioprez9709

The chances of me getting this are actually quite high. Although I've yet to finish Master of Shadows, I found that game to be very fun and somewhat underrated.

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Gelugon_baat

@Ezioprez9709: I would say that it deserves its underrated status.

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bonafidetk

Seems like they poured their effort into the graphics instead of the gameplay and story. It's a shame they didn't fix the problems from the first game. This review is probably fair considering the game is Triple-A price in the UK and the game feels indie.

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johnrayjr

Even if this is almost identical to Master of Shadows, if the load times are greatly reduced, I would play it.

Probably not on the level of Dishonored, but the intricate level design alone is worth it for stealth fans.

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johnrayjr

Its detractors?

Jesus. Detractors is not a fancy synonym for flaws. Detractors are the people who expose something's flaws, who make the case that it is bad.

I usually wouldn't comment but come on. This is paid work.

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SingletreeAve

@johnrayjr: I thought detractors are those idiots near you in a bar that deter beautiful women from approaching you.

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ibonedyourmom

@johnrayjr: Seriously? It can be used as a synonym for flaw, numbnuts. Something that detracts from the experience = detractor.

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johnrayjr

@ibonedyourmom: Detractor has never meant "something that detracts from the experience," but honestly, don't take my word for it. Spend 5 minutes doing the research.

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brandiesel

The first game was boring after an hour.

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unreal_master

I don't understand how you make a sequel that has the same exact issues as the previous title.

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RaveNRolla

I don't think i could play this after Dishonored. Master of Shadows was free for ps+ some time ago, but i got bored pretty fast. I was pretty much doing the same as in Dishonored, like finding a good hiding spot and observe enemy routes, make a plan and execute it (hopefully succesfully). But then Dishonored is just a whole different animal. the world, the gadgets, the powers, the myriad ways to beat a level, the side quests, which almost always give you a handy reward (like opening a new path), the dialogues of civilians and enemies alike and most of all the fact that you can customize you HUD exactly how you want it (read: get rid of all those stupid stupid stupid waypoints and redundant information á la "you can't carry anymore ammo because your inventory is full dumbass" made for 12 year-old gamers that don't care about immersion). big thumbs up for the Styx devs that they included the possibility of turning off waypoints as well. this should be implemented in ALL games!

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vigariox

After the boredom I had to endure in part 1, I was hoping this one will get better coz the game has all it takes to be a great stealth game. Seems to have fallen short yet again unfortunately.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

I don't fully understand how you people who like the previous game could like it enough to defend it from unfavourable reviews so ardently. The only things that I would praise it for are its impressive verticality and its overarching plot, but Master of Shadows falters at everything else.

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Gelugon_baat

@wexorian: If you buy a sequel because you liked the predecessor, you yourself are part of the problem that is fools following a series because of blind loyalty.

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mpl911

@Gelugon_baat: I think I see what you're saying but I think you phrased it badly. Everybody who enjoys a game will always be looking to the next one to extend, or hopefully build upon, the enjoyment and fun that he / she got from the first game. This worked for the first few CoD's, BF's, GTA's, etc. Though there's little doubt that CoD may have had its day and is no longer improving on earlier games, the GTA's are getting generally better; whether you prefer GTA4 or 5, not many would argue that those 2 are better than previous GTA's.

I think what you mean is enjoying "Game A" then just blindly buying "Game A 2" without checking any reviews or, even worse, pre-ordering it, is unwise. I'd definitely agree with that; I've never pre-ordered any game no matter how excited I was for it.

I loved State of Decay, Project Cars and Dishono(u)red so was excited for Dishono(u)red 2 and am looking forward to PC2 and SoD2.

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PutASpongeOn

"Combat system"

Lol, no, it's a stealth game, a very top end AA stealth game at that, a true stealth game.

The first game was great and this game improves on it in every way, what a trash review.

This game deserves around an 8/10 like everyone else is giving it.

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Mogan

@putaspongeon: Everyone else is giving this game an 8/10? Not from what I'm seeing on Metacritic.

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unreal_master

@putaspongeon: A 6 is easily the best score for this game. To say they improved in every way is largely a false statement. The issues from the first game are still present in this. I guess you like the boss fights too.

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PutASpongeOn

@unreal_master: Best score? This game is one of the best AA games out there and it's a solid stealth game.

