Crypt of the Serpent King Review

By Sam Quirke, 2 months ago
"Rogue-like" is one of those terms that has almost lost meaning due to over-use and it's a rare game that manages to meet the definition. Crypt of the Serpent King is the latest title that would like to incorrectly bill itself as a rogue-like, but in reality it's a bare bones dungeon crawl. It's also the laziest, dullest game I have played in a long time – a masterclass in bad design. It's a port of an Indie game from the Xbox 360 and I'm not sure why anyone thought it was worth bringing to today's console generation.

Crypt of the Serpent KingCrypt of the Serpent King

Serpent King is a first-person game of walking through corridors and lightly tapping enemies until they, or you, fall over. While exploring each of the game's seven dungeons, you will be tasked with finding several keys in order to unlock the final room and kill the boss. Each level has just one enemy type lurking in the corridors between the rooms that contain the keys. They relentlessly move towards you once they've spotted you and attack once in range. The keys are always found in square rooms and you get to them by jumping a narrow gap filled with spikes or lava. There are chests containing loot or health in the mix as well, but that's about it.

These elements are copy-pasted in what I'll have to assume is a procedurally generated dungeon. When the surroundings are this dull, it's nearly impossible to tell if I'm looking at procedural generation or merely random map selection. It doesn't really matter, to be honest. If you die and start in a new random version of the current level, you certainly won't feel like you're anywhere new. The only variation in each level is the boss, who has a different physical look than the other enemies in the level. Like everyone else, he will simply move in your direction and jab at you until someone falls down. There are no ranged attacks to face, no status conditions inflicted and no unusual enemy strategies. Once you've jabbed your way through seven levels (no more than 10 minutes apiece), the game is effectively done. In all honesty, the concept here is so spartan that you could simulate the whole game in Minecraft using zombies. The result would be nicer to look at and considerably more fun to play.

Of course there's goblins in the sewers. There's always goblins in the sewers.Of course there's goblins in the sewers. There's always goblins in the sewers.

The graphics are of a quality reached in the early 2000s, with a grey and brown colour palette to match. The dungeons appear to be illuminated by the kind of strip lighting you'd get in a dive bar bathroom, casting ugly shadows and keeping any character detail in the murk. Your weapons and your enemies look gummy and ill-defined, representing only the stalest high fantasy stereotypes. The first level kicks off in what looks like a storage basement with rat-men, while the second takes you to a green-tinged sewer with goblins. The rest of the game takes place in generic stone dungeons of minimal variance, where you'll fend off orcs, skeletons, spiders and snakes. I guess the designers simply gave up bothering with changing the backdrops at this point.

Despite hitting the very lowest requirements for visual design, somehow it's still too much for the game to be able to cope. Wall textures popped in and out on every corner and the frame rate dropped whenever the boss room was approached. Possibly this is due to being the only place with two floors, or maybe it's the fact that the boss character effectively doubles the amount of character models to render. Either way, it's too much for the game to handle. Graphical glitches in a game this basic aren't funny – they're just depressing.

At least the blood effects are amazing.At least the blood effects are amazing.

Graphics aren't everything, right? We're here for combat and, in rogue-like style, carefully managing our attack strategy and levelling decisions in order to defeat challenging foes. Well, Serpent King does offer levelling and customisation. You can increase your Strength, Endurance and Agility between levels depending on how much XP you've accrued from killing bad guys. You can also purchase increasingly more effective weapons depending on the gold you've looted. The problem is that none of this really makes any odds to your only useful strategy: wait for the enemy to shuffle towards you, hit it, back off out of its range and repeat. The only attack you'll face is a basic melee swing, meaning you can repeat this process indefinitely and finish the game unscathed. Most enemies appear on their own, so you don't even need to divide your attention. There's a potential to get swarmed by two or three in a key room with several connected corridors, but here's a trick: hop onto the central platform with the key, and the enemies will pause at the edge. Hop off the opposite side of the platform and they'll remain frozen in place unless you head over to them, meaning you can often just wander off to the next room.

