Dark Envoy, developed and self-published by Event Horizon, is a single-player RPG-adventure game with optional two-player online co-op.
You play as Malakai and Kaela, a sibling pair of relic hunters hailing from the City of Bones, an isolated desert town that’s an oasis of peace in the otherwise conflict-embroiled fantasy world of Jäan. When chaos and tragedy arrive on their doorstep, the brother-sister duo sets out on a mission to unmask the villains who’ve turned their lives upside down, eventually finding themselves playing critical roles in a war with higher stakes than they ever could have imagined.
Dark Envoy allows you to fully customize both Malakai and Kaela for combat, beginning with selecting from four base classes — warrior, ranger, engineer, or adept. As you level up, you increase various statistics and choose class specializations, each offering its own set of active and passive skills. You can also craft and enchant weapons, armor, and stat-boosting jewelry to further complement each character’s fighting style. I opted to use some pretty standard builds — for example, I made Kaela a sharpshooter, invested many of her attribute points into speed, and equipped her with light armor to create a character that could zip around the outskirts of the battlefield, taking out enemies from afar. In addition to Kaela and Malakai, there’s a small pool of partially modifiable companion characters to round out a party of four for each mission.
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Dark Envoy’s combat incorporates a unique “Tactical Mode,” which permits you to slow or pause time to survey the battlefield and give directions to your units. Though I initially found this mechanic intriguing and thought the first boss fight encouraged me to use it in an effective and engaging way, for the vast majority of the game, it only served to make some uninteresting, extremely repetitive battles even longer than they needed to be. There was very little variety among enemies or map layouts, and although I sampled every difficulty setting besides “insane,” I never felt as though any real strategy came into play. I found myself using the same handful of skills — turning on “Tactical Mode” to aim the offensive ones and turning it off again to wait out the cooldown period — on an endless loop, cutting down wave after wave of enemies and wishing the fight would end faster.
I was similarly disappointed by Dark Envoy’s story, especially when it came to the branching plot. As one example, you must eventually choose to side with either the Empire or the League in the war, a decision that somehow managed to feel entirely meaningless. Both factions are described as immoral, but they’re never really shown acting in ways that illuminate their differing ideologies. Even Malakai and Kaela’s companions have no substantial thoughts on the matter — they’re perfectly content to join up with whatever side you prefer, which (if you ask me) is a remarkably blasé attitude to have about going to war.
I would be remiss not to mention that the review build of Dark Envoy suffered from a multitude of stability and performance issues, including skipping cutscenes, flickering textures, asynchronous audio, physics and pathfinding glitches, freezes, lag, and more. Often, one particular character would stand frozen in the middle of combat despite having the “move to attack” or “autonomous” stances toggled on, and even when I manually prompted him to target an enemy, he’d sometimes just stop walking before he got there. Once, the post-battle dialogue played while the boss was still very much alive and kicking, which left me distracted during the fight and confused after it was over. The list goes on, and while none of these snags could individually be described as a dealbreaker, they added up to produce a gameplay experience that was frequently frustrating.
Overall, my 30-hour playthrough of Dark Envoy was intermittently fun for the first five or so hours despite the technical issues, but the remaining 25 hours failed to deliver enough combat variety or narrative nuance to hold my interest.
Dark Envoy is available now for $29.99 on PC and will be available for Xbox and PlayStation 5 in early 2024. For more 3 Minute Reviews, check out our hub page.