Release Date: March 14, 2017

Summary:
Something’s gone very wrong with the world. Humans have created factions to fight off a Goblin invasion that they believe threatens their existence. Amidst the chaos rises Styx, a sentient Goblin with a tendency to make terrible puns and references. He ignores the problems of his race and deals with an issue far bigger than himself, all for the promise of what he desires.

“Hey, where is my convenient pile of straw? Where am I supposed to jump to?”

Styx: Shards of Darkness takes the foundations of a conventional stealth game without considering much attempt in trying innovate the genre. This makes the game solid to say the very least, but also lacks far too much in regards to being notable or memorable.

Though Shards of Darkness is chronologically the sequel to 2014’s Styx: Master of Shadows, it serves as a stand-alone rather than a continuation. The game starts off with the titular anti-hero doing what he does best, committing crime and getting away with loot. Yet along the way he finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that sees him aligned with the unlikeliest of allies. His adventure focuses on a personal vendetta and uncovering secrets, all the while traversing through some of the most scenic environments across the game’s world.

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Although the game sees significant improvements in both graphics and game-play, it also suffers a lot of missteps that affect the immersion and enjoyment of the player. Presentation is by far its biggest problem, as it really struggles to try and tell a meaningful story. Pieces of what’s going on are scattered through conversations and cut-scenes, and yet players can never fully feel its depth or value. Instead the game seemingly priorities game-play over narrative, awkwardly pushing players to proceed forward without emphasis towards the significance of their actions.

Game-play also suffers some minor issues, but none that necessarily take away from what Shards of Darkness tries to achieve. Combat for example feels redundant most of the time, as enemies can easily tear you a new one without breaking a sweat. Nevertheless, this emphasises the importance of careful planning and resourcefulness, challenging your ability to think on your feet. Crafting and stat-building also play an integral role with your progression, as Styx’s abilities are essential tools that must be utilised in order to avoid frustration from constantly getting caught and slaughtered.

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A massive commendation should also be made towards the level design, as though the objectives tend to be quite straightforward, there are many routes in which you can take in order to accomplish them. The game also presents side quests that evaluate effectiveness, taking into account speed, precision, and kill count. Players can replay these levels at their own discretion, encouraging them to improve and experiment on their previous runs.

The character of Styx undoubtedly carries the weight of the positives in the game. A loud and foul-mouthed goblin, he takes a stance similar to how we see Deadpool. Though his jokes tend to be stale most of the time, it’s his capacity to be self-aware and address the player that really lets you connect with him. He makes PLENTY of meta references, some of which of which openly satirises other established games in the genre.

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This works well for the most part, as he eases some of the tension with the game’s difficulty and constant ‘You are dead’ screens. Sadly, this characterisation also suffers from the story’s presentation. There is no proper justification in his contribution with the plot, and feels as though he is forced to be the unlikely hero. Which comes as a shame as Styx could’ve easily been made an iconic character in his own right. Sadly, his lack of long-term significance, and the unexplored rich world that he resides in, diminishes any hope for the series to join the ranks of other titles like Hitman or Assassin’s Creed.

Verdict:
Styx: Shards of Darkness is a title that embodies the greatness of stealth games. Challenging and addictive, it really gets you vying to try one more time. However, its glaring story issues knock it down significantly, reminding us the important relationship between narrative and game-play. Still, it’s hard not to recommend the game due to its difficulty and how playable it is, therefore it’s all down how much salt you’re willing to handle after each level.

RATING: 7 out of 10

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