Dark Envoy is a tactical CRPG from indie developer Event Horizon, with just a touch of Divinity about it. It follows the exploits of two siblings, Malakai and Kaela, who you control, and a party of heroes and not-so-heroes who join them. The world is a mishmash of sci-fi tech and magic, where engineers use rifles and summon complex automated turrets, and Warriors fight with swords and shields but the swords have glowy bits on.
In this world, called Jaan (though there’s confusion in the subtitles as to where the umlaut should go or why it needs one), the technologically advanced Human Empire is at war with the United League of Old Races. Awful faction names aside, it’s a simple and effective set-up for a lot of adventuring and dungeoneering. Malakai and Kaela are relic hunters, which is a solid reason to be out in the world despite its many dangers.
I’ve been playing through a demo of the early game, and have so far tried out two different combinations of classes. You can customise each sibling at the start of the game, and choose their class. There are four initially, with a further four specialisations in each that you unlock much later.
My initial foray into the world of Dark Envoy saw me combine an Adept Malakai with a Sharpshooter Kaela. It was fun, but I struggled to maintain damage output or keep the siblings alive. Combat uses a tactical pause system to help you plan attacks, but there’s no queue system and so options are limited. It’s really there to help you juggle your character’s various cooldown abilties.
There’s currently no way to heal beyond finding healing towers in the world, which have a set number of uses. My first playthrough came to an end in one of the dungeons because I was left with a huge wave of enemies to contend with and no way to heal my characters. This is a flaw, for sure. You need to have some way of regenerating health outside of beacons you can’t activate during combat, or you’ll be left with no way to progress at all in some of the tougher areas. It’s a game that leans heavily on combat, and so it needs to be balanced here.
My second attempt to get through the Dark Envoy demo, this time with a Warrior and an Engineer, was much better. Malakai was able to take more damage, while Kaela could summon a huge turret and send chains of lightning across the ground. The activation method for this spell in particular is amazing, as you can paint the path you want the lightning to take on the ground and catch multiple enemies inside it.
Chests and fallen enemies contain loot in the form of money or gear, and you’ll be min-maxing all your characters until the cows come home. It doesn’t have the best animations and currently the collision detection and AI pathfinding are off-kilter, but combat is still fun. The addition of cover points allows your ranged characters to protect themselves during combat, while the enemy detection radius allows you to get the first hit in if you’re canny.
Outside of combat, the interactions between the siblings are a bit cheesy, and the chemistry between them feels a little forced. They bicker like teenagers, name-dropping “mom and dad” while laughing off deadly events like falling into a nest of giant scorpions. The writing is a little odd all round, but it’s not intrusive and it’s early days yet.
There’s a decent selection of skills and abilities so far, with things like a long-distance charge for the Warrior class and an evasive dodge-roll for the Sharpshooter. Specialisations promise even more powerful abilities, and a deeper level of tactical customisation. Like Divinity, this is a story built on player choice as much as combat and exploration, and the demo gives a small taste of the kind of moral dilemmas you’ll face in the full game. There’s little of weight at the moment, but that will undoubtedly change.
Heading into a genre dominated by giants like Pathfinder, Pillars of Eternity, and Baldur’s Gate III, Dark Envoy may struggle to stand out, but it’s on the right track. The classes and world are interesting, while there’s a solid array of skills to get to grips with. There’s not a lot here yet that we haven’t seen before, but so far it’s a likeable, colourful adventure in an intriguing world. I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops as we get nearer to launch.
Dark Envoy is coming to PC in 2023.