Simplistic dungeon crawler Crypt of the Serpent King has finally made its way to the PS4 in the EU and it’s an unpolished shallow adventure. The FNGR GNS Review;
Rendercode Games‘ Crypt of the Serpent King began life as an Xbox Live Indie Arcade game that cost just a single dollar to buy when it released on the Xbox 360 in 2015. Since then, the game has made its way to Steam, the Xbox One, the PlayStation 4 in North America earlier this year and now the PS4 in Europe. The game is a little more expensive these days (launching with a price of £2.49 in the UK) but it’s still very much a budget title. While I won’t presume to know the value for money this game offers each player (that’ll very much be a unique thing for each person who plays it), I can comment on how much this game values your time and in that regard, Crypt of the Serpent King is an abject failure.
Crypt of the Serpent King is a first person, RPG-lite dungeon crawler that plonks you into a series of randomly generated levels, asks you to collect a series of keys then unlock a door to fight a boss. There’s no narrative whatsoever – how every boss ended up being trapped in a locked cell, who conveniently spread the keys around each level and why exactly you’re exploring these dungeons are all questions that are left unanswered. You pick a difficulty level between Easy and Hard (which effects the number of health items and treasure that are scattered around each level) and are unceremoniously dumped into a level with no explanation of the controls or the aim of the game. The game has a rogue-lite element which means you can carry forward any XP earned from kills and any treasure found to spend on new weapons and stat boosts after death. This is, again, totally unexplained and something you have to discover on your own.
Each of the games 7 levels has their own fantasy theme and unique, traditional enemy type but they all feel very similar. Regardless of whether you’re facing off against giant rat people, skeleton warriors, goblins, orcs or giant snakes, the level set up is almost entirely identical, made up of corridors lined with chests and (indestructible) barrels and square rooms that contain the keys you’re after. Aesthetically, the levels do alter mildly as your progress – some have sewer pipes that pump out green gas and the wall textures change at each level – but they’re all so vary samey. The only non-superficial change to each level is the defence around each key which alternates between a timed barrier to walk past or a pit of spikes or lava to jump over.
Crypt of the Serpent King is described by Rendercode Games as a “hack ‘n’ slash” game but in reality it’s more “hack” without the “slash”. Each weapon comes with one single attack and no way to block any incoming attacks. There’s no feeling to the attacks either. They lack that visceral feeling that should come when striking a mace against the head of a goblin or smacking a giant snake with a halberd. The shallow combat mechanics are compounded by the enemy AI. Once a foe has spotted you, they make a b-line in your direction, only stopping to attack once you get in range. The vast majority of the monsters you fight have one attack and all it takes is to back off until their attack animation has finished to then close in to perform your own hack to defeat them. As the levels grow, so do the number of enemies in them and repeating this mundane dance over and over becomes unbearably dull before the end of the 5th level.
There’s also some very questionable design decisions in Crypt of the Serpent King. The most egregious is that when you do get hit by an attack – the AI being so dumb that the only time this will ever happen is if you accidentally walk into a monster lurking around a corner – the screen goes almost totally red, to the point that seeing the attacker becomes neigh on impossible. Blinded by red, you’re left wide open to another attack. Why exactly Rendercode thought that getting hit meant that you should be left almost totally vulnerable to another is beyond comprehension. This is a game design relic that should have been left in the past. Another questionable element is the HUD UI. A map of the area and a list of your stats and treasure horde are permanently displayed on he left hand side of the screen on large sections made to look like parchment. These elements are so large that they are encroach on the action on screen and are immutably distracting. Then there’s the “jump” action which feels unnaturally short with almost no arc to it. When leaping over a pit of lava to get a key, it’s all too easy to misjudge the distance and fall to your death because the jump action is severe in its motion.
Visually, Crypt of the Serpent King has had a lot more polish and detail added to it since its release on the Xbox 360 back in 2015 but it still looks poor compared to most modern day games. The character models, the Orc in particular, are now highly detailed and have decent reflective lighting elements but they stand out in a sea of poorly lit environments, uninspired wall textures and mundane visual effects. The fire effects look like they were lifted from the 1990’s and plopped in here and the blood splatter after a successful attack is pitiful.
Crypt of the Serpent King lacks any kind of narrative, has substandard visuals, includes some of the most shallow combat mechanics I’ve ever experienced, lacks polish, contains rote and tired enemy types and lacks even the smallest spark of originality. Its only saving graces are the roguelike play cycle which means there’s around 10 hours of content here if you can force your way through it and the detailed enemy models. Crypt of the Serpent King might come with a small price tag but like some many other things in life, you get what you pay for.
Crypt of the Serpent King is available now on Xbox 360, PC, Xbox One and PS4 (reviewed on a standard PS4).
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we purchased a copy of the game. Please see our review policy for more information.