Crypt of the Serpent King is described as a ‘first-person hack’n’slash dungeon crawler with roguelike elements’. However, that’s not necessarily a true description at all. At its core, Crypt of the Serpent King is a hollow experience that makes it hard to stay engaged. Questionable gameplay mechanics and an overall repetitive nature really hurts a game that is simply unremarkable.
In this game, you are someone who has to make their way through seven floors of a dungeon. Why? For no reason that’s given in the game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though it is hard to get engage with a game where your overall goal is unclear from the start. To progress through the dungeon, you need to find a set number of keys on each floor, all while fighting the specific enemies that inhabit each level. Find all the keys, and you can unlock to the door to that stage’s boss. You fight said boss, and move on to the next floor. And that’s the entirety of the gameplay experience.
Repetitiveness is the game’s overall worst offender. There’s slight variety on each floor, from the enemies to the ‘puzzles’ required to find each key, but not enough to keep things interesting. By the time I hit my fourth consecutive floor, I was more than bored.
The repetitiveness cut through much more the gameplay, however. While each floor did have a different look, they were all some variation of dull, dark, and gray. Each floor shares the same overall layout, with hallways that contain enemies and chests, chambers holding keys, and an open room that holds the locked door, aka your objective point. For a game that describes itself as ‘roguelike’, there was not much variety at all. You don’t need to worry about dying and losing all of your progress. Yes, the map resets and you have to find all the keys again, but there’s very little change within levels that this is barely an issue.
This would be forgiven if the gameplay was even slightly engaging, but it’s not. If a game describes itself as a hack and slash, gameplay should be fast and fluid, which it is not. There is just one attack button, and tapping that button once causes you to slash your weapon, and then you can push it again, doing the same thing. There is no sense of flow to this game, which is especially disappointing.
You quickly realize that fighting enemies is a formula of sorts. Run up to the enemy, attack before it gets the chance to attack you, attack again, and boom, the enemy falls. While you can buy different weapons prior to the start of each level, they seemed to have minimal impact on the actual game itself. You can buy ranged weapons so you don’t need to run up to enemies as well. But the same issue lies with the ranged weapons as the melee weapons. You push a button around two to three times, and the enemies fall.
I said enemies were different on each floor, but the design is just about the only thing that differentiates the enemies. They all seem to have the same form of attack, and that’s lunging at you and attacking. There’s no sort of strategy involved in fighting, just making sure to time your attacks so you don’t get any damage. The boss fights are an even worse offender. They are a unique enemy design, but that’s about it. You just employ the same tactics you employed in your normal enemy encounters, just for a little bit longer. There was no strategy, just pressing a button repeatedly until the boss falls.
Enemies are not difficult at all. You may run into instances where your health can deplete, but that’s rare. The only real cases of this happening are you either timing your attacks wrong, or if you somehow manage to run into more than one enemy. But these situations are easy to run away from. The enemy AI isn’t the most intelligent out there. On more than one occasion, I jumped over to a platform holding a key, and the enemy just stood there, not moving. I jumped off the platform to move on, but the enemy still stood in its same spot. Not the most threatening enemies out there.
Speaking of jumping, in all but one floor the keys are located on separate platforms. These platforms are either surrounded by lava or spikes, and touching them is an instant death. Naturally, you’d have to jump on to these platforms across the pitfalls that surround them. It would sound easy, if the jumping physics weren’t so bad. A lot of the time jumping off a platform is a crapshoot, and you need to guess when the right time to jump is. Eventually this is a problem I got past, but it’s definitely frustrating to lose your progress because it was a jump that failed you.
This game does have some light RPG elements. By defeating enemies you can build up XP, and can use this XP to upgrade your stats. There are three stats, and upgrading each costs 100 XP. They can all be upgraded up to ten times, and you shouldn’t have to worry about slitting your XP. I had more than enough XP to max out all of my stats. Each level is lined with treasure chests, each containing either gold, food (which replenishes health), or, if you bought a ranged weapon, a quiver of arrows. The chests were so plentiful I had no issue saving up gold to buy the most powerful weapons. By the end of the game, it was essentially a cakewalk.
The game does offer three difficulty levels. Casual, Normal, and Hard, which can be unlocked. I completed the game on Casual and dabbled with Normal, but didn’t play Hard. The only way to unlock Hard is to beat the game on Normal mode, and for the reasons mentioned above, I was not engaged enough to play through it a second time. I’m sure the game gets more difficult, whether it’s a marginal increase or not, but unless the gameplay completely changes on this difficulty, I doubt much of my opinions will change.
The game, made with Unity, does run smooth, which is a definite plus. I didn’t notice frame rate dropping at any point when I played it on my PS4. The game doesn’t look bad, either. It doesn’t necessarily look good, but the games visuals are nothing offensive. They are, however, uninspired. As mentioned above, the game has a constant color palette of dark and gray, and the rom environments never change significantly. The enemies are no more than your standard fantasy tropes, ranging from skeletons, to knights, to giant spiders.
There a definite lack of atmosphere to the game as well. The soundtrack is virtually nonexistent, and what it music it does use is no more than standard dark fantasy fare. The game does throw in some random, unsettling sound effects, though whether it was tied to anything was lost on me. From what I could tell, it all seemed very random and served no purpose. I get the sense that it is supposed to alert you to an enemy, but if that’s the case, it was not executed well.
Overall, Crypt of the Serpent King is a very hollow experience. The game is so repetitive that it causes you to lose interest in progressing forward. The combat is mediocre at best and the gameplay loop is far from rewarding. It’s not a terrible game by any means, but it is definitely not a remarkable one. The price tag is low enough that if it piques your interest it’s not a bad investment, but it may not necessarily be a worthwhile experience.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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