I’ve been a connoisseur of indie games for quite some time now and as a self-titled connoisseur, you naturally gain a vast knowledge of publishers, indie developers and Ip’s within the space. So when I came across this title in my pile and saw that Team 17 were those steering the ship, I was slightly taken aback. You mean the guys that built a reputation within the space producing couch co-op party games like Moving Out and Overcooked are taking on an expansive roguelike meets survival adventure.
Yes, that’s exactly what I mean, strange, right?
I’ll admit that this was hard to get my head around, but then I thought back to just a few years back. When Tiny Build, a company largely responsible for all those ‘My first Unity project’ looking games like Kill It With Fire and Totally Unreliable Delivery Service managed to create Pathologic II, one of my favorite games of all time.
A game that was very out of character for that company, but handled expertly nonetheless. So with that anecdote shuffled up to the front of my brain, I went into The Serpent Rogue with an open mind, ready to be enthralled and captivated by this ambitious project, and while the game doesn’t even come close to breaking into my coveted all-time list, the quality of this game may surprise a few.
In this The Serpent Rogue PS5 review, we take a look at The Serpent Rogue, a roguelike/survival and action-adventure game that sees you try to rid the corruption that has spread throughout the land. It’s crafting-heavy, alchemy-centered, and just might be the hidden gem you were looking for as the AAA gaming scene cools down after a flying start to the year. Without further delay, here is our The Serpent Rogue PS5 Review!
Bottom Line Up Front
In short, this game is not for those that love to be led by the hand. We are talking to you Ubisoft fans out there. How’s that open-world fatigue working out for you? This is a game that encourages natural player discovery, and eureka moments. However, it can be an experience that takes a while to get rolling. The opening hours are very abstract, ill-explained, and can lead to immense frustration.
However, for those that push through, you will find a game that while far from perfect, offers a compelling survival experience not unlike Don’t Starve. Plus, it’s a roguelike which are in vogue right now, so that may sway you on this one as well.
We Hope You Like Darkness and Earth Tones
Let’s open things up with the visuals for this game. Now, I have read around to see what others have had to say about this and I was astounded at the level of praise the visuals for this game received. This game goes for a very gritty animated, cel-shaded art style which isn’t too far removed from games like Psychonauts, for example.
However, unlike Psychonauts, this game dials down the saturation, or any color for that matter, offering a bleak world with an abundance of earth tones and dreary settings. I suppose this suits the tone of the game and the narrative, but it makes one area blend into the next and feels unremarkable. Take dark Souls III as a prime example. It’s a stellar-looking game but it’s almost monochrome, which led to criticism from fans.
This game feels largely like that. Only unlike Dark Souls, the game also looks like a rubbery indie game with limited scope for refined textures, animations, and the like. Don’t get me wrong, the visuals are fine here, they just aren’t in any way remarkable.
However, in terms of presentation, what is great is the musical score. This game’s soundtrack is a wonderful mix of ambient tunes, high-intensity tracks, and rich melodies that do a great job of making the world of The Serpent Rogue feel alive, with each track suiting the setting perfectly.
Using What Mother Nature Offers
Moving onto the gameplay now, and more specifically the crafting and alchemy system. Look, it’s no secret what game this title tries to replicate, or at least borrow from. The game is very similar to Don’t Starve in its approach. The player will start with nothing and have to use the land to craft tools, and items and create resources, all the while managing their hunger levels and fighting the killer creatures throughout the world.
The two key differences are that this game formats itself as a rogue-like, which means that death isn’t a permanent game over, and secondly, the game doesn’t take hunger too seriously here. Hunger lowers your stamina but won’t see you keel over and die.
Then the USP of this title is the alchemy system. In truth, you could also say that this was somewhat borrowed from Don’t Starve’s Science Machine system, right down to the portable apparatus. However, the alchemy focus does offer a sense of discovery and experimentation that sets it apart from its inspiration.
The way it allows you to create potions that can aid you in various situations and plan ahead to clear puzzles and defeat specific enemies are compelling, and it really does make you feel like a genius when you find a solution to an abstract problem.
Combat is a Slog
However, that brings me neatly to what is easily the worst part of this game, the combat. While the game does a great job of using the potions as a mechanic to help players win battles and buff up their attack power, the battles themselves are incredibly dull. I would compare them to the point and hack battles that one would have when playing Runescape.
You hit the enemy, you try to dodge with your cumbersome character, you inevitably fail, you go in for another hit and this repeats until one of you dies. Now, I don’t have to tell you that in a survival, rogue-like action-adventure, if you present the player with combat that is akin to an MMORPG from 2001, that’s going to be a hard sell.
The game would have benefited from a more dynamic system with a dodge mechanic for example. I get that they want the player to feel vulnerable, but should that really be prioritized over fun and enjoyment. The block mechanic is temperamental at best and thanks to the crafting system and weapon degradation system, the player is made even more vulnerable.
