Meet Styx. If you don’t know him, this goblin is quite the mean old enigma. His race is mute and stupid, seen by everyone else as ravenous vermin. Not Styx though. He can talk, use tools and has a wry, potty-mouth. Life has turned him into a sarcastic cynic and who can blame him? His whole species is too dumb to talk to him and almost everyone wants to kill him on sight.
Luckily Styx enjoys the material things in life. Money, shiny daggers, drugs, that sort of thing. He will take any mission that means he gets some amber or money to spend on his hideout and while he ends up in the middle of a large conspiracy involving magic, sacrifice and mind-control through substance abuse, Styx seems to ignore it all if it means he gets to snort something up his nose. So you travel from place to place, avoiding guards and making potions and traps to get around. Get ready to hide in barrels and in the eaves of a building, watching enemy movements and sticking to the shadows.
[pullquote_right]There are many ways to solve puzzles, but your amber reserves run out so quickly that you will only want to use them sparingly or just for emergencies,[/pullquote_right]From here you have a few choices, depending on the skills you went for. You can stick to the rafters and shadows and call an enemy away from his friends to kill him and stash the body, or place acid traps. If you have enough amber in reserve you can turn invisible for a short while to bypass a stubborn guard, or use a clone to create a distraction while you pass. There are many ways to solve puzzles, but your amber reserves run out so quickly that you will only want to use them sparingly or just for emergencies, while stocking up on bits to replenish after using just one trap will make you question if you really need to use one for a troubling section of the map.
Look at this murder cave
The best sections of the game are the elven locations, with cavernous dark areas and lots of nooks to hide away in. I felt like I only really learnt the limitations of the stealth system in the elven areas, where you push to see if enemies can spot you in what is supposed to be complete darkness, but looks pretty bright on the screen. Once you have a grip of where you can go to be completely unseen and how long it takes for an enemy to go from curious to alarmed things start getting smoother. Expect to die a lot and take your time on missions, because a single alarm going off either makes the level that much more difficult, or results in you dying. Apparently Styx is made of wet paper bag.
Styx will often break immersion to call attention to something or speak to the player about the game. The issue with breaking the fourth wall and poking fun at other franchises is that it can easily backfire, especially if there is a lot to critique about your own performance. While it worked really well for say, Deadpool, Styx has moments where it backfires. It is difficult to listen to Styx mock a level designer when you die due to poor platforming controls, or hear him mock Dishonored when there are several systems of the stealth and navigation in Dishonored that outshine Styx. Styx’s humour is something you either like, tolerate or downright hate and I have seen many players put off completely by his jokes.
Play own way, at a cost
Games have a big focus on allowing players to play their own way, but Styx seems to offer this option often but never really let you run with it. Unlike other stealth games that let you lead an assault or turn into a tank for a few seconds to kill your way out of a bad situation, Styx is really really fragile. Some enemies kill you with one attack and off you head to the previous checkpoint or quicksave. The game even lets you choose to be passive, except for the mission required assassinations, letting you pickpocket characters or have someone else kill your target, leaving your hands (relatively) clean. The issue with all these choices is that the scoring system for each level is directly tied to how many skill points you earn. Doing missions without raising the alarm, in the time limit and without killing targets besides the mission critical ones will net you the biggest SP gain, which you need to purchase skills to make you a sneakier goblin. While I get that stealth purists will want to go for the ghosting route, tying that to skill points makes the choice feel forced. If you want to kill everyone in sight you better get enjoyment out of it, because you will be missing SP because you are not showing mercy.
[pullquote_left]In the end Styx: Shards of Darkness isn’t a terrible game. Sadly several elements stop it from reaching the greatness it could have had[/pullquote_left]Besides not sitting well as a gameplay mechanic, it makes no sense in the story. Styx is mean, a killer, a lowlife who will do anything for more treasure and amber. The world he lives in hates goblins and tends to kill them on sight, or imprison them for terrible experiments and the like. The hatred for goblins is near-universal and many people make a living out of exterminating goblins. Yes, exterminating them, like vermin. But somehow you not killing the people you encounter, who tend to be cut-throats and drug dealers and smugglers, is merciful. I have zero reason to like any of these people and they would all kill me just for existing, but not killing them gives me more skill points, so the game is trying to force a decision on you. It just doesn’t sit well.
In the end Styx: Shards of Darkness isn’t a terrible game. Sadly several elements stop it from reaching the greatness it could have had, like bad platforming, AI getting stuck during patrols, a story that doesn’t engage and wobbly voice acting all keep Styx in the firmly good section. With so many games offering stealth systems to enjoy it feels like Styx needs to up his game if he wants to be noticed in the current sea of great games with stealth systems.