In an age of shooters and bombastic titles, Styx: Shards of Darkness is a refreshing breath of fresh air. A pure stealth experience of the kind not seen since the Splinter Cells of old, Cyanide’s latest game is focused on proper stealth, instead of the action-centred excuses for sneakiness of modern times. It sets out to be a stealth game, and it accomplishes that thoroughly.
The eponymous hero is a smart-ass old goblin, as comfortable in the shadows as he is making fun of the player. Styx constantly comments on his surroundings and exhibits a notable amount of self-awareness, breaking the fourth wall not constantly, but reliably enough to make it a thing. The attempts at humour permeate the game, and they vary in quality and effectiveness -- some of them are really good, while others will definitely make you cringe. Overall, they’re passable, and aside from the ones on game over screens, they don’t often overstay their welcome.
Unfortunately, you will be seeing a lot of those game over screens. Styx is brutally difficult, and even on normal, all you need is a couple of sword strikes or a medium fall to end the goblin’s life. This is a stealth title first and foremost, and an old-school one at that: you’re meant to sneak your way through levels using care and gile, not bashing in through strength and brute force. Styx has all the tools to sneak around, distract, and dispatch enemies silently, and the title's focus is on subtlety; this is a stealth game like the original Splinter Cell, and a very good one at that.
A stealth title is not very good at stealthing if it’s linear, and luckily, Styx isn’t. While the mission themselves are fairly straightforward, every single part of a level has multiple paths in an out, providing you with several sneaky routes; windows, doors, roofs, basements, ledges, ropes -- they’re all within your reach as viable furtive options. As you surreptitiously make your way towards various devious objectives, Styx is able to extinguish torches, turn invisible, and even create clones of himself, alongside more common options such as killing, poisoning, and dropping chandeliers on people. Your shifty undertakings are further enhanced by classical stealth elements long gone from modern games -- such as muffling the noise by jumping on a carpet when dropping from heights -- along with slightly more present ones, like looking through keyholes or hiding bodies in containers. All the mechanics tie together to make Styx: Shards of Darkness a surprisingly good stealth game.
Technically, this is a well polished title with some good production values. Graphics are great, not trying to be a technical showcase while achieving their purpose and feeling decidedly “next-gen”. The audio mixing is a bit iffy, with music and dialogue in pre-rendered cutscenes dissonating and feeling a bit off -- weirdly, audio levels are properly mixed throughout the rest of the game and even on in-engine cutscenes, creating a very curious conundrum. The voice cast is quite good, with the voice actor for Styx in particular being spot on -- even if the jokes aren’t.
Thanks to skill trees and collectibles, the gameplay gets extended a little bit past the end of the main campaign, giving you a reason to visit past levels in order to fully level up Styx. The addition of co-op also greatly increases the replayability, allowing for sneaky shenanigans with friends (or strangers) to abound across the dark medieval world of Shards of Darkness.
The game doesn’t really worry too much about a plot; there is a story somewhere in there about dark elves forming a suspicious alliance with the dwarves, but that mainly acts as a foil to move the plot along. It provides the excuse for a welcome change of environments throughout levels, and what little story there is keeps you entertained while not being dull.
In the end, Styx: Shards of Darkness is a surprisingly old-school and well-crafted stealth game, providing a welcome sneaky outlet in a world so often focused on open combat. With good gameplay, great production values, and a plot that never gets in the way of the action, Styx: Shards of Darkness should definitely be part of every stealth fan’s library.
Styx: Shards of Darkness (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
A surprisingly old-school and well-crafted stealth game, Styx: Shards of Darkness is a welcome sneaky outlet in a world so often focused on open combat.