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unreal_master

@putaspongeon: Not even remotely true or factual. If you don't play games that often and this was one of the few you've played than maybe? The entire game is broken from start to finish. It's a sequel that barely does anything to fix the issues present in the previous title. Most of the stuff doesn't work properly or how you would want it to. Why did I die five times trying to climb a wall and jump on to a rope? It's because the controls are so clunky and floaty. Nothing flows the way it should. They want you to believe its this HARD CORE stealth game but its not. You barely have resources to even use the skills they give you. I'm not trying to roam around an entire level to look for materials so I can craft stuff. They don't want you to do combat but they sure do have skills that say other wise. You can't kill humans if you want a perfect gold score but by all means kill bugs who stack on top of each other and get alerted the moment one is killed. Oh were you walking around sneaking passed the bugs? WHOOPS egg explosion with baby bugs chasing you. Jump up oops! You missed the object to grab onto. Try again oops you missed now you're dead. Oh did you use all your resources to finally get to your objective. Well thats nice heres a boss that shoots infinite acid balls at you while you try to disarm crystals. Oh here infinite Acid breath that barely gives you enough time in between to disarm each crystal. Best AA games out there? No. Solid stealth game? Barely. This is A SEQUEL.

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PutASpongeOn

@unreal_master: List off better stealth games that have recently released.

Why did you die? Since that's what video gaming is, get better at it.

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unreal_master

@putaspongeon: It's almost impossible to "get better" at it when the game barely functions. I got perfect gold on one level.

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Gelugon_baat

@putaspongeon: You are cherry-picking.

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jepsen1977

@Gelugon_baat:

And you are straw(berry)manning.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@jepsen1977: That's a nonsensical statement on your part.

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jepsen1977

@Gelugon_baat:

Only if you lack a sense of humour.

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Gelugon_baat

@jepsen1977: I don't lack a sense of humour. Rather, you have a shitty sense of humour.

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highammichael

@putaspongeon: My gripes with the combat is that it's badly implemented. If it remained minimal but didn't bug out on who I had to parry, I wouldn't have a problem with it. If that's what makes this a "trash" review, then uhhhhhhh ok.

Staff
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PutASpongeOn

@highammichael: The game is meant to be a stealth game, it goes out of it's way not to have effective combat that allows you to defeat a small army like in assassins creed since this is 100% a stealth game. If there is one opponent you should fight maybe, if there are more than 1 opponent, you should run and try to re-establish stealth.

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r31ya

@highammichael: The commenters culture in GS is a bit "negative" to say it mildly.

There will be always people that bitch on Good score being payed score, or bitch on biased/incompetency on low score.

You gonna need thicker skin if you want to last long in Gamespot.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@highammichael: Next time, you might want to rephrase your remarks about combat carefully. There are a lot of fanboys out there who would make a lazily convenient jab at your skill.

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KumasiPlays

Hey everyone! If you like gameplay videos, please give my youtube channel a try! Here is a sample of what I do! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzrT79EcvLk

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turretx7

@kumasiplays: Subbed! - NOT! :D

Avatar image for deactivated-5a26032528a9b

"This here sneak sneak shadow game is by the numbers."

6

"This here boom boom macho men pew pew game is by the numbers."

7

:/

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@pmcollectorboy: Apples and oranges.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@RogerioFM: I know, I know. Individual opinions and all that.

But really, nowadays, I make my decisions based on sales discounts and, more importantly, the amount of third-party documentation, user complaints on forums, and videos that are out there on a game.

That's more reliable than any reviewer.

P.S. Unfortunately, this doesn't work so well if the game is really obscure.

Avatar image for RogerioFM
RogerioFM

@Gelugon_baat: Yeah, forums and gameplay videos are one of the better ways to gauge the quality of a game, you cut through a lot of bullshit when you go directly to the targeted audience, even in forums where there are a lot of idiots, sometimes you get a lot of insightful opinions from people who have no reason to form an opinion based on business pressure.

And gameplay videos, well, unless you're watching a Polygon video, they're mostly incredibly reliable.

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Gelugon_baat

@RogerioFM: I guess people still haven't gotten over how much Polygon staffers suck at Doom, huh? :P

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Bermil

I was hoping that the second part would be way better than the first one. I might get it on a sale or something

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PutASpongeOn

@bermil: It is, this is just a bad reviewer who probably sucks at the game.

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unreal_master

@putaspongeon: Sucks at the game? If you've played it you would know how obnoxious it is. They did almost nothing to improve the game and the issues the first title has.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@putaspongeon: The reviewer actually said the enemies are stupid and easy to take out. :\

You are just imposing your presumptions - again.

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highammichael

@putaspongeon: that's messed up

Staff
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wexorian

Gonna get this with price cut, i don't trust GS scores anyways.

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Mogan

@wexorian: What's trust got to do with a review score?

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wexorian

@Mogan: They gave first game 5 grabbed it for 15$ and it deserved more. And if you buy game on SCORES only you have problem YOU are part of the problem.

Styx: Shards of Darkness More Info

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  • First Released Mar 14, 2017
    released
    • PC
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    Styx’s sneaky adventure comes back with new features, new environments, and Unreal Engine 4!
    7.2
    Average Rating24 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Styx: Shards of Darkness
    Developed by:
    Cyanide
    Published by:
    Focus Home Interactive, Intergrow
    Genre(s):
    Action, Adventure
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language