I strongly disagree with the notion that games can only fill a single role. For instance, games can be full of mindless violence, but they can also be educational and therapeutic. While many enjoy gaming as pure escapism, games can still express views on sensitive topics. Likewise, while games should often strive to be inclusive, there is nothing wrong with a challenge. Undoubtedly, developer Sengi Games’ The Serpent Rogue challenges players to learn, struggle, and face the consequences of both.
“The game throws you a bone with a consistent supply of worms, tea leaves, and skeleton fish but halts the assistance there.”
I jumped into The Serpent Rogue with little knowledge, armed with vague promises of brewing potions and saving the realm. In hindsight, this was likely a horrible idea. The game is an action-adventure featuring roguelike elements and a focus on alchemy. As such, players explore ravaged wastelands to scrounge up supplies for their next venture. Your damage output is low, tools brittle, and supplies exhausted. Thus, both attention and patience are required to get the most from this experience.
The tutorial for the game is a bit weak, though I sense the intention is fairly close to the mark. You are The Warden, tasked to purge the corruption moments before running for your life. You make your way to a decrepit shack, near the ruins of a village, bordering a gigantic plagued tree. Here, you can acquire ingredients like aloe, berries, and meat for cooking food and brewing potions. Food replenishes stamina, necessary for running, fighting, and other actions. Potions come with a myriad of effects and variants, which include combat, support, and exploration. These are consumed or thrown, giving players some powerful ranged abilities. The game throws you a bone with a consistent supply of worms, tea leaves, and skeleton fish but halts the assistance there.
“This struggle for survival leaves you constantly wanting, as you find yourself at the bottom of the food chain.”
Unearthing material is a rough gamble, made harsher by the need to research them before they can be of use. Afterwards, you can concoct items though you risk wasting them without following a recipe. Tools and weapons are hard to come by and break quickly. This struggle for survival leaves you constantly wanting, as you find yourself at the bottom of the food chain. You can risk trial and error, but I found metal scrap too scarce to try this more than once. Eventually, you will be forced to return to your camp, either to avoid becoming over-encumbered or dying in a corruption storm.
A corruption storm resets the area after it clears, giving you new opportunities to explore. This also resets the research you’ve done for that area, which increases item drop rates. I enjoy the system but find the percentage counter to be inadequate. I would have preferred a timer considering the importance of time management. You get notifications when a storm begins and ends, with the percentage visible on the world map. I feel a delay could also help the loop flow better but it all functions well enough.
“With no explanation, you must work for and deposit a hundred pieces of slowly acquired gold to learn their purpose.”
It’s best to spend this time on production, preparing for your next trek into the wilderness. If you have the recipe for a specific potion you are able to sell them to fill order requests. Unfortunately, requests are singular and take minutes to refill. This slows things down a lot, especially when you need to factor in bag space. To make matters worse, the gold you receive for this is at first only used for tossing into a well. With no explanation, you must work for and deposit a hundred pieces of slowly acquired gold to learn their purpose.
Your reward for the hundred gold is a Sanctum, a type of purification bomb requiring human aid to carry. Apparently, you can pay for human help at the Pier, but I only found this information in the Steam Discussions. This search took me about five minutes, versus the fifteen hours in-game spent having no idea this location existed. Thankfully a Sanctum can still be useful, by breaking it down into curative potions. This helps unlocks new areas or restore the infected, but the lack of direction made learning the potions’ worth daunting. I attempted to cure the first boss but I had no idea if it was working. Eventually, it no longer seemed worth spending hundreds of gold on something that might not even work.
“This web of dependency helps hold engagement even when frustration runs high.”
Nitpicking aside, The Serpent Rogue features an extremely enjoyable gameplay loop. Once you get things moving, every small victory feels extremely satisfying. Transforming into animals to reach hidden areas adds depth to each level. Consequently, this offers the player immediate goals to work toward. As a result, you always make progress, even if it’s slow at the start. You need to feed your pets and yourself, making food a necessity. Cooking food is ideal as this improves the effect while producing coal. However, you’ll need logs to do this, requiring an axe and a trip into the Wasteland. This web of dependency helps hold engagement even when frustration runs high.
Once you begin making progress, things ease up as more options and factors are introduced. Apparently, you will need to manage corpses, pets, and items among different locations or risk dealing with the consequences of letting these get out of hand. I only just met The Reaper who deals with burying the dead, so I don’t think I noticed any of this before then. Shortcomings aside, The Serpent Rogue is a fun and challenging game, while managing to avoid being difficult. For those looking for an experience to dedicate their time to, even in short bursts, The Serpent Rogue might be the next title to add to your wishlist.
You can pick up The Serpent Rogue on Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X|S, Playstation 5, and Steam. The game currently has a 10% off sale, bringing its $19.99USD price down to $17.99USD until May 10th.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.