The only reason you'll want to raise your stats is to make this horrible game move along at a bit more of a pace; enemies will go down a little quicker with Strength and you'll be able to run faster with Agility. I would recommend buying at least a couple of weapons as well. The first two take up the entire centre of your screen while the map takes up most of the left quarter, cleverly concealing any approaching bad guys. I'd like to pretend this is some kind of comment on man being his own worst enemy, but it's just sloppy design. As if the combat wasn't one-sided enough, you'll eventually unlock a bow and arrow, making any engagement a breeze at any difficulty level.

Hey guys. Do you want this bow? This all seems a bit unfair to you..."Hey guys. Do you want this bow? This all seems a bit unfair to you..."

The game sounds as awful as it looks and feels. The title music is just your standard high fantasy blaring on repeat, while each level has perhaps ten seconds of atmospheric noises on a loop. I'd love to recommend turning it off, but therein lies another issue. The game has almost no sound effects outside of combat, meaning the only way you'll know if an enemy is approaching from behind or beyond the gloom is a faint audio cue in the background music. The noises your enemies and weapons do make are completely unremarkable, unless you find it interesting that the orcs and pikemen make the same snorting pig noise when felled. As a final insult, the very last boss doesn't even seem to have a sound file, or at least didn't make any noise on any of my three playthroughs. I just jabbed him in silence from a safe distance -- an appropriate anti-climax to the whole tepid experience.

If you're wondering why I would subject myself to this game three times over, it's because there are three difficulty modes. As you would expect, enemy hit points go up with difficulty. On paper, the other differences look like an attempt to make things rogue-like. Easy mode allows you to keep your XP and gold if you die and use it before you restart the level. You'll lose it if you die in Normal mode, and your only opportunity to decide how to spend it is at the start of each level. That is until you discover what I can only assume is a bug. Quitting out of a level and hitting "Resume" brings you back to the load-out screen where you can spend the XP and gold you picked up in your half-finished run. You'll return to the start of the level with all enemies back in place. Effectively, you can break the game even more than it breaks itself by replaying a single level until you've unlocked everything. Completing Normal mode unlocks Hardcore, which removes health pickups from chests. Given that the back-stepping tactic makes you invulnerable, this makes no difference whatsoever. Whatever difficulty you select, you'll face the same dull, buggy, pointless slog through a game that really has no place on a modern console.

Still just walking into my blade. Perhaps they actually want to die?Still just walking into my blade. Perhaps they actually want to die?

Through gritted teeth, I have to admit that the game is at least easy to complete. The achievement list is as uninspired as the rest of the game, awarding you for each level completion on each difficulty mode. Probably the most difficulty you'll have is managing the frustrating jump to the keys in Level 4, but we already have some advice for that. Unfortunately the difficulties don't stack, but the game is so short that you'll still be done in a matter of hours. You'll get your 1000G, but you won't get those hours of your life back.

Summary

This poor excuse for a dungeon crawler doesn't even have enough entertainment value to fall into the "so bad it's good" category. It's a masterclass in lazy design, from the abominable graphics and abysmal soundtrack through to the gameplay that is laughably unbalanced in your favour. Bugs and frame-rate drops are the final nails in the coffin. Score hunters will find an easy 1000G here, but it'll be precious hours of your life that you can't get back. Do the decent thing and let this one slither back to the crypt from whence it came.
1 / 5
Positives
  • A quick and easy completion
  • Most of the bugs and design failings work in the player's favour
Negatives
  • Lazy, uninspired design in every aspect
  • Exploitable combat and levelling renders the whole game pointless
  • Difficulty modes make almost no difference
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 6 hours jabbbing goblins from a safe distance in order to earn all of the available 21 achievements. An Xbox One digital copy was provided by the ID@Xbox team for the purposes of this review. This title is currently only available in the following stores: US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Germany.
Sam Quirke
Written by Sam Quirke
Sam has been gaming long enough to know the pain of a failed DOS install on the fifth floppy disc. As well as writing news, he also looks after our Community Interviews. Send him a PM if you are interested!