by Ingvi Snædal
previewed on PC
A misunderstood hero
Although Styx: Master of Shadows received above average reviews, many critics appear to have misunderstood the point of the game. The combat system received negative attention, but Styx isn’t a fighter. Styx was never meant to be one. Styx can generally get himself out of a scuffle against one or two foes, but he’s an infiltrator by trade. An assassin, a thief, a saboteur and an overall sneaky little bastard. This is what Styx is and it is in these areas Styx: Master of Shadows excelled. We got a sneaky peak at the upcoming sequel, Styx: Shards of Darkness at this year’s Gamescom and feel free to consider this article a loud call of dibs on the review!
Styx: Shards of Darkness will run on Unreal Engine 4, marking a considerable improvement on its predecessor which utilised the then quite dated UE3. The demonstration we had the pleasure to attend looked quite polished and Styx’s animations appeared smooth. The level, which had Styx break into a cliffside fortress city populated by pesky dark elves, looked quite a lot brighter, more colourful and more open than the dark, claustrophobic hallways we became accustomed to in Master of Shadows. As such, the player has greater freedom of movement through the map and can freely decide how they want to tackle the task at hand.
Distinct lack of fighting skills, but a bag full of tricks
Styx is on business in the city of Thoben when he is approached by Helledryn, a human officer interested in eliciting Styx’s help in stealing the ambassador’s scepter. The reward, unsurprisingly, will be a copious amount of Amber, to which Styx is addicted. Styx himself is a fourth wall breaking smartass who won’t hesitate to taunt you should he feel you’re doing a shitty job. Throughout the game you’ll face a variety of enemies who must all be tackled differently. Dark elves, for instance, are master goblin hunters while Dwarves have an excellent sense of smell and, unfortunately for Styx, goblins stink something fierce.
Styx will have five skill trees, one dedicated to each of his particular skills, allowing you to upgrade his perception skills, his crafting, stealth, assassination and abilities such as clone hatching (notice the distinct lack of a krav maga category). Each of the five skill trees has an ultimate ability unlocked later in the game but no details have been given on these at present. Amber still plays a part in the game and you’ll have to make sure Styx has enough to power his skills. Some skills have been upgraded and changed. For instance, while Styx had the ability to clone himself in Master of Shadows, he’ll now be able to throw the cocoon containing his clone like a grenade and either control it from there or teleport himself into the clone, destroying it but allowing him to operate freely from the new position.
Throughout each map, you’ll find crafting tables here and there which you can use to create items such as darts and traps. Exploration rewards you with the materials used to craft these items, in addition to hidden tokens, the collection of which will earn you achievements. Using the environment to your advantage will ease your task, which places further emphasis on the importance of exploration and reading your surroundings. Some alarm bells, for instance, can be sabotaged so they act as traps, falling on the unfortunate individual attempting to alert their allies. Chandeliers and other hanging furniture can also be dropped on passers-by. Ropes can be used to traverse the map this time around, which was somewhat of an oddity with Master of Shadows. Players expected such a staple of adventure games as climbing and ziplining on ropes to be possible in the game, resulting in many minutes spent jumping next to them to no avail.
Open levels and neck stabbing - here I come!
Styx: Shards of Darkness looks a lot more polished, even considering their relative publication dates, than did its predecessor and I look forward to sneaking around open levels, stabbing unsuspecting good guys in their necks as the iconic anti-hero that Styx has become among his fans.