Attention to detail, a cunning ferocity and a love of chaos is all that’s required to make the most of Styx: Shards of Darkness, and when all the above ingredients are present, it’s an absolute pleasure. When just one of those is missing, however, you’ll always feel as if something is missing, and the gameplay won’t click as much as it once had.
Don’t get me wrong, the moment-to-moment gameplay is beautiful to not only be part of, but to witness from an onlooker’s perspective too. I have yet to experience the same feeling, the same rush, as sneaking up on, annihilating an enemy in absolute silence, and sulking off to the shadows manages to produce. As previously mentioned, when it works, it works. If you’re able to achieve the same result without, say, planning your meticulous killing-orientated route, your time with Styx will never feel quite so rewarding. These moments were far too common for my liking and, for all the wrong reasons, it was able to shine a light on the specific parts of your journey that were able to provide you with everything needed. As and when you start to feel just that bit too comfortable in your skills, the game will throw new enemy types at you to change the pace. Whilst they never varied enough to rethink your game style, that were appreciated nonetheless.
Responsive controls, combined with the aforementioned fluid gameplay, is a delight. Be it ledges, tightropes and the like, you constantly feel in control of the titular character. When you succeed, you not only know you earned it, but you feel it too. Likewise, when you fail, you usually have a clear idea of where your plan, or lack thereof, failed, and gives you clear indication on where to improve upon the next try. This old-school mentality of try until you succeed is right at home here, and hand-holding be damned, it only enrichens the experience. RPG elements, including various skill trees, help to show the intricate details in which each environment was created; With one particular skill unlocked, you may choose to poison guards and wait until they take a refreshing drink, and with another, you could send a mindless clone to scout an area, grab attention or, with further unlocks down that path, swap places with the clone in an instant. With stealth games becoming more a playground of destruction, ala Dishonored 2 and Metal Gear Solid 5, Styx manages to put it’s own spin on it and, whilst not necessarily unique, it still appreciated regardless.
Whilst the gameplay elements mentioned above are brilliant, it soon becomes apparent as you progress throughout the title that, seemingly, the full potential was never quite realised when it came to both the story telling and the lore. The writing and plot were often inconsequential, occasionally unnecessary, whilst the tone and repetition of elements, such as the much-beloved but equally frustrating fourth-wall breaking references, would often fall flat. Elements outside of direct storytelling are present that are constantly downplayed when, really, more would have been appreciated in such a potentially lore-heavy universe.
Styx: Shards of Darkness is very much alike it’s prequel, Master of Shadows, with just a bit added on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, having enjoyed the balls off of the original 2014 title, but it wouldn’t have gone amiss to have some more love and care, that’s quite so obviously present, added throughout. I hope that, if Cyanide have the opportunity to create more games in this up and coming series, that they can truly achieve what they are so clearly envision. That will be something truly special, indeed.