Styx: Shards of Darkness is a third-person stealth based action adventure available from retail stores and for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS4. Styx: Shards of Darkness is a sequel to Styx: Master of Shadows that released in 2014, alongside being a spin-off from the RPG Of Orcs and Men which released in 2012 having also been developed by Cyanide Studio as well as another fantasy inspired game in the form of Blood Bowl and Blood Bowl II in 2009 and 2015 respectively which pits a variety of species from humans to orcs, elves, dwarves and more in a no-holds barred game of American Football in huge stadiums. Can Styx: Shards of Darkness improve upon its prequel Styx: Master of Shadows to become one of the best third-person stealth action adventures?
The story revolves around Styx being given a mission by an unlikely ally to find the reason why Dwarves and Dark Elves have formed an alliance. However, along the path of Styx’s journey through a prologue and nine chapters; he discovers other strange occurrences such as a shape shifter in possession of a powerful sceptre.
As Styx is an assassin; the player has to be careful with his movement by being as stealthy as possible as there are intricate touches as moving slowly and crouching produces less noise, while keeping to the shadows by extinguishing any torches to reduce the amount of light in the room, crawling through vents and taking cover behind walls and within objects such as barrels, wardrobes and chests to remain unseen, therefore enabling Styx to sneak past enemies and also without having to kill anyone in order to gain ground on his objectives. There are other simple abilities that helps Styx remain unseen such as looking through the key hole of a door before lock picking and opening it to see if there are any enemies on the other side of the door, while the bodies of enemies you have killed have to be hidden out of sight by dragging them into wardrobes, chests or thrown off a ledge into water to not risk alerting an enemy of Styx’s presence.
Styx’s abilities can be significantly upgraded via the skills tree as each skill set contains eight skills comprising of stealth, kill, alchemy, cloning and perception in which they must be individually unlocked as the player cannot randomly choose one of the later skills to enhance. For instance, the stealth skill named persistence reduces the amount of amber required in order for Styx to not only be invisible but also increasing the duration of invisibility by improving his concentration, while the kill skill titled predation allows Styx to kill an enemy walking past a wardrobe or chest that Styx is hiding in before taking the place of Styx within the wardrobe or chest.
Styx: Shards of Darkness’ form of XP and levelling up is centred upon the skills tree as skills can be upgraded in exchange for anywhere between 130 to 350 XP which can be earned by completing multiple missions within a level including retrieving a document, taking the guard’s pay and fleeing from the area; completing side quests such as tearing down every anti-Goblin poster; and achieving insignias including swiftness for completing the level in a quick time, alerting the guards as fewer times as possible, killing a low amount of enemies and collecting tokens, although triggering guards to be alerted results in a reduction of XP. The eighth and final skill within each skill set as referred to as an ultimate skill which requires one pure quartz in addition to 350 XP.
Items can be crafted at crafting tables by combining items that Styx collects throughout the environments such as 4 pieces of iron ore is used to create a bolt, while a vial of life requires one raw amber, insect egg and poisonous spore. However, there are many more items that can be crafted including vials of amber, lockpicks, poisonous traps, an ambered dagger and more besides, although the ability to craft such advanced items must be learned through the alchemy skills tree. Crafted items are useful as bolts will defeat unarmoured enemies and detach chandeliers from a distance, while a vial of life fills four units of the life gauge; therefore it is important to explore the environments as thoroughly as possible to find supplies that are capable of being utilised to create Styx’s essentials.
Character design is as amazing as Styx: Master of Shadows due to Styx’s more detailed character model and animations, while the same can be stated for enemy design. Enemy variety has increased substantially beyond human guards patrolling castles, alongside multiple hostile factions such as the Dark Elves who have evolved from Elves due to their starvation of amber into fanatical expert goblin hunters, while Dwarves wear heavy armour that is impossible to penetrate combined with a perceptive sense of smell resulting in the potential of Styx being hunted by Dwarves from his scent even when he is hidden behind cover.
Environment design is just as gothic and expansive in scale in comparison to its prequel as Styx is surrounded by cobblestones, chandeliers and wooden beams, castles, airships and underground cities, while the environments feature even greater verticality as Styx is capable of aerially traversing to more impressive heights than ever before, alongside plenty of collectible treasure and items situated throughout the environments which pleasantly encourages exploration.
Styx: Shards of Darkness retains Styx’s trademark humour such as numerous reactions when the player’s skill level accidentally gets Styx killed including, “Order in a double pepperoni pizza with cheese, please! This is gonna take time”, “I read the script and I know we get past this. It’s just a matter of time” and “Hey! I won’t tell anyone if you put the level of difficulty down”, while guards have banter with each other and react in amusing ways to catching a glimpse of Styx.
It is disappointing to not see Styx: Shards of Darkness or its prequel receiving a port to a portable platform such as Vita as Cyanide Studio’s output on PSP was pretty good as it included Blood Bowl in addition to Pro Cycling: Season 2007 through 2010. Styx: Shards of Darkness’ remote play performance is excellent as it retains the quality of graphics, audio and general performance from the PS4 version. Control optimisations include taking cover being re-mapped to the top right of the rear touch pad, while amber vision is mapped to the bottom right of the rear touch pad, alongside holding the top left of the rear touch pad before choosing a power and naturally moving the touch pad to the touch screen; therefore resulting in a comfortably playable remote play experience.
