The Serpent Rogue is an odd fish. On the one hand, it is undeniably beautiful. The artwork is gorgeous. Lovely, rounded edges compliment the almost watercolour colour palette. The music is subtle, relaxing, and atmospheric. There’s some light-touch worldbuilding that makes the lands of The Serpent Rogue feel intriguing and lived in. Stylistically, in conclusion, it’s hard to fault.
Rise ‘n’ grind, alchemists! The Serpent Rogue Gameplay
Where it all starts to fall apart is in the gameplay. At its core, The Serpent Rogue is a game about exploration, experimentation, and the occasional punch-up. Sengi Games, the developers, refer to their title as a “botanical action RPG”. As an adorable little plague doctor (weird combination of words), you must scour the corrupted landscape to find ingredients. You use these ingredients in cooking and in alchemical potions. Armed thusly, you forge on to defeat enemies and cleanse the lands of corruption.
Explore, Create, Combat
Firstly, there’s the exploration. Pretty self-explanatory. Each area is self-contained, filled with NPCs to interact with, animals, or enemies to defeat.
Secondly, alchemy and potion-making. Alchemy is really where the game shines. There are potions for healing, for polymorphing, summoning, buffing, debuffing… You name it. Each ingredient – which must be researched before you can use it – has an “Essence”. For instance, “Sulfur” has the essence “Burn”, while Garlic has the essence “Stinky”. You as the player string these essences together to create an effect. Once you get the hang of it, it’s quite fun.
Thirdly, there’s the ass-kicking. The combat is nothing to write home about. You run in, take a few swings at the enemies, get alchemical with it, and win or die. Your swings are sluggish and clunky. Narratively, maybe the game is trying to send the message that your character just isn’t built for combat. Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor! Not a swordsman! That said, combat is a core element of The Serpent Rogue, and I came to dread it during my time with the title.
Beautiful… But Bland.
Reviewing The Serpent Rogue took me a long time. I’d play a few hours here and there before it lost me again. There are a number of elements at play that really are compelling. I love the alchemy, and exploring to find new ingredients is exciting – the first time. But the combat is so clunky that it’s difficult to enjoy. Mistakes and their consequences sometimes feel unearned. Furthermore, the longer the game session goes on, the more it feels like you’re just spinning your wheels. Between collecting resources, researching, and experimenting, The Serpent Rogue features a lot of time spent just running around.
It’s clear that The Serpent Rogue is a labour of love. In truth, I’d love to be able to recommend it wholeheartedly – but I can’t. There’s absolutely something to be said for the satisfaction of experimenting with and mastering the alchemy system. That said, all in all, it’s not that complex. It takes very little time to learn the core systems, and then it’s just a grind from there to the end.
In its writing, the game luxuriates in mystery. The writers clearly love teasing you with open-ended dialogue and vague world-building. Occasionally that felt compelling – but, mainly, it just felt meandering.
The Serpent Rogue is by no means a bad game. It’s a solid first title from brand new developer Sengi Games. I couldn’t recommend it to everyone, and certainly not for full price. But for those who find joy in experimentation and the game’s bleak but beautiful aesthetic – it’s worth a buy on sale.