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Styx: Superb Sneaking and Stealthing, somewhat stale snarking.

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    Styx: Shards of Darkness

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    Styx: Superb Sneaking and Stealthing, somewhat stale snarking.

    Styx: Shard of Darkness stars Styx, a wisecracking Goblin who’s size and fragility have fostered both his skills as a thief and his attitude as an outsider watching the beautifully crafted world around him decay. Continuing the story started in Master of Shadows; Shards of Darkness sees Humans and Elves still wheeling and dealing, each side with a dash of deceit and corruption, in order to gain the political upper-hand that comes with controlling the addictive magical sap of the world tree – Amber. While there are clear ties to Styx: Master of Shadow there is no Need to have played the first game to follow what’s going on in Shards of Darkness, which primarily focuses on a new comer to the political stage Lyssra, high priestess of a cult of dark elves, who seeks to leverage a new magical resource, Quartz, into alliances with the Human, Orc, and Dwarf races.

    Before diving into the conveniently placed haystack that is Styx’ gameplay there’s something that just has to be addressed, The humor. Whether it’s poking fun at the likes of Assassin’s Creed or Hitman or a fourth wall breaking comment about how it’s as if the town’s architecture seems to be tailor made to make Styx’ job easier there is no way to avoid being confronted with Styx’ humor, which is mostly hit or miss in a lot of ways. Not only is the kind of humor Styx’ eponymous protagonist is apt to use just not everyone’s cup of tea, but also even for fans of this brand of self-aware, pop culture referential, cynical smartassery the jokes themselves range from chuckle inducing and mood lightening to moderately cringe inducing. At first the frustration of seeing the game over screen was lessened due to Styx addressing the player with a joke, but as many times as you’ll see them even the enjoyable ones wear thin after enough repetition. While Styx did make me laugh several times, there’s an inescapable feeling that the game, humor, and story would’ve all been better served if the sheer Volume of jokes had been compressed to spread them out, and cull the weaker from the herd.

    Styx…Sticks to it’s Stealth guns, Skulking in the shadows, hiding in wardrobes, barrels, and anything else fully opaque that a goblin can squeeze into. Moving around the vast space in each area is an engaging mix of problem solving, exploration, and a fair bit of restraint as alerting the Combatants for Attacking, Reaping, Neutralizing and Annihilating all Goblins to be Eradicated (C.A.R.N.A.G.E. for short) Is a losing proposition, and on the higher difficulties an outright death sentence. But it’s here in the overwhelming weakness of Styx, unable to take even a lone Guard in head to head combat, where the game shines. This strongly encourages the pure, no one man army, stealth gameplay that holds Shards of Darkness together.

    While the AI isn’t groundbreaking the Humans, Elves, and Dwarves provide enough of a threat to invoke that all important hesitation that leads to considering, which leads to scheming, which if all goes well leads to a dance of Daring, Darts, Daggers, and Death, ideally theirs and not yours. While the guards themselves aren’t out of the ordinary, the loving care that went into their placement and habitat is quite extraordinary. Each area is at first glance Daunting, Seeing just how much ground there is to cover from point A to point B is barely half the story, as a large portion of Styx’ world is built from the ground UP in a very literal way. It’s not just possible to sometimes go around a problem, you might go under or above it as well, and often attempting to circumvent a few guards making safe passage a hassle just leads to other guards and other hassles. Except in the rarest of cases there is always another way to get to the destination, and each path has it’s own set of problems to solve and secrets to uncover. It is not unrealistic to spend a few hours fully exploring the introductory area for collectibles, materials for crafting, and creative ways to eliminate guards. And most zones are bigger and more complex. The passion and effort that went into creating these great big areas is clear and it paid off as the zone’s themselves are such a driving force in keeping the gameplay engaging. Even when a zone is later re-used, because the space itself is so well put together and the fact that the second time through it’s From a different starting point, with different enemy and item placements and with totally different objectives, even though you recognize the neighborhood you’re still confronted with new circumstances and problems to solve so engagement doesn’t drop off as one might expect when first confronted with a re-used area.

    Players of Master of Shadow will have noticed Equipment, and crafting as new, and while there are a handful of Daggers and outfits to choose from, each with unique benefits and downsides, the equipment is all different not necessarily better. That is to say Dagger’s don’t have an attack power or damage value, they all kill pretty much in the same way, But each one has a Positive bonus and a downside to balance that out. Outfits operate in the same manner and mostly I wear the one I like the look of most cause I’m that guy. Crafting is new, but the results aren’t. While you still will find the occasional potion or vial of acid while poking around the levels, a good portion of the consumables you’ll use to stay healthy, pick locks, and take out guards will be made by you with raw material you’ll find laying about as you explore. It may seem odd at first when prompted to collect some insect eggs and almost glowing green mystery spores but their use soon becomes apparent. While you can always craft in the Hideout between missions, often there will be crafting tables you run into in most areas, allowing you to turn the material you’ve found into whatever seems most useful at the time(providing you have space to carry it) And while simple it’s also uncomplicated and streamlined, not busying up so much that a crafting bench mid mission is a distraction. It works well and accomplishes what it wants to without getting in the way.

    All in all Styx gets a lot right and some wrong, but fans of the stealth genre or sneaking, snarkiness, sarcasm, or shenanigans will find at it’s core Styx: Shards of Darkness is a well made Stealth game with some of the best level design in three dimensional space in the industry. While it’s flaws are noticeable none are so extreme as to eclipse the game itself, leaving Styx a blast to play even though what it could have been was much more. Solidly playable though sadly not yet the Magnum Opus for stealth and Cyanide Studios that some had hoped.

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