Posted on 06 May 2017 by L Coulsen

Styx: Shards of Darkness

The Defence

Developer: Cyanide
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Genre: Action, Adventure, Stealth
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 14 Mar 2017

The Prosecution

OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 3.3 GHz
AMD FX 3.5 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 560
AMD Radeon R7 260X
HDD: 11 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i7 3.6 GHz
AMD FX 4.0 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 970
AMD Radeon R9 390
HDD: 11 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

Styx is small, green, mean, and a total gobshite. A breakout character from ‘Of Orcs and Men’ who went on to have his own stealth based adventure in October 2014. A game which still has, after more than 3,000 user reviews, a Very Positive standing on the Steam. Featuring huge, highly detailed, sprawling environments and…a dizzying amount of light for a game all about hiding in the shadows. Honestly, a sequel was pretty much assured even before Master of Shadows was released, so here we are, two and a bit years later, we have Styx: Shards of Darkness.

The Trial

There is no clear indication of precisely when Shards takes place in the franchise, apart from the fact it’s a direct sequel to Master of Shadows. Seeing the now definitive Styx setting up shop and making a name for himself in the small town of Thoben, a place filled with other goblins who are now being hunted wholesale, almost certainly as an attempt to track down Styx himself. The other goblins are just collateral damage, and perhaps an attempt at payback for Styx’s actions in the previous game. Though, anyone thinking the little green gobshite gives a toss about these meek, terminally brain dead wastrels has another thing coming.

Our smart mouthed anti-protagonist, an anti-tagonist if you will, is as crass, grumpy and lovably foul mouthed as ever. Some of the other characters are not quite as relatable due to some questionable line readings, but we don’t typically spend a great deal of time with most of them, and even the very worst is hardly insufferably bad. Meanwhile, incidental sounds are absolutely top notch. Hearing a guard wandering around can be genuinely tense, as a lot of the areas are so sprawling, that pinning down the direction a sound is coming from can be difficult. There’s even an unlockable skill to allow you to see a visual representation of footsteps.

Who needs planes when you having flying boats?

The music is really, really bloody good! The final level featuring a remixed, folk metal-esque rendition of the main theme. Slowly building in intensity as you make your way through, what is essentially, one big boss fight. Until the final moments, when Styx is obviously victorious, when you drive a ballista spear into the chest of a mahoosive stone golem…which comes completely out of nowhere, both narratively and literally, but it’s an awesome moment, so just go with it.

The story of Darkness is, overall, not nearly as strong as Shadows, but that’s not really something to hold against it. Though it lacks a lot of the more personal, character driven moments, Styx is already a well rounded character by this point, meaning, the game doesn’t really need them. Instead, the narrative focus is much more firmly on lore building, with a series of segues and vignettes, featuring and affected by Styx. It makes the game a lot more accessible in some ways, whilst rewarding return players with a more detailed look into the world the game take place in.

Still obsessed with Amber, despite having been (mostly) freed of its corrupting influence, nevermind his memories, after the destruction of the world tree. Our erstwhile “hero” is, nevertheless, still motivated by only two thing; money, and getting his fix…of amber that is. So when the leader of a Guild of goblin hunters comes to him, offering him a huge payoff for doing some political stuff he doesn’t care about, you bet he jumps at the chance! Yeah, so, he has to break into an Elf stronghold and steal something ludicrously well defended. Pfft, ain’t no thang.

This above all: to thine Gobshite be true.

And it isn’t. I mean, it’s only, like, level three…so it’s not going to be much of a problem. Don’t want the game to be too difficult so early on after all, but of course, this is only the beginning of the story. The opening act, as it were, which sets the groundwork for all the shenanigans to come. Dragged into a political conflict…actually, several political conflicts, that he still gives absolutely zero fucks about. There’s an elf shapeshifter, dwarves with magnificent beards, more bloody roabies! But our boy Styx takes it all in stride, and actually manages to find a third thing to care about; Pure Quartz.

