Review – Styx: Shards of Darkness
Styx: Shards of Darkness brings back the irreverent, often foul-mouthed, hero from the first game and challenges him with improved level design and some new skills, as well as the ability to bring a friend along for the ride.
Stealth games are hard to do well, with a balance that needs to be struck between making it approachable to relative newcomers while still offering veterans a challenge. It’s not a problem that can really be solved via difficulty levels, which tend to just make enemies harder or handicap the player’s abilities, it’s something that needs to be handled with improvements to artificial intelligence (AI), gameplay, and level design – and Shards of Darkness nails two of the three.
Styx has a new arsenal of skill available to him in skill trees covering alchemy, cloning, kills, perception, and stealth, and those skills can be combined in unusual ways by expert players. Take Cocoon, for example, which allows Styx to create a cocoon his clone will ‘hatch’ out of. This allows gamers to store (or throw) the cocoon away from where they are, so the clone isn’t stuck appearing beside them. Add the Rebirth skill (allowing Styx to teleport himself to the clone) and gamers can hide the cocoon near a guard post, lure guards away, and then teleport back to the clone to slip past while the clueless guards keep searching where he used to be.
Clueless is a great description, as the only area Shards of Darkness still falls flat in is the AI. Guards in the early levels are just plain dumb and have incredibly poor tunnel vision. While later levels offer up more alert enemies, it’s entirely too easy to abuse their behavior quirks to stay safe.
The biggest change to the game is the addition of cooperative play, a great addition to the franchise. Hiding inside a cabinet or crate to ambush an unsuspecting guard that the other player lured nearby is surprisingly fun, as is taking out multiple guards at the same time with coordinated attacks.