Most months, Humble Choice includes at least one quirky indie title that I’ve never heard of. This month, that title was The Serpent Rogue. The developers describe it as a botanical action-adventure, with a heavy focus on gathering and crafting. The Serpent Rogue has a regular price of $19.99, and according to HowLongToBeat, a playtime of about three hours for the main story line, although there’s quite a lot of extras stuff to do if one wanted to.
At a glance, The Serpent Rogue looks like it would be exactly the type of game I’d enjoy. It’s stunningly beautiful, the introduction is almost lyrical, and I was absolutely ready to dive into the grimdark world and start looking for all the plants I was going to need to save the world.
After a brief introduction where you learn how to sprint and not much else, you’re unceremoniously dumped into a world with very little guidance. Now, I realize that there are multiple schools of thought on how tutorials should be handled, but I’m a strong proponent of not having the challenge of the game play be about how to play the game. The first few minutes are fine, but after that, you’ve got a not-very-open world to explore, a bunch of stuff you can break open, and a journal full of quests you may not even realize you’re receiving.
I picked some berries, and used my portable research table to study them. I poked around some more, grabbed a couple of pumpkins that were just lying around. I figured out what it means to go fishing in this game. However, I was also frustrated by areas that told me I needed an axe or a shovel, but with no indication of where to obtain these starter tools. I muddled around for a bit, but by the third area of the game, I knew it just wasn’t going to click for me.
I did manage to die once, and I learned a few things from the experience. First, that you drop all your stuff, and if you die again before retrieving it, it’s gone for good. Second, if you see a little bag hanging from a tree branch, it probably has stuff in it that you want. In fact, on my first pass I had missed one such bag, and I’m guessing that was the thing preventing me from moving to the next area, but I can’t say 100% for sure.
You will need to worry about survival mechanics, like hunger and rest, and the game gives you very little guidance on how these systems work. You’ll run into the occasional NPC, who will speak in riddles. If you’re diligent in your explorations, you’ll find some books, that give you a little bit of additional information about the world (and ostensibly, clues to solving the puzzles within it), but I’d mentally checked out already. I didn’t think I’d signed up for a game where everything was the puzzle – I just wanted to pick flowers, make some potions, and make friends with the animals.
I feel like this game isn’t doing itself any favors with its marketing – someone expecting a somewhat chill gameplay loop will likely be frustrated, while someone who really loves being dropped, mostly unguided, into a weird world and left on their own to survive may be turned off by the game’s description. I hope that being featured in this month’s Humble Choice will help A Serpent Rogue find it’s intended audience, but I learned pretty quickly that I am not a part of it.