Review: Styx: Shards of Darkness
Have you ever wondered what everyday life was like for those mischievous goblins from Golden Axe? You know, those thieving twerps who would knick all your stuff while you were sleeping. Well, wonder no more! Styx: Shards of Darkness gives us a goblins-eye view of the world and it’s one where stealth is of the utmost importance.
Playing as the titular Styx, players will find themselves skulking about in the darkness and employing distraction techniques in both assassination and theft quests. This isn’t the stealth-lite we’ve become accustomed to in recent years, but a return to the true roots of the genre. Get spotted and you’re usually toast because all you can do is parry and counter-attack, encouraging the player to either evade and escape or simply not get spotted in the first place.
The game introduces the player to Styx’s skills including invisibility and, erm.. vomiting up a clone of yourself, without throwing you in at the deep end. But it doesn’t babysit you either. Only through careful application of these techniques and subtle environment manipulation can a player hope to succeed. Want to cause a distraction or take out some guards? A well-timed chandelier drop will do the trick. Been spotted? Good thing you sabotaged the alarm to take out the guard that rings it! Forwards planning and environmental awareness will make a goblin’s life much easier.
Gameplay-wise there are some minor irritations that prevent the title from achieving true greatness. For example, when trying to drop a recently deceased guard into the drink you’ll often find that he gets stuck on the edge of a platform, hanging there like a massive ‘call the alarm’ red flag. Also when moving Styx through the levels the controls can feel overly fussy. This can be a problem, especially when you need to move swiftly through an area crowded with guards.
Which is a shame because the game otherwise does a fine job of orienting the player by using camera angles to aid your stealthy ways, pulling out to reveal the surroundings when you jump in a barrel or switching to first person as you crawl under a cart. It really shows us the world through Styx’s eyes and it adds immeasurably to our identification with him. Coupled with a surprisingly involving story, one can’t help but root for the snarky little snotbag. Even after he’s called you an idiot for letting him die!
As you push on through the story there are some light crafting options which can help stock up useful items like poison. You can either do this at Styx’s hideout or on-the-job if you find a crafting table during a mission. It’s a well thought out mechanic that encourages the player to look out for potential ingredients while they prowl in the shadows. Crucially, it adds to the gameplay without feeling like an imposition. This thoughtful design extends to the stealth mechanic, with Styx’s dagger growing ever brighter the more concealed he is. A simple trick, but it’s one that avoids unnecessary HUD that can distance players from the game world.
To sum up
Styx is a curiously interesting blend of ’90s videogame humour, medieval fantasy and satisfyingly old-school stealth. The music and visuals create a lived-in, breathable world that you’ll enjoy causing chaos in and the game is only slightly handicapped by occasionally imprecise controls. Overall, Styx: Shards of Darkness remains a worthwhile experience that brings out the goblin in all of us!
Version reviewed: PS4
Styx: Shards of Darkness is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.