The stealthy Goblin thief is back.
Cyanide’s latest videogame offering, Styx: Shards of Darkness, marks the second solo outing for the green-skinned thief. Styx may not be a lovable protagonist, he is a slimy Goblin after all and has all of the charm of a landfill site, but he is damn good at what he does, which is sneak around and steal stuff.
Still, players of Shards of Darkness will be spending a fair amount of time with the Goblin across the multiple levels offered in this dark and gritty fantasy world, so will have to find something to like. Maybe players will be able to fall in love with Styx’s humour, and the way he occasionally breaks the fourth wall with Deadpool style comments? Not all of his quips hit the mark, but there are more than enough that will raise a chuckle to keep the game entertaining. Perhaps they will find Styx’s wide range of skills a reason to keep coming back, and his ability to approach problems from many different directions in order to complete objectives? Or it could be the simple fact that Shards of Darkness is a true stealth game, a game in which Styx is so out-powered by the enemies that resorting to combat really should be a last resort that will more often than not result in death.
Whatever the reason for enjoying Styx’s company, the fact that he is the most likable character in this fantasy world really does show how gritty the world is. Shards of Darkness, which is set some years after Master of Shadows, sees out hero being offered a job with the promise of being rewarded with loads of Amber, a substance that he covets dearly. Still, in this world of duplicitousness and danger, it’s not going to be a straight forward theft, and Styx will find himself embroiled in all manner of intrigue.
The story is good and sets up the world in which Styx exists nicely, but the real star of the show is the stealth gameplay and the awesome vertical levels in which the action takes place. These levels are packed with possibility for the accomplished stealth player, and vary wonderfully in their design and aesthetic, at least in the early game. Later though, as the player makes their way through the missions, levels are repeated with slight changes, such as the presence of a different type of enemy. It’s not too much of a big deal though, as there is always something else to see or collect hidden away in the levels, and new opportunities present themselves for the player to take advantage of.
Styx will be spending most of his time hiding away in the shadows, clambering up walls and hanging from ledges, as he attempts to move through levels unseen. Styx’s movement and control is not always as smooth as it could be, but mistakes are far more likely to be down to the player than to any controlling issues. Shards of Darkness is a tough game, which is no bad thing.
So Styx can climb and hide, and we have already established that he can indulge in hand to hand combat, although it is not recommended. But he also has a wide range of other skills that can be employed to reach his objective. Crafting can give way to booby traps or projectile weapons that can be used from a distance. Then there are his more personal skills, such as being able to poison food, turn invisible or, my favorite, vomit up a clone of himself that can be used as a decoy so Styx can run up behind a guard and slit their throat. Clever players will find all manner of different ways to get through the levels, and planning plays an important part in the game. Players are graded in each level depending on how quickly they made it through, how few enemies are killed and how many alarms are activated, giving the game a great replayability.
Styx: Shards of Darkness is a hardcore stealth game that will put the players skills to the test. However, the game manages to progress at a nice pace and never feels unfair or cheap. As a sequel, Shards of Darkness doesn’t throw up any surprises, but still feels like an improvement over the original game. As a pure stealth game, Shards of Darkness is great fun and will be enjoyed by players who prefer to keep to the shadows.