Styx: Shards of Darkness is the sequel to the criminally underrated Styx: Master of Shadows, and it may be one of Cyanide’s finest entries to date. Cyanide Studio, founded by seven ex-Ubisoft employees back in 2000, carries somewhat of a cult status among gamers who’ve grown up with PC gaming in the late 80’s and 90’s. They’ve traditionally focused on niche genres like sports management, real time strategy and old-school fantasy RPGs, but Cyanide’s Styx franchise is a more approachable title that bridges old and new trends and gameplay mechanics. Styx borrows elements from modern AAA titles and injects them with a heavy dose of nostalgia. If you’re fan of stealth classics like Thief, Hitman and/or Tenchu, you’ll absolutely love the challenges, surprises and personality Styx brings to the genre.
Styx: Shards of Darkness can be best described as a third-person interpretation of Dishonored. It appropriates a similar tone, pacing and world structure. Levels are divided into sandbox hubs that emphasize verticality and explorable interiors, and Styx is equipped with a series of Amber abilities (magical traits) that give him the upper hand during his adventure, much like Dishonored’s Corvo and Emily. But unlike the all-powerful Dishonored duo, Styx is defenseless against most enemies head-on and his special abilities are severely limited. As a goblin, he is feebler than humans, and even with his skills maxed out, he’s incapable of taking down heavily armored guards. This forces gamers to rely on sneaky stealth tactics since one-on-one conflict leads to guaranteed death.
"Styx borrows elements from modern AAA titles and injects them with a heavy dose of nostalgia. If you’re fan of stealth classics like Thief, Hitman and/or Tenchu, you’ll absolutely love the challenges, surprises and personality Styx brings to the genre."
In order to use his abilities, Styx requires a regular fill of Amber. Amber, however, is difficult to come by, as are the ingredients necessary to craft the substance. The same goes for health potions and acid fluxes used to dispose of dead bodies. Thankfully, reserving Amber abilities and tools (like throwing knives) for only the stickiest of situations ensures you’ll always have an ample supply of materials. It’s within these limitations that the game provides genuine freedom and opportunity.
Since you can’t zig zag across levels like a madman and kill everyone in sight, you’re forced to explore every corner, and experiment with each new room, hallway and piece of furniture. Everything can be used to your advantage if you know where to look. The levels feel more like playgrounds than most other open-world titles because you can’t skip over the fun parts. Most sandbox titles fail in this regard because the “toys” get more attention in terms of usability than the setting. This isn’t the case for every open world game, of course, but it’s a common symptom that I’m happy to report Styx: Shards of Darkness is entirely free from. Your tools are just that, a means to gain a slight advantage when everything else fails, but it’s the setting and its labyrinthine design that sports the most versatility in gameplay.
"All these little changes enrich the experience, resulting in a sequel that feels more technically well-rounded when compared to Master of Shadows."
If you’ve played the original Styx: Master of Shadows, you’ll be pleased to hear that the sequel fixes most of the predecessor’s greatest annoyances. Styx can finally hang off a ledge without fumbling to death every time he steps down. Now, you simply hold the right shoulder button while moving towards a ledge, and Styx will hang automatically without falling. It’s a small tweak with a big impact. Secondly, using Amber vision (a semi X-Ray view) is triggered with the R3, instead of the L2+ Triangle combo. This makes it easier to use the ability when hanging off ledges and rotating the camera. Door unlocking animations are also much faster, parrying is more fluid resulting in smoother takedowns and the UI has been revamped with a more contemporary and easier to use layout. All these little changes enrich the experience, resulting in a sequel that feels more technically well-rounded when compared to Master of Shadows.
On the other hand, platforming remains one of the game’s biggest downfalls. Styx still requires absurd precision when jumping across wide gaps, and while the platforming has been improved from its predecessor, it’s still a major detractor from an otherwise excellent experience.
"Styx: Shards of Darkness is a brilliant sequel to one of the best stealth games in recent memory. I honestly don’t understand why this series hasn’t received greater attention."
Like the original release, Styx: Shards of Darkness continues to impress with its visually rich environments and macabre tone. The depressive spirit of Styx’s world is beautifully complemented by the writers' satirical sense of humor. This results in an engrossing adventure that sucks you in from the get-go. The levels vary between grandiose and claustrophobic. It’s a thrilling ride that constantly takes players to unexpected places. Just when you thought you’ve seen everything the game has to offer, you’re greeted by an unexpected setting that completely changes the way you approach your objectives. This remains true during the entire 10+ hours it took me to complete the main campaign.
Conclusion: Styx: Shards of Darkness is a brilliant sequel to one of the best stealth games in recent memory. I honestly don’t understand why this series hasn’t received greater attention. It’s one of the few modern games that captures the spirit of old-school titles without sacrificing modern gameplay conventions most of us have grown accustomed to over the years. If you’re even remotely interested in the stealth genre, Styx: Shards of Darkness absolutely belongs in your collection!