STAFF REVIEW of Crypt of the Serpent King (Xbox One)

Monday, January 23, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Crypt of the Serpent King Box art Sometimes a game’s premise is so simplistic that it doesn’t require any setup, explanation, or narrative at all, as is the case with Crypt of the Serpent King by Rendercode Games. Normally I would delve into the backdrop and plot, attempting the paint a picture of what to expect narrative wise, but there’s none here. In fact, there’s no narrative, dialogue, or anything of the sort at all throughout the game. You’re simply thrown into a randomly generated dungeon and have to escape and survive. Simple seems to be a reoccurring key theme in this game.

Played in a first person perspective, you begin your journey inside a square room in the depths of a dungeon with no idea what you’re doing there or, how you got there in the first place. This isn’t a clever setup that’s explained to you, as you literally just start playing the game with no introduction to anything. You’re tasked with finding a set amount of keys so you can open a door that houses that stage’s boss, allowing you to move onto the next dungeon. Repeat across all seven levels that last around 10 minutes each and you’ll realize how quickly your journey in Crypt’s dungeons are.

As you begin you’ll notice that you have stats and weapon choices, neither of which you have enough experience points or gold to upgrading at first, so you start your journey with base stats and the dullest axe there is (and I don't mean boring). Each dungeon has a different look and feel to it, along with a different type of enemy to face in combat. Given that the dungeons and enemy placements are completely random every time you play, there’s at least a little replay value within.

Casual difficulty is a good start for you to learn the techniques needed to defeat enemies and how jump across traps. There's a normal and hard mode, but I don’t foresee many people wanting to play these aside from hunting for achievements, as one run through will most likely be good enough unless you have endurance for dull games.

Combat is challenging, not for all the strategy you need to use, but to simply do so without falling asleep for killing the same enemies over and over again. Once you’ve been spotted the enemy they will come at you in a straight line. The trick is to make them attack, back up slightly to get out of their range, then you can move in and attack, repeating if necessary if you’ve not upgraded your weapon yet. That’s it, for every single enemy in the game, including the “bosses”. I emphasize bosses because they really aren’t anything but a normal enemy with their own unique skin and slightly more health.

Every level has a different type of enemy, but only that single type, except for the boss. So expect to kill handfuls of spiders, orcs, skeletons, snakes, rats, and more, repeatedly. The combat is simple, but it’s also dull because of the single strategy needed to kill any enemy. Once you perfect the 'back away and attack' move, you’ll kill every enemy in the game without getting hit.

Truth be told, the hardest enemy in the game is actually battling the controls when jumping over pits. You need to collect a certain amount of keys in each dungeon before you can unlock the boss door. These keys are always on a small pedestal surrounded by lava or spikes that you need to jump over. I’ve died more times as a result of missed jumps than I’d care to admit. I actually uninstalled the game after a good half hour or doing so, only to find myself reinstalling later to complete it. Timing the jumps is terrible and you will die many times, forcing you to replay the same dungeon from the beginning.

During your search for keys, which really is just a way to arbitrarily pad the length of the game, you’ll come across treasure chests. These chests will randomly give you gold, food to replenish your health, or arrows for later on when you can afford a ranged bow weapon. The gold is what you’ll save up to purchase better weapons like a halberd, mace, sword, and more. Initially, the costs for the weapons seem quite obscene, but after a few levels you’ll have more than enough gold to afford every weapon in the game, leaving you with nothing more to do with your spare gold.

Killing enemies earns you experience points, which in turn can be used to boost your stats up to a maximum of 10. Boosting your stats help slightly, but I didn’t notice anything majorly different. The best thing to focus on is getting better weapons, and maybe some agility to help your run speed to make the jumping a bit easier. Since you’ve already mastered how to kill any enemy in the game, the stats really don’t make much of a difference aside from making it a little easier on the more difficult modes.

I did run into a few issues during my playthrough. Most notably, the visuals aren’t very pretty to look at. Truth be told, the game looks like it’s ripped right out the mid 90’s with its low polygon models, choppy animations, and blotchy textures. The worst offender was the serious lag I got during the seventh and final stage where, for some reason, there are doors at every corridor, whereas no other dungeon had them. The more doors I opened the choppier my gameplay became.

Some of the audio on the other hand is great. Not the primitive clanging of the weapon or whoosh of your swing, but the music. Each dungeon stage has its own music theme, some of which are very fitting of the mood. Two of the background songs will actually make you think something is about to happen or that an enemy is behind you with its dark tone and sharp sounds. Sadly, the bosses don’t sound unique, so don’t expect too much from the audio standpoint aside from the fitting music.

An odd design choice that stood out to me was that there is only a single save file. That means you can only play on casual, normal, or hard in a single go. So, you either need to finish it to completion or lose your progress when you change difficulties. I got to level 4 on my first casual playthrough and kept dying as I wrestled with the poor jumping mechanics, so I decided I would try normal mode instead (also for the achievements). This overwrote my casual save and I had to begin that all over once I gave up on my normal playthrough.

At its heart, Crypt of the Serpent King is a very simple and basic dungeon crawler. It may even make for a decent ‘my first dungeon crawler’ game for someone new to the genre or who is new to gaming as a whole. It is by no means going to excite you, but given that it’s only priced at $3, its' issues can be somewhat forgiven. Regardless of its score, you’ll get $3 worth of entertainment out of it, just don’t expect much more value than what is offered so you won't have any regrets when finished.

Overall: 4.3 / 10
Gameplay: 3.0 / 10
Visuals: 3.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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