2023 has certainly been the year of the RPG. We have had a slew of RPG titles bestowed upon us, including Diablo IV, Baldur’s Gate 3, Octopath Traveler 2, Final Fantasy XVI, and much more! The list truly does go on. Event Horizon, the team behind the well-received Tower of Time, is looking to add to this year’s already expansive lineup with a cRPG of their own that is inspired by genre greats like Divinity and Dragon Age: Origins. And that game is Dark Envoy, which is finally upon us after numerous delays from its original 2020 announcement.
Dark Envoy brings players to the steampunk fantasy land of Jäan, wherein the human Empire is warring with the long-established League. Fully customizable siblings Malakai and Kaela are inevitably drawn into the drama surrounding them and must venture forth into a daring tale of uncovered truths and achieved destiny. In truth, the overarching story provides a base level incentive to move forward, but it is largely a forgettable mishmash of generic tropes that is somewhat elevated by player choices. Those choices can reap immediate consequences or they may not reveal the full impact of the player’s actions until the epilogue rolls around, ensuring those decisions have long been locked in with no hope of save scumming.
The heart of Dark Envoy lies in its combat. Here, players are treated to a wide array of tailored classes in a real-time with pause format, modified with a tactical slow down option. To start, Malakai and Kaela are the sole members of the party and each can be assigned a starting class. These include Warrior, Ranger, Engineer, and Adept. Each can be further refined at level seven when specializations become available. So that starting Adapt can become a fearsome Summoner, whereas the Warrior can evolve into a savage dual-wielding Blademaster. Given that you spend much of the opening hours of this four-act campaign with only the siblings, it’s important to give thought about their team synergy to ensure that those early battles don’t overwhelm the two.
The battles themselves are scattered throughout small stretches of explorable maps tied to missions away from the also small-scale hubs. Once combat is initiated, tactical decisions must be made on-the-fly; this isn’t a turn-based game. Players can select their targets and let the actions play out, choosing to enter a slow-motion tactical mode when adjustments need to made quickly. The mechanic becomes immensely useful when it’s time to reposition to avoid massive blows from bosses or open up ways to devastate a foe by utilizing multiple party members at once. While some may find it gimmicky, the ability to manually draw your own AoE patterns on the battlefield made for a nice touch and one I willingly used often, as I painted each arena in both the blood of my foes and the strokes of the mouse.
The bones of the combat system are solid and its limitations didn’t become more noticeable until more companions joined the team. Some battles devolved into micromanaging team members, ensuring they didn’t stand cluelessly in the middle of an enemy’s AoE. That may be due to how quickly combat progresses, which isn’t a bad thing. Dark Envoy keeps things moving along at a brisk pace and combat is no exception — although I will say that many engagements did slightly overstay their welcome due to an influx of spawning enemies. That said, keeping tabs on everyone and constantly dropping into tactical mode to fine-tune the team for minor problems, even though their AI behavior settings should have limited the trouble, did disrupt the flow on several occasions. That particular sticking point is partially alleviated by the drop-in/drop-out co-op, where another player can take one of those teammates off of your hands.
It is worth noting that Dark Envoy is not a big budget, AAA title. We’re looking at an indie title here. As such, there’s a fair bit of jank and lacking polish that must be discussed. It’s hard to knock on a developer too much for resource constraints, but I want to ensure that prospective buyers understand what they’re jumping into. Animations are a bit stiff in places and the voicework comes off stilted at times, especially as you first hear Malakai and Kaela address each other in the opening moments. It’s not unbearable; it’s serviceable. But there certainly won’t be any awards for the VOs.
Dark Envoy‘s visuals fall into a similar category of fine but unimpressive. The explorable areas aren’t notable in their size and are typically linear in design, with little standing out to meaningfully bring the land of Jäan into its own. And that’s a shame given the background of the environment seems rife for more environmental storytelling and exploration. Unlike the audio, it’s hard to give the visuals a pass for the simple fact that performance was all over the place during my playthrough. Backed with a 4080 and 7800X3D, I was surprised by the technical woes hanging over Dark Envoy despite its system requirements asking for far less. Dense dungeon encounters saw the framerate plummet, creating a jarring transition from the speedy combat.
Dark Envoy Review Verdict
Dark Envoy: Dark Envoy sets out to add itself to the already staggering list of beloved 2023 RPGs. While it may not achieve the loftier heights of that list's inclusions, it does manager to be a serviceable cRPG experience because of its flexible and flashy combat systems. It's a shame the other areas, such as companion AI and map design, aren't able to elevate themselves to the same level. And all of that is further hampered by technical issues we hope will be ironed out soon. In the end, Dark Envoy mostly succeeds in its core gameplay, but falls short in everything else built around that component. – Joshua
Editor’s Note: Dark Envoy was reviewed on PC and a copy was provided to us for review purposes.