From Team17 and Sengi Games comes The Serpent Rogue, a dark-fantasy action-adventure centred around alchemy and botany recently released on Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC. In a land desolated by the dark tendrils of the Corruption spreading across the land, it is up to you as the Warden to fight back and cleanse the realm of this evil parasite.
Unlike other action-adventure games, merely wielding a sword will get you nowhere, as the true power of the Warden comes in their ability to craft unlikely potions and powerful brews to help survive through the terrible tide of the Corruption upon Mount Morbus. The Serpent Rogue demands a more thought-out approach and a particular cunning from its players, else they will languish in a never-ending loop of frustration.
Discover the Unforgiving World of Mount Morbus
Presented in third person view with a simple cartoonish art style, the world of The Serpent Rogue is as grim looking as it is dangerous. The gothic style of Mount Morbus is perfect for the story and gameplay of The Serpent Rogue, tinging the entire experience with a kind of grim doom that certainly doesn’t make you feel welcomed at any point. Every character or creature encountered could easily be friend or foe, with even many of the human characters giving you the cold shoulder enough that you’ll feel their quiet neutrality with you could easily turn on a dime at a moment’s notice. It reminded me a lot of my first time playing Bloodborne with just how harsh and precarious the world and its inhabitants are.
If the world is unforgiving enough then the gameplay is no more welcoming. If you are new to crafting games or don’t tend to enjoy them then The Serpent Rogue will prove to be a very tough task to get through. The game does not hold your hand at any point, asking you to always merely figure out solutions for yourself through experimentation and thorough searching. If you think at any point you can merely brute force your way through a problem then The Serpent Rogue will punish you greatly, again, and again, and again.
Everything revolves around discovery. As you move through the world your main intention should always be to gather resources. With various resources you will be able to return to your camp and craft new items, be it potions, weapons, protective gear, food, lockpicks etc. However, what makes the crafting of The Serpent Rogue so much harder is that you have to discover for yourself first how to make each of these things, and it is not just as simple as trying different combinations until one works a la Minecraft.
Every resource gathered must be first researched thoroughly to figure what its traits are. Research itself requires using the resource you are examining, and every item must be researched at least several times before your Warden understands it, meaning you’ll burn through a lot of items before you can ever actually use them to craft. Then, even once you have fully researched an item their use in potion brewing is still largely a matter of experimentation. You can logic some of it out with some of the traits given on researched items: e.g. Aloe possesses the vitality trait, another item has a tag of 10 points, and another has an “add” tag. Combined these might make a healing potion worth 10 points. The same first two resources with a removed item might do damage instead, and so on.
This is the magic of The Serpent Rogue, and it is also where some players might be turned off. If you love a good bit of trial and error then this system is wonderfully extensive enough to enjoy yourself for hours. If not, then you’ll likely find the Serpent Rogue a frustrating drag.
The trial-and-error aspect of The Serpent Rogue pervades just about every part of its gameplay. The more that you learn in your experimentation the more impressively deep its gameplay goes. For example, as you learn more about potion brewing you’ll perhaps discover the ability to age targets, or, conversely, make them younger. You’ll then need to do a bit of work to figure out what use this has, either when used on yourself or others.
Or perhaps you’ll discover a potion craft to help tame an animal, or even to turn yourself into one. Each of these discoveries will in turn open up new avenues for you to explore and play around with, resulting in a fairly extensive and imaginative gameplay system that is far more vast than it at first seems. It is almost unfortunate that without doing the leg work the wonderful complexity of The Serpent Rogue’s gameplay could be entirely missed or disregarded as little more than a frustrating RPG with poor combat.
I know this because I was initially in this camp. It took some amount of repeated head banging and many, many deaths until I realised that the game wanted me to take a slower approach and meet it on its terms, rather than just continually running up to enemies with the best weapon I could find and brute forcing my way through. Enjoy the journey and experiment around to really get the most out of this novel title.
The world of The Serpent Rogue is split into contained sections, each of which is fairly open and navigable with plenty of resources to gather and secrets to find. Some of these areas are safer hubs where you can craft items, cook food, gather followers, congregate an animal pen etc. The others are corruption areas which run a counter until the next “storm” which will make the zone uninhabitable for a minute or so, and upon finishing the area will also have changed around a little. These zones are procedural in how items and resources are placed as well as some extra little surprises; their general geography remains the same however so you’ll still find the same exits etc at each point on the map.
The storm aspect of the game is a good motivator to keep on the move and makes the experience a little more hazardous, but it does however disrupt the flow of the game at times since progress can only ever be measured by how much time you have left before you might have to fast travel back out the zone and reset for another run. It also makes the grind of gathering resources slightly more annoying since you’ll likely find yourself waiting around until the timer resets to zero. When so much of the game is about exploration and discovery this continual disruption can get aggravating.
Combat is also fairly weak, although that’s maybe to be expected since it isn’t meant to be solely relied on anyway. You can target enemies and make simple swings either unarmed or with a weapon or potion which can also be thrown too. For defence you can block, however this requires your hunger bar to be filled and the hungrier you are the less effective the block. Since hunger also decreases over time to heal you and is used for sprinting I found that using it to block as well rarely ever worked out, and in fact it would usually be easier/safer to take more of a hit and run approach to combat. This was not enjoyable. I also found that hits often wouldn’t register leading to some extremely annoying deaths.
Death works similar to Souls games. Upon death you’ll drop all your items and be revived back at your home base. To get them back you’ll have to get back to where they were (which is thankfully aided with the fast travel between zones) or else they will be lost forever if you die again before recovery.
The last thing to mention, at least as far as the Xbox Series X version goes, there is a pretty awful bug that causes the entire game to crash in the fallen warrior trial zone. One of the enemies when killed there seems to fairly consistently set off a game crash rendering that entire quest line undoable. My version of the game was pre-release, however, so it is entirely possible that the post launch experience will have that patched either already or at some point down the line.
A Rewarding, If Somewhat Frustrating, Experience
On the whole the gameplay for The Serpent Rogue is fun, there are just a couple of weaker flaws that pull it back somewhat. The central potion brewing and crafting aspect of the game is obviously its main flourish, and certainly where the game carves out a novel path for itself, but without the other parts rising to the same standard the game can descend into too much of a frustrating grind. It is really one where you are going to either be totally on board with everything it is throwing at you, or you’ll find it a big miss with an aggravating system that isn’t worth your patience.
For what it’s worth I think digging down into all that The Serpent Rogue has to offer is certainly worth it, it is just unfortunate that that comes with a slightly murkier shelling to crack through first. The imagination and creativity it holds is excellent, and the reward for persisting with it only gets bigger and better the more you dive in.
Final Score: 7/10