There is something about being mocked by Styx during Styx: Shards of Darkness that reveals what has improved since Styx: Master of Shadows. The green assassin with an attitude has received a sense of humour overhaul and it definitely shows. If you’ve played the original game, you’ll know what to expect in terms of gameplay: this is an unforgiving stealth game which will punish you for being caught. Assassinations may be fun, but if you try to take part in hand-to-hand combat then you are going to suffer. If you get the hang of the stealth approach though then you are in for a rewarding experience.
In Styx: Shards of Darkness we pick up as the Assassin as he is doing one of his more usual heists, and everything is going well. That is until he is accosted by some humans to steal a sceptre, which then in turns pulls him into an encounter with a shape shifting dark elf. From there on things take a much darker turn for the snarky green one.
Styx: Shards of Darkness has an interesting heist feel to it, with each mission giving the player a set of goals which need to be met. This can be to murder some enemy, find the papers required to complete a job, or even to eavesdrop on enemies dotted around the map. When it comes to level design, at first I found myself complaining that a little more work could have gone into helping me get around. I soon worked out though that it isn’t a design flaw in the missions, it is more a case of making my job harder. There are many ways to complete each level, but don’t expect them to be handed over easily. With Styx, the best approach is to go for the highroad, or if you are feeling lucky, find a lower route. Going through the front door leads to inevitable doom. With your amber vision helping to see where enemies are, you soon figure out just what is possible.
Death is very switch in the game, especially if you are discovered. If you’ve managed to add to your skill trees, then there are chances your new abilities can help you push through the level. With each new destination adding more variety of enemies though this isn’t always the case. Some of the most annoying are the ones that can’t be killed by Styx’s knife. Thankfully though there are environmental ways to do them in. When it comes to Styx’s abilities, this time round I found there seemed to be less of a focus on them. While the clone may be a good distraction and invisibility helps a lot, many times these were forgotten as I found the best route around enemy guards. There is a certain beauty to finding the perfect route to where you are aiming for, and Styx is thankfully responsive enough to many times do what you want. Though it is noted that at times you’ll fall to your doom because the stupid green idiot didn’t grab on in time.
While Styx: Shards of Darkness does tend to suit a controller, on the PC I did find that keyboard and mouse offered a more versatile style of gameplay for controlling Styx. While I did find myself having to re-check what keys activated what, for the most part the control scheme just feels to work best with this method. Obviously, consoles won’t have this choice, but it’s just nice to point this out for the PC people who do welcome these input devices at time. Not all of us have a love affair with the control pad. When it comes to graphics and sound, the game does look beautiful. While Styx and most of the main characters are well acted, some of the other characters do leave a little to be desired. There were times that the immersion of the world was broken by a wooden performance, but thankfully this was few and far between.
One thing that I wasn’t able to look at with the review build of the game was co-op play. This part of the game will be coming as part of a day one patch, so reviewers will be trying this out in the full game when players get the chance too. I’ll admit I’m somebody who will rarely use this form of play so I don’t think it will ruin my enjoyment of the game as a whole.
Styx: Shards of Darkness feels like an improvement from the first game, but also a welcome return to the overall style we know from the past. It doesn’t take long for veterans of the game to feel right at home, but it also welcomes new players too. Styx himself feels like a more rounded character in Shards of Darkness with his knowing style of mocking the player, and this definitely makes things more fun. Just don’t be put off by the punishing style of stealth gameplay.
Styx: Shards of Darkness is available now on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.