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October 1, 2015

Serpent in the Staglands - Review



Game reviewed: Serpent in the Staglands
Version: 15
Created byWhalenought Studios
Released: 2015
Formats: Pc
Difficulty: 7/10
Price$19.99


Serpent in the Staglands is a true old-school RPG in the sense that it is difficult, nonlinear and with charming graphics from the early 90s. The nonlinear thing might not be true for every CRPG (Bard´s Tale, SSI Forgotten Realms/Dragonlance etc) but it is true for Faery Tale Adventure and Wizardry VII just to name a few. You could go anywhere you like but it will be extremely hard to succeed and you have to avoid fights to survive, but you could do it. That is the point. There are no directions, journal with objectives or anytning to help you out. You have an ingame notepad where you could write your own things but that is about all.

The game starts out very challenging. You are weak with few hitpoints, lacks any good equipment and have no skills in magic or combat. I love such difficulty as long as you have an open world and this game offers it. Just make a note of things you know you have to return to when you are stronger. The story is quite original and the world interesting to explore. I also like the fog-of-war on each map and that you don´t know where you will find interesting places on the overland map. They just appear if you move into the grid. I also found out that you can move outside the visible grid and find places. 

You have few emeralds (gold) in the beginning and need everyone of them to secure your stock of arrows, bolts and other equipment like rope and spades. When you get enough gold you will start to prioritize which one in your pary gets a better armour or weapon. You will never feel rich in the game and that is a good thing but in the end you will have enough gold to buy anything you like. It is then you will discover that there are very few highend equipment in the game so you don´t have much use for the gold.

You could talk to most NPC:s and often have multiple answers to choose from. I found the dialougues to be quite good and mature. There are very few sidequests in the game but you get enough information about what is happening when talking to people or the governors. You have certain aptitudes that will help you out such as Noble (get along better with highend persons) or Harbinger (threatening people. I never found any use for it though). Some of them, will be used to interact with the environment such as Woodwise but I never had any use for Philosophy.There are a few such places in the game.

There are a few dozen different monsters and humaniods you will come across in the game. From goblins to ice spiders and many of them have their own combat skills and abilities. I had great trouble killing the harvesters at first until I used a magical item that had a chance to make them flee and become an easy target. I like that variety. Often your worst problem is the number of them not the individual threats so I always sneak up to lure away one at a time to take down. The AI used is decent in the way that it tries to target your weakest character and follow retreating ones. There is no resurrection whatsoever in the game so I had to win every combat with all members surviving.

The combat system works better than expected with good, detailed information about hits, damage dealt, skills or magics used per round. You easily see the effects if you increase your skills and enter combat. There are much variety to combatrelated skills and magics so I imagine you could build your party in many different ways and employ a lot of different tactics.

I also like the magic system where you don´t spend any mana. That means you could always heal yourself back up to full after every combat but while casting a spell you cannot move and it will continously deal its effect after a certain amount of seconds which makes the spellcaster quite vulnerable. My group entered a new level when I found out about the combat skill that give you back some hitpoints for every damage dealt. That kept my frontfighters alive longer we became much more harder to kill. For me that skill is invaluable.

The character generation system works pretty good too. There are a lot of interesting statistics like hit chance, dodge chance, attack speed, armour class and so on. For example to access higher grade combat skills you have to have enough attribute points spent on strength and dexterity. But if you are a fighter you would also like to spend them into perception because that increases your hit chance. I never found dexterity a good attribute because of its very low contribution to attack speed. As a mage you have to increase intelligence and occult values to acces higher level spells. You have quite many combat and magic skills to choose from and since there are no classes there is no restrictions of what classtype character you want to play.

The manual is vague in explaining underlying game mechanics. They claim it is beacuse they want you the player to discover this yourself and try out different strategies and that it is part of the fun. I don´t agree. When it comes to game mechanics you have to have a fair chance to understand how it works and plan ahead how you should develop your character. Now you have to guess or make assumptions. Totally unnecessary. When it comes to the plot or how the world works or its history you might very well discover that ingame but not on how the game works. A lame attempt in my view to get rid of constantly updating the manual with patch changes.

The maps are pretty well laid out. Most of the overland maps are equally large but there are some with different sizes. The same goes for underground maps of which there are too few in the game. But they are all well laid out and interesting to explore.

Graphics wise we are back in the early 90:s when 3D-pixelated games first appear. The screen resolution is too low for this game and reminds me of VGA resolution such as seen in Ultima Underworld. It is just ridiculous to have to play in this resolution in 2015 becaue it adds nothing to the CRPG charm. At least twice the resolution should have been offered. Still, you get used to it even if playing full screen and I suppose the graphics are as good as its get with the few pixels used.

Regarding music it never left me with any impression though I know it was there in the background. There are some decent sound effects in the game but nothing worht mentioning. The interface might be the worst part of the game. It is hard to see what things are and only some symbols and icons have tooltips. Those are very important but I think they could be improved.

In the end, I had much fun with this game. It is a true CRPG. It takes time to get into and survive the first 10 hours is crucial until you reach level 3 and notice you actually improve your survivability. It was quite fun to try out and discover which spells and skills you should invest and the few mainstory leads are interesting. I always looked forward to gain a few more XP in order to raise yet another level and increase my abilities in order to be able to kill just that one enemy. There was always some goals in mind and that´s what its all about. To stepwise and gradually develop your party from the lowest levels and up to the level when you can challenge anyone and feel it all came down to your patience and carefully selected improvements along the way.

Recommended!



Section
Rating
Gameworld & Story
2.5
Economy
4
NPC & Interactions
3
Monsters, tactics & combat system
3.5
Magic system
3.5
Character generation & development
4
Map design
3
Manual
2
Graphics, Sound and Interface
2
Summary CRPG value
27.5


Gameplay
4