Styx is back in full form and crudeness. Shards of Darkness is a sequel to 2014's release of Styx: Master of Shadows that saw the strange protagonist sneak past and assassinate countless guards in an attempt to steal the heart of the World Tree. This time, Styx must infiltrate the city of Dark Elves, known as Korrangar, thanks to the help of humans. Things go wrong though when Styx is merely just a tool and a bigger political plot. Dive into a story filled with betrayal, death, violence, and more as you unravel the meaning of your hiring and get revenge on those wh have put themselves on your 'shit list' with their choices. The title was developed by Cyanide Studio and is published by Focus Home Interactive.
The norm of Humans, Elves, and Dwarves being the good guys is flipped upside down here, and instead will make you give your full support for goblins (or atleast just Styx himself). The game world lets you move freely around but will always try to guide you in the right direction, intertwining the narrative throughout. Styx is not a powerhouse warrior or even someone who could successfully take on a handful of basic guards face-to-face in a well lit room. Where he specializes is in the shadows and secrecy. Sneaking up on enemies as they least expect it, stabbing them brutally with his trusty dagger, and then continuing in the shadows is how he operates. In Hitman fashion you'll also want to hide the bodies somewhere as to avoid alerting anyone. You're not told exactly how to kill, or that you even have to kill at all for the most part.
The game gives you situations and lets you play with how you'll go about solving them as there is more than just one way. If by chance you are detected, you'll enter a situation that requires a parry at just the right moment, or damage will occur. If you are unsuccessful with the parry then you'll be tested again, over and over until you either die or you succeed. The best way to paint the picture of how there are multiple ways to go about missions is to think about Middle-earth. Styx can poison drinking containers, sneak around and take out whichever patrols he wants to and in any order, and use the environment to his advantage. You'll also be able to vomit out a clone that can maneuver its way almost anywhere for any reason.
The game is broken up into levels or chapters that will further be divided up by missions both main and secondary. In-between missions, you'll be in your hideout where upgrades and skills will be unlocked. The skill trees are a major welcome as the first title lacked in this department. You'll gain the skill points required to upgrade throughout the missions, and will need to decide if you spend them 5 different categories: Stealth, Perception, Cloning, Alchemy, and Kill. Co-op play is a major addition to the game and is easy to jump in and out of. All you'll need to do is invite a friend and then you both play through everything you normally would have solo. I found that the game was surprisingly even more fun playing this way, but then again there are very few games that lose entertainment by playing with friends.
Graphics and Sound
One of the first things you'll see about the game is how attractive the world looks. Wether you've played the first (which actually looked really good) or not, you'll be impressed with the details of the environments. You traverse worlds with an amazing amount of verticality, something the first one touched upon but didn't fully commit to in comparison. In a game about shadows, one of the most important things graphically is the lighting, and the game delivers. It's impressive, to say the least, how well the engine and game work to make some truly great looking scenes. You can almost imagine that in the developers' free time they ordered pizzas and focused even more on lighting effects, it's that good.
I didn't see to many technical issues with my play through, although the time that was spent in co-op mode led to a few jumps in screen or gameplay here and there but nothing that I felt was unbearable or drastic. Voice acting is the bread and butter of the game (next to sneaky assassinations). Anyone who knows Styx already knows how vulgar his comments can be and I wouldn't change it for anything, and the developers obviously felt the same way. Other characters in the game will pale in comparison, but they get the job done supporting the story.
ConclusionIf you liked the first game, or are a fan of stealth games, Styx: Shards of Darkness is a great purchase. It's not without its flaws though, but does improve on the prior title in many simple yet big ways. The world is more open and easier to traverse, and overall just looks better. The graphical details have been improved and the lighting is amazing. Sneaking around and assassinating enemies feels smooth and effortless, thanks to new animations, but the camera can put a damper on some movements. There's a couple dozen hours of content inside, even more if you replay it (which would be easily desired), and it'll feel like even more if you grab a friend to join in (try a hard difficulty). The Steam price is extremely good, but the PlayStation price might feel a bit out of budget for what you get. If you love Assassin's Creed, Tom Clancy, and/or other stealth based games like them, this is one for you to checkout.
| + Styx|| - Camera can be annoying at times|
| + Quality stealth gameplay|| - Stealth is only option (depending on person)|
| + Co-op option|