Serpent in the Staglands Reviews and Impressions

Serpent in the Staglands, Whalenought Studios' original throwback RPG, has been almost completely ignored by the specialized press unfortunately, but we have been able to round up a (literal) couple of reviews and an impressions article, in case you're interested but need a few opinions before taking the plunge.

NicheGamer notes that the game is extremely old-school (the reviewer found the usability features lacking when compared to the Gold Box titles from SSI) but still liked it, 8.0/10.

There are other odd exclusions, like not being able to resurrect fallen allies, not getting any clues as to whether killing an NPC will ruin your quest, and not being told if an enemy requires a certain level of weapon to do damage against it.but that's more than likely what they wanted.

They probably also wanted you to constantly reload your saves too, since enemy AI seems to prefer going after your main character and, much like Baldur's Gate, if your main character dies then everyone dies. It causes a great many fights to de-evolve into a frantic race to keep your main character alive while sending two or three healers over to babysit him as a half dozen enemies poke him to death. I dread to think what a non-heavy armor wearing main do in such circumstances, since my heavy-weapon using, heavy armor using hero was still prone to eating dirt from time to time.


One thing I will say is that many of the game's quests, at least those not involving incredibly complex and nonsensical puzzles (HP-draining fog in the ice ruins, I'm looking at you), are very clever. There was one that required me to summon a portal to fight an ancient monster, and to do so I needed to prick my character's finger on a needle and draw special runes on a blank page with the blood. The game then has you, with the mouse, trace the runes on the paper. The blood realistically sinks into and dries on the paper, making for a macabre effect that I thought went far beyond what any other modern RPG would do. It was made even more amusing by the fact that my monitor is a touch-screen and I could (and did) use my own finger to trace the shapes. It was my favorite moment of the game and the first time in my playthrough it that I realize I was hooked.


So should you buy Serpent in the Staglands and take up the old school challenge this game provides? I believe that if you're the kind of CRPG fan who grew up playing C64 and DOS games in the 80s and 90s, then yes, you'll probably enjoy Staglands. Though you might have to work hard at it for the first few days until you bang your way through the game's idiosyncrasies, once you do you'll be rewarded with a very stylish and deep CRPG that is about as close to triple-A quality as an indie developer is going to get.

True PC Gaming recommends it to "traditional RPG fans".

I've played some difficult games in my time, but I can't remember any that left my lead character crumpled in a bloody heap on the cold ground so frequently as Serpent in the Staglands. It's quite a task to nail down a solid conclusion about this game, as I feel like the overall enjoyment experienced will vary drastically based on the type of player. That being said, there's much to be appreciated by all audiences, and I wholeheartedly recommend traditional RPG fans to buy this game now.

Finally, Richard Cobbett penned an impressions article for Rock, Paper, Shotgun. He appreciates the game's cleverness and character, but also notes that the mechanics are often opaque and the interface obtuse:

This game painfully, desperately needs a Getting Started type guide. There's a manual, which is not optional, but even that is a weak introduction. It's not complex because the systems are rocket science, but because everything is either poorly explained or just plain not explained at all. I'm aware that to some people that is considered hardcore, but I call bullshit. Games like Darklands had brutal introductions not because scourging is simply good for the soul, but because circa 1992 there usually weren't any alternatives. Some twenty odd years later, game design by the same rules is like dealing with a civil servant who piously demands all of his staff write memos to him in Latin.

(This is not the same for all its pointedly old-school decisions, mind. To name one, Serpent's preference for giving you a journal to fill in rather than giving you one that automatically fills itself in feels like a reasonable throwback that fits the style. That at least means you're never just treading waypoints, and the open world will allow you to go more or less anywhere if you can survive the monsters or find ways to kite them into guards who can then handle them for you. There's already at least one speed-run of the game that's only 42 minutes long, and much of that is spent on the achingly slow loading screens. I guess at least they add an extra sting to failure?)

The frustrating/good thing is that behind all of this waits a surprisingly good RPG. It's bursting with carefully designed areas and clever ideas, as well some really fun gimmicks. You can start with just yourself, or use your god powers to create a few extra empty shells to back you up until you find suitable NPCs to fill slots. When they're recruited, you can either take them warts and all or use your power to just straight up steal their souls, removing their tiresome free will.

(You grip his shoulder as if he was a comrade and feel the vitality of his blood coursing in his veins. Digging deeper you find his soul, vulnerable and ripe, and whispering the incantation known only to the gods, you mark his soul as yours.)