First introduced to him when he sees it being used on one of his brethren. Weapons formed using pure quartz have unique properties that allow them to directly influence goblin behaviour, including Styx himself. However, Styx is also able to utilise it to unlock his own potential. In mechanical game terms, it means you need pure quartz to purchase his highest level skills. In narrative terms, it gives the wee green one some extra motivation to get out and do stuff.

Speaking of skills, pretty much all of them return from the previous game, though some are less powerful than their maxed out versions. That makes sense though, and not just from a gameplay perspective, as well as allowing Cyanide to better balance levels without having to go overboard right from the beginning, Styx did end Shadows with a severe case of amnesia. It might be a bit of a flim-flam excuse, but it’s internally consistent. There are also a lot more skills available this time around, plus, Styx’s greatest strengths have always been his wits and ability to squeeze into tight spaces anyway. So the loss of a few in the early game never feels particularly limiting.

No Mr. Dawson, I'M the king of the world!

Shards’ inclusion of co-op has had absolutely zero impact over the way the game plays. Which is not at all unexpected actually, due to Styx’s ability to make clones of himself, even the previous game had sections that were effectively built to be completed in a cooperative manner. Granted, you have to take manual control of a clone, but adding a second player doesn’t do much to switch up overall gameplay. It may allow you to take out two people at once, but since it’s generally a better plan to just avoid people altogether, that doesn’t amount to a whole hell of a lot. If anything, adding a second player just increases the likelihood of someone seeing you, but that could just be me being cynical.

There have been a few changes along the way that are more significant however. The most notable, and welcomed, being that elves can no longer telepathically locate our erstwhile anti-tagonist, which is a very good thing, since they make up the vast bulk of the enemies one will encounter along the way. However, this is not to say that everything will be plain sailing. There are a significant number of them, so you can’t just sprint around all willy-nilly. There are also the above mentioned dwarves in some of the later areas, who can…smell you. Yes, you read that right, in this universe, dwarves have a superb sense of smell and are particularly adept at locating and following the smell of a goblin. Clearly a great power bestowed upon them by their beards.

Roabies also make a return, oh joy! Large insects, almost the size of Styx himself, that are completely blind, but have ludicrously advanced hearing. This means you can sit right next to one and be absolutely fine, but move at anything other than a tortoise crawl and they will hear you. Making them a tad more difficult to avoid when using a mouse and keyboard, curse the lack of analogue keys! Or you could just jump, since that seems to allow you to land silently, or on top of them for a killing blow. But beware, any other roabies within a few metres will home right in on you. In short, Styx hit it right on the nose. Why did it have to be roabies? Sod those guys!

Does this ledge really require two guards at all times? My bloody arms are getting tired...

There is a shining light of satisfaction however. Running on the latest iteration of Unreal, Shards is an absolutely gorgeous game. Making it all the more rewarding when you stab a roaby, repeatedly, in its glowing yellow arsehole, and watch it writhe in agony, dying in gloriously animated detail. I mean, the rest of the game looks amazing too, but…oh, you get the point!

If there was any complaint to make, it would be with the animations. Not the quality of them, oh no, those are excellent. Well, the lip syncing is a bit iffy during cinematics, but that’s only a minor thing. Rather, there are certain actions which are contextual, like jumping up onto a table or leaning backwards to jump off a ledge. The former can be irritating when you’re trying to jump up to something, and Styx decided he should just vault onto a box, often directly in someone’s field of view instead. Whilst his ability to distinguish between “I want to shimmy round this corner” and “you want to look directly down into this bottomless pit” is questionable. But, well, when those are the only complaints to be made, it’s safe to say you have a great game on your hands.

The Verdict

Basically, Shards of Darkness is a solid game, and a worthy successor to Master of Shadows. It improves on most of the very small niggles of its predecessor, whilst adding enough fresh elements to prevent things feeling stagnant. Rather, the end product feels like a natural progression of a solid foundation, and hopefully, will lead to even more further down the line. There is a war between the dwarves and elves opening up plenty of opportunities for Styx to ply his trade after all.

