Styx: Shards of Darkness review (PC)

Styx: Shards of Darkness follow up on 2014’s Styx: Master of Shadows, a bit of a sleeper hit in the stealth action genre that was well-received despite not setting the videogame community alight. The 2017 sequel improves on the original in a number of ways, and gives Styx fans a worthy follow-up.

A direct follow-up to the original game, the story in Shards of Darkness unfolds after the events of the first game are wrapped up. This isn’t a rehash of the first game though, as Shards takes you on an adventure through a number of different and interesting locations – making this is a far more diverse experience than Master of Shadows was. In the game world, you’ll come across locations that are inhabited by dwarves and elves – and they look like you’d expect, with the grimy workmanship-like look of the dwarves offset with the beauty of the elven art and architecture.

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Styx himself is definitely a constant factor between the two games. Still cynical, still rude and still rocking a bad temper, this is the anti-hero we remember from the first game. It might not be everyone’s taste, but I really enjoyed how different Styx is from your average protagonist – even the stealthy ones. One area where Styx did change in his ability to move around the game’s levels and many routes – climbing, jumping and traversing obstacles feels somehow smoother than it did before, and it’s the kind of refinement that really shows off when you start exploring the different paths you have for getting from A to B. Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten more comfortable with Styx after playing the first game, but my feeling is that Shards of Darkness gives players a lot more room to be adventurous – with more options to approach and thus more replayability.

Things like ropes and grappling hooks allow you to travel up and down in your quest to remain unseen, which is great both in terms of opening up new routes and in instilling a feeling of immersion. If a route looks possible, it very often is – and Styx’ skill set is perfectly tailored to this kind of approach.

Styx still prefers to stay away from combat, and still with good reason – our little goblin isn’t too proficient in melee combat unless he performs a sneak attack. Get caught up in a one on one situation, and Styx feels like a fish out of water. Your best option is usually to get away as quickly as possible, and although that makes sense with opponents who clearly outpower you it would have been nice to have a bit more combat versatility for some of the weaker opponents.

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Speaking of your opponents, they generally aren’t too smart in the AI department. When they develop a sense that Styx might be nearby because of your movements, they’ll briefly search for him, but they’ll quickly go back to what they were doing initially as if nothing ever happened. This allows for you take a vanilla approach to the situation where you’d expect some kind of heightened state of alertness that you either work around or exploit.

Besides the AI, the other shortcoming that Styx has is probably in its writing. Styx isn’t a likeable character, but that’s intentional – it’s the main story plot and the way other characters fit into it that’s a little thin. Quests seem random (especially side quests) and the main campaign is full of the kinds of story elements that we’ve seen countless times before.

Don’t let that stop you from enjoying Styx: Shards of Darkness though – ignore the small AI and combat issues and you’re looking at an excellent stealth action adventure with a high emphasis on agility and an efficient use of the shadows. Locations and animations both look wonderful, and I’m already looking forward to my second playthrough so I can try a few different things I had ideas for during my first time playing it.

Score: 7.6/10

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