For die-hard masochistic survival gamers, this is perhaps exactly what you want, but for the rest of us mere mortals, this just isn’t enjoyable and becomes a necessary chore for progression. Don’t worry though, you will spend more time running away with your mortar and pestle between your legs than actually fighting anyway.
A Rich World, A Lack of Direction
Now moving on to world design, and conceptually I have a lot of praise for this game. The game makes a point of not holding your hand, placing you in this bewildering, hostile environment and saying, ‘Work it out for yourself.’ That’s something that I can really get on board with, as I still long for the days when games like The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind would use literal in-world sign posts rather than quest markers.
This only works if the game’s world is lovingly made and cohesively constructed and here, you have to say that everything blends together nicely. The corruption storm cycle is a fun feature that renews areas and replenishes materials, the haunted boat is a great way to allow players a chance to stock up on companions. The world has Tomes which subtly drip-fed information to the player, and even through natural play and experimentation, the player can discover tonnes of secrets off their own back.
The main issue is that while this works when the player has a general understanding of all the mechanics and moving parts, the game does a pretty terrible job of onboarding the player. These concepts are poorly explained, the player is never given any sort of direction as to what they should be doing, leading to aimless wandering. The player doesn’t know what to prioritize or what path leads to progression and some mechanics only become apparent after you’ve wasted resources.
For example, I wasn’t aware you need to kill the corrupted boss within the main area to place the vessel which clears the corruption. I assumed it was either-or. So I broke down the vessel thinking that this must be the right thing to do, only to kill the boss and be asked for another 100 coins to create another vessel. I am all for emergent gameplay and natural discovery, but when the roadmap of the game isn’t clear, this can lead to frustrating moments like this.
I have to express my gripe with the overall accessibility of this game. Now, this is a problem with indie games in general as they tend to either not have the resources or feel there is a need to include accessibility options. An opinion I firmly disagree with, and for this reason, if you don’t provide an experience that caters to all gamers, I will mark you down accordingly.
I could go on forever about the consideration that this game omits but I can sum it up with one missing feature. Something so simple that it serves as a microcosm of all the issues accessibility-wise here. The game has incredibly small text and requires the player to lean quite heavily on their player journal. Yet, there is no way to up the text size which is so easily implemented.
Then to wrap things up, you may be wondering what games I would compare to The Serpent Rogue. So here are a few games that you may want to check out when you finish this one and don’t want the fun to stop:
- Don’t Starve
- Project Zomboid
- Oxygen Not Included
- The Long Dark
Overall, I have to say that The Serpent Rogue is a modestly impressive title. It goes against the grain, assumes that the player base isn’t stupid, avoids unnecessary hand-holding and allows players to fully immerse themselves in this world, and encourages natural discovery. This is to be admired, but it doesn’t do this quite as competently as say Tunic, for example.
The game’s early stages are very alienating and abstract, to the point that even the most perceptive of players may miss a trick and find themselves in a repetitive loop while making little to no progress. Some guidance would have been great here, just a subtle nudge in the right direction or a quick tutorial perhaps.
Plus, the game’s combat is dull, the graphics are serviceable at best, and the UI could be more accessible. However, the world is rich, the crafting system is unique and intuitive, and overall, this game has a lot going for it. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but if you are a gamer that has the time and patience to slowly and meticulously uncover the secrets of a large, hostile world, then you can do a lot worse than The Serpent Rogue.
- A rich world full of fun puzzles, loot, secrets, and lore
- The alchemy, crafting and companion systems are all great
- The Corruption storm cycle is an interesting concept
- The musical score is superb
- The lack of hand-holding and direction encourages natural discovery and ‘ah-hah’ moments
- The graphics are fine, but the praise the game’s art direction has been getting elsewhere is, in my opinion, unwarranted
- The combat system is terribly underdeveloped
- The early game is obtuse, making it hard for players to get the ball rolling
- UI and accessibility could be better
Question: Who makes The Serpent Rogue?
Answer: The Serpent Rogue is a game under the Team 17 umbrella but is developed by Sengi Games. This is a Ukrainian development company founded in 2018 and The Serpent Rogue is their debut title as a studio.
Question: Is The Serpent Rogue like Don’t Starve?
Answer: Very much so, as you might have read above. From the drab color palette to the focus on player discovery, crafting, exploration, procedural generation, and experimentation, the game wears its love and adoration for its survival counterpart on its sleeve. We would also compare this game to other titles like Terraria, Raft, Oxygen Not Included, and Project Zomboid.
Question: What is a rogue-like?
Answer: A rogue-like is a game that sees death as a necessary part of succeeding. The game begins and the player is placed in a world that is way beyond their pay grade. They are under-leveled, under-equipped, and uninformed. However, with each loop, the game teaches the player new tricks and tips, allows the player to gather resources, upgrade their character and with each run, the world becomes more accessible and easier to navigate.
The most popular examples within this genre would be games like Hades, Rogue Legacy, or Returnal.