Dark Envoy Director’s Cut Review – Questionable Improvements

Dark Envoy Director’s Cut Review

I didn’t play 2023’s Dark Envoy, which is surprising because I try out the vast majority of action RPGs. So, unfortunately, I can’t speak to whatever changes or improvements appear in the new director’s cut release. All I can do is evaluate the game now, and assume it’s the best possible version. With that said, let’s get started.

Hybrid Action

Developed by Tower of Time’s Event Horizon, Dark Envoy is a cross between a third-person action RPG and a traditional CRPG, where players can pause the action and make tactical decisions. In Dark Envoy, the “Tactical Mode” is especially useful as the party grows from two to a more complex grouping. It’s particularly important as AI party members tend to have poor decision-making skills and battlefield awareness on their own. Going into Tactical Mode to move characters, select spells and ready-range weapons is an interesting blend-in with more action-focused mechanics. The downside is that the screen soon becomes a chaotic mess that’s difficult to parse or control.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves. You play as Malakai and Kaela, sibling warriors and relic hunter mercenaries in the rather generic fantasy, Guns-and-Sorcery world of Jäan. You can customize the appearance of the characters and you assign each of them one of four starting classes: warrior, ranger, engineer, or adept (i.e. mage). Eventually, upgrades and assigned points on a branching skill tree will open up several sub-classes to each base class. One of Dark Envoy’s strengths is in its build variety and deep skill tree. There are certainly lots of weapons, armor, and spells to play with, and tons of loot to find. I enjoyed the game’s hint of Steampunk.

Dark Envoy has a substantial campaign during which the siblings must fight against an imposing outer-worldly threat while aligning themselves with one of two competing factions for ultimate control of Jäan. Along the way the two starting characters assemble a party in classic CRPG style. As already noted, while the AI party members might have impressive gear and spells, they’re apt to make poor choices on their own.

Take the Bad with the Good

Not having played the original version of Dark Envoy, I checked out some review scores and I was surprised that many were quite positive. I say that I was surprised because my experience of the game was far more problematic.

The developer has noted that the director’s cut addresses some technical issues as well as bolstering the narrative. This is frankly shocking because Dark Envoy has more bugs and technical problems than I’ve seen in quite a while. Within the first 30 minutes of gameplay, I experienced: a cursor that had a mind of its own, characters that moved without direction, characters that didn’t move at all, and a consistent annoying glitch where characters would jitterbug whenever they touched the scenery. I mean, any scenic object. Every time.

For the sake of full transparency, I’ll note that Dark Envoy has a multiplayer mode that I was unable to test. It may well be that playing through the game with a friend is the preferred experience. I have read of some technical issues with this, but they might have been ironed out in the current iteration.

Indie studio or not, it’s disappointing that any action game doesn’t have competent controller support. Dark Envoy supports controllers in theory, but its implementation is buggy and awkward. Mouse and keyboard don’t fare much better, and default key assignments are frustrating and weird. While I’m in the piling on section, I’ll just add that the game’s story and dialogue aren’t great, and the voice acting doesn’t exactly elevate the material.

On the Positive Side?

Dark Envoy’s art style is colorful, with some impressive spell and weapon effects. In general, the visuals feel like they were influenced by a catalogue of other action RPGs and CRPGs, from Warhammer 40K to Baldur’s Gate. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Most games are a greatest hits compilation of previous ideas. Character models and enemies are fairly basic and have the recognizable janky animations common to indie titles that do what they can with modest means.

Dark Envoy isn’t without its strengths. The class system and skill trees lend themselves to interesting character builds and adventure party variety. But Director’s Cut or not, Dark Envoy simply had too many serious technical issues and minor hiccups. They constantly intruded into whatever fun the game was trying to give me. I’ll check back later to see if things improve but for now, Malakai and Kaela are on their own.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Steampunk aesthetic and weapons
  • Rewarding class system
  • Substantial build variety

The Bad

  • Incredibly buggy
  • Poor controller support
  • Derivative story
  • Did I mention bugs?