Case Review

  • Scale: Though some areas are not quite as sprawling as the previous, all are meticulously detailed and packed with content.

  • Styx: Rarely, if ever, has there been a more lovable, obnoxious green gobshite.

  • Story: Whilst far from terrible, with some great world building, it’s a bit meandering and has no real overarching sense of direction.

  • Contextual Actions: Actually pretty useful most of the time, the inability to override them can lead to the odd sticky situations.

4.5 Score: 4.5/5
A great sequel, a great game, an absolutely awesome 'protagonist'.


  • Settings: All the usual suspects. There's nothing particularly eye catching, but nothing notably missing either. The only thing of note is the ability to turn off the post death smack talks Styx will give, which is a nice addition brought about due to player feedback.
  • Audio: The sound balance is really solid, which it damn well should be for a stealth game. But should you need to, all of the main options are present for tweaking individual aspects.
  • Controls: Featuring support for multiple controllers natively. Only mouse and keyboard is customisable, but controllers do have a dedicated Quick Save button, which is a really nice touch.
4 Score: 4/5

What can I say about the rude, crude, stab-first-ask-questions-later, magic addicted, thieving piece of gobshite known as Styx, besides…I love him! Shards of Darkness is the sequel to the luke-warm received Master of Shadows, which frankly, is the spin-off inception of an even lesser enjoyed title by the name of ‘Of Orcs and Men’. In his own adventures, Styx is an amber addicted, shit talkin’ master thief, and major pain in the arse to all those around. While “minding his business” and stealing the local guards’ coffers, Styx finds himself biting off more than he can chew as he tries to steal a magical item. Being tasked with a mission by none other than a band of Goblin hunters, Styx (who’s a Goblin, duh) should have known better, but once an addict, something, something…Amber! Yum! Long story short, the gobshite hits the fan and a journey of revenge and political fervor begins as Styx vows to take down the Dark Elf who got the best of him, because nobody puts Styx in the corner! Knowing nothing of his previous shenanigans from earlier titles, I don’t have much to go on, but I really enjoyed the experience thus far.

The story, while nothing out of this world, is thrilling and comical enough to continue onward. Styx is thick with witty banter and his ‘fuck you’ attitude kept me smiling, dropping plenty of F-bombs and topical humor, throwbacks and homages to many great series was entertaining. With a sprawling world filled with numerous paths, it takes full advantage of the sheer verticality of each beautifully designed level. Powered by Unreal Engine 4, Shards of Darkness not only looks amazing, but runs amazing too, even on my aging 5 year old PC. Not only are the visuals a treat for sore eyeballs, the overall auditory experience is well suited to setting the mood quite excellently, backed up by a great mix of well voice acted characters. While seeming like an action oriented stealth game, in actuality, far more emphasis on stealth with plenty of platforming thrown about. Sure, you can sneak up behind a guy and give him the ol’ Columbian necktie, but don’t go expecting to throw in some Assassin’s Creed style fist-to-cuffs. In fact, you’re apt to avoid face-to-face confrontations altogether, it seems Styx is the squishiest of squishies, consistently leading to an instant death on your part if you zigged instead of zagged.

With plenty of ways to dispatch or avoid your foes, craftables, equipment, consumables and good ol’ fashioned patience combined with some brain work will take you far in Shards of Darkness. Boasting a rather lengthy campaign with optional Co-Op, and being a fair priced game, there’s plenty of bang for your buck in this hilariously wrapped package. For the most part, a smooth and pleasant gaming experience, however…there are some small gripes; animations, specifically lip syncing, something went horribly wrong in that department, and sadly, it’s quite distracting. NPC’s look awkward at times, and also deaf, blind and dumb one moment and have x-ray hearing and supersonic sight the next. Jumping about is unforgiven and “floaty” at times, leading to many deaths or just bumblefucking myself into a bad situation. In the end, only little things, but they add up and give off a “rushed” feeling, which only further left me feeling like Shards of Darkness still needs a little more lovin’ via patch work, but nothing game breaking, just a little smudge on a spiffy new pair of glasses.

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