The controls are appropriately mapped to the DualShock 4 controller with the control scheme consisting of pressing X to jump; pressing O to crouch or drop from a ledge; pressing triangle to interact such as extinguishing a torch; pressing square to parry an enemies attack or to kill an enemy; pressing L1 to use an item such as drinking a vial of life or amber, throwing knives or sand; holding L2 and pressing X, O, square or triangle to utilise the relevant power; pressing R1 to roll; holding R2 to take cover along walls and objects or hold onto a ledge; holding up on the d-pad to make a noise; holding down on the d-pad to open the inventory; pressing right on the d-pad to quick save; changing the direction of the left analogue stick to move; changing the direction of the right analogue stick to pan the camera; pressing R3 for amber vision; pressing the share button takes you to the share feature menu; and pressing the options button to display the pause menu. Tapping the touch pad displays your primary and secondary mission objectives, skills, craft and equipment, while the light bar is not supported which is surprising given that Styx: Master of Shadows had the light bar producing light blue when Styx was hidden in darkness and white when Styx was surrounded by light, although the light bar would have perhaps been better utilised as an alternative HUD to show Styx’s health. There is no vibration from the DualShock 4 controller which could have gently vibrated when an enemy suspects Styx may be within the vicinity and heavier vibration when Styx has been spotted by an enemy.
Graphically, Styx: Shards of Darkness has clearly been significantly improved upon its prequel as the important graphical elements of a stealth game including lighting and shadows have been noticeably enhanced, while environments and character models also benefit from the upgrade to Unreal Engine 4 from its predecessor.
The presentation of the game is solid with a great user interface across various menus such as the main menu, options menus, co-op menus and gameplay menus with support for navigation via the left analogue stick, directional pad and face buttons, although it does not include support for navigation via the right analogue stick and touch pad. Menu backgrounds focus on Styx looking around a dark environment with a ray of light shining into the darkened room as he pounds his hands together, limbering up his shoulders in preparation of his balance for when he needs to move stealthily and rather comedically scratching his bum.
A talented cast of voice-over artists bring life to their respective characters through excellent humorous performances including Saul Jephcott reprising his role as Styx having previously voiced Sam and Joey+B42 in Beyond: Two Souls, while David Gasman reprises his role as Aaron and also voicing Arkhail having previously voiced Lieutenant Sherman in Beyond: Two Souls, Pey’j in Beyond Good and Evil and Rayman in Rayman 2, Arena and 3, alongside Barbara Anne Weber Scaff voicing Helledryn having previously voiced Madison Paige in Heavy Rain; Tom Morton returns from voicing guards in Styx: Master of Shadows to voice Djarak; Geoffrey Bateman voices Marhlock having voiced Querberus in Styx: Master of Shadows; and more besides. Sound effects include an emphasis of how loud Styx’s footsteps are to provide a sensual awareness in relation to a nearby enemy, although the footsteps of enemies can also be heard as they become gradually louder as they approach in addition to doors leading into rooms, wardrobes and chests opening and closing, Styx attacking enemies and enemies attacking him or retaliating, while there are ambient sound effects such as weather conditions, alongside climactic music that paints the picture of the scene. There is no DualShock 4 speaker implementation which could have produced an emphasis on atmosphere such as when Styx is breathing heavily when hiding in a wardrobe or chest during the first-person perspective.
The trophy list includes 38 trophies with 18 bronze trophies, 16 silver trophies, 3 gold trophies and 1 platinum trophy. Easier trophies include the Slowly But Surely? bronze trophy for finishing the introduction; the Morpheus’ Blade bronze trophy for defeating an enemy as he sleeps; and the Goblin Farmer silver trophy for collecting 50 raw materials. Harder trophies include the All Along the Gobtower gold trophy for unlocking gold level insignias in every mission and the Oh My Gob gold trophy for unlocking all skills. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take between 15 to 25 hours to platinum the trophy list.
There are four difficulty levels including discovery, initiated, goblin and master with the major differences being that discovery difficulty is for players who want to explore a stealth game, while initiated difficulty provides enemies that are faster in detecting Styx with increased damage from enemy attacks, although goblin difficulty takes it onto another level as parrying enemy attacks and combat are disabled with enemies detecting Styx much faster, enemy melee attacks killing Styx in one hit and projectiles inflict significantly increased damage meaning that Styx has to rely purely on his stealth capabilities. Master difficulty is the complete opposite to that of discovery difficulty as it is for the most experienced of players as goblin difficulty is essentially accented drastically by disabling manual saves resulting in the player having to reach the next zone or hideout to receive an automatic save.
Online co-operative multiplayer allows two players to play every level together producing further entertaining gameplay which is a big area of improvement over its prequel; however there is no local split-screen co-operative multiplayer which would have elevated Styx: Shards of Darkness even further above its prequel. Perhaps a further creative spin on Styx’s multiplayer gameplay would have been to have a team of goblins versus a team of human guards, Dark Elves or Dwarves with both teams having their own unique offensive and defensive objectives. Elsewhere, despite online leaderboards being discussed for a post-launch patch for Styx: Master of Shadows; they have not materialised on either of Styx’s adventures which could have displayed the best times for completing each level, alongside the best times for completing primary and secondary mission objectives and earning each of the insignias to bronze, silver or gold quality with the most efficiency.
Styx: Shards of Darkness’ replayability stems from expansive environments that produce individually large missions throughout a prologue and 9 levels, alongside bronze, silver and gold quality insignias such as a gold insignia for completing a level with the smallest amount of enemies killed, the fewest number of enemy alerts sounded and a quick time for completing each level to provide multiple reasons to replay every level. Elsewhere there is online co-operative multiplayer, a skills tree that gradually progresses Styx’s abilities in harmony with a form of XP and levelling up, the capability of crafting items and four difficulty levels that will collectively have players returning for quite some time.
- Title: Styx: Shards of Darkness
- Developer: Cyanide Studio
- Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
- System: PS4
- Format: PS4 Blu-Ray Disc/PSN Download
- Cross-Buy: No
- Cross-Play: No
- Players: 1/2 (Online Co-operative Multiplayer)
- Hard Drive Space Required: 11.66GB (Version 1.06)