Dark Envoy Preview: Dungeons and Bandits (and maybe Dragons)

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I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life playing Dungeons and Dragons. A past-time that even I (as hypocritical as it sounds) once deemed “too nerdy” to grace the top of my dining room table, I eventually realised what a jack ass I have been and welcomed the ever-loving but equally as harsh D20 into my life. I dedicate Monday nights are set aside for DnD now, playing with friends all over the country using the Internet (keep your eyes on that, it’s gonna be big) and it’s one of the highlights of the week.

Not only is DnD a great way to socialise with friends, it’s also a really, really well-designed game that’s actually super tricky to translate into any other kind of medium. It’s the unexpected highs and lows of a system that revolves around quick thinking and chance with some of the most memorable stories coming from pulling off a seemingly impossible feat when the odds were so stacked against you. As much as many games have tried to emulate the individual, character-centric turn-based action of Dungeons and Dragons, I think most of them just don’t capture that feeling of staring down insurmountable odds and coming out victorious. Which is what initially drew my attention to Dark Envoy.

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Starting off, I’ll admit that nothing really stood out to me about Dark Envoy. It was a dark fantasy world with the usual fair of trolls, goblins and all kinds of rebellious rapscallions. I was waiting for something unique to jump out at me, something to convince me that this was a game I could really get stuck into. I’ve played my fair share of CRPG’s and, honestly, this just didn’t really strike me as being one that stood out from the crowd. “What’s the hook?”, I asked, controller ready in my hands. “What’s special about Dark Envoy? Why should I play this game?”. The developer sitting next to me clicked on the “Start combat” button the screen. “Ever played X-COM? It’s like that with swords. And magic instead of guns”.”

Yep, that’ll do it.

I went into Dark Envoy expecting a typical CRPG. The kind where you design your characters upfront and role-play them throughout the game and while I do adore those kinds of games for the in-depth writing and stories, I often struggle through the combat largely because I find it to be exceptionally tedious. If I wanted to click on abilities and wait for cool downs to drop off, I’d go play an MMO. The lack of punchy, satisfying combat is nearly always I try to blitz through especially enemy filled areas to get to that sweet, sweet story. Dark Envoy tackles its combat much differently though, placing much more of an emphasis on strategy, placement and outwitting the enemy over min-maxing characters. The time I spent with the game was nearly all dedicated to the combat system and quite frankly I wouldn’t have had it any other way because I’m itching to get back into it and play more.

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I’m a recent convert to turn-based strategy; games like X-COM and Fire Emblem used to bore my small mind but in my old age I’ve come to enjoy the slower, far more intellectual style of gameplay they bring to the table. Dark Envoy is the marriage of classic CRPG’s with turn-based strategy games, providing players with characters that start off as blank slates that eventually level up and grow into fierce combatants of death and destruction. The usual mix of fantasy classes is on offer here: Rogue, Paladin, Mage, Engineer for those of you who want a bit more steam in your punk. Characters have AP that determines what actions they can take in combat and limit their movement to specific ranges on the grid. There’s cover, destructible environments and enemies that are not only tough to injure but smart too; more than once was I outmanoeuvred by the AI (I don’t know if that says more about Dark Envoy or me).

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Dark Envoy solves the problem of lack-lustre combat in most top-down fantasy games. Having your party’s rogue activate stealth, sneak all the way behind enemy lines (while your paladin taunts the damage from everyone one else) and eventually execute a swift backstab was never not satisfying. While the system itself may not be ground-breaking in its design it’s built very well and in a world were the turn-based strategy game is no-where near as prevalent as one would like Dark Envoy promises to fill a void that I think many fans of the genre have had in their hearts for a while. Perhaps my one big critique of the game would be that the UI can be especially fiddly, with a lot of very important information not displayed in the easiest to observe places. On more than one occasion I was confused as to why my mage couldn’t shoot a fireball only to realise I didn’t have the Action Points needed for it. The in-game combat UI is very in-depth, trying to communicate a lot of very important information to the player, yet often fails at doing that because I was never sure where the most relevant information was. It’s a case of streamlining the process to make combat flow far better because at present the combat is satisfying but needlessly drawn out due to a clunky user interface.

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That being said I’m excited to see where developer Event Horizon takes Dark Envoy. There’s a lot of potential in the combat and the accompanying world and while I talk really speak of the story as yet I’m intrigued to see how to pairs with a system that emphasises player choice and consequences it seems to be the kind of game that’s going to tick a lot of boxes for plenty of plenty. I’m excited to see the game develop further because this is definitely one for fans of strategy and RPG’s to keep their eyes on.

Last Updated: September 10, 2019

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