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петък, 19 юни 2015 г.

Serpent in the Staglands - Can it slither into modern gaming?




I had really hard time with deciding what I think about this game. I mean I like it, it is a good game, but...let's look at it in order. Serpent in the Staglands is "a 90s CRPG in every way but the release date". It came at 28th of May 2015 and is done by Whalenought Studious. The game takes place in Vol, world inspired by bronze age Transylvania.



The Story and World


In Serpent in the Staglands you take the role of a minor god of the Moon - Necholay, who after coming for the moonlit festival finds that his way back to the Moon is blocked and now he has no other choice than to disguise himself as mortal and by risking his own life to find is it another God or a human who have trapped him.  



The World is also rather intricate. Information for it you will gather from the amazingly long and detailed item descriptions. It's little strange way to do it, but it certainly works if you have the patience to read that much. Also in the very beginning of your adventure you will find yourself in your own Temple which is filled with books that will tell you about Vol. And only that but if you read them with the right skills you will even learn something from them.



Enjoyments for the senses



When I first saw this game I thought "Oh, no, another pixel cRPG.". And it is, but its so well done! Every time you equip new item the look of your character changes, you can easily tell what weapons your characters or the enemies are carrying by just looking at them. Every shot bolt, every hurled potion is clearly visible. Potions are even animated how they swirl trough the air. When mages cast spells colorful energies appear, rays of healing or destruction come out of their hands and even the air can be seen tremble because of their power. 



But the beauty of the game is not limited only to the characters. Every location you visit is amazingly detailed and pleasant to look at. Serpent in the Staglands is a retro themed RPG, but it is incredibly beautiful. Here I cannot miss to mention the part in which you decide Necholay's past by answering the questions of a mystic beauty. She will corner you with questions about your first appearance in front of mortals, with which God you're sided and why you helped the first settlers. I have not seen this combination of real life footage and CGI in ages. And as everything in the game it is made very solid. 



Gameplay and Game mechanics



In the game you will lead a party of adventurers which you will either meet on the road or create as mercenaries at the start of the game. At the beginning you have good choice of races each with its own subrace. Different subraces give some non-battle bonuses like you might be noble or start with some levels in the aptitudes. Aptitudes are skill that change the way in which you interact with the world. For example you might be a noble or even someone who can talk with animals. Unlike the aptitudes you start with no battle skills and class, its all in your hands. You can be a hurling madness and  destruction mage or a fearsome warrior or even something between the two.

As in any other similar RPG this one also use the "pausable-real time battle system". Yes, the same used in Dragon Age, Baldur's Gate, Pillars of Eternity and many more. Serpent is the Staglands is similar to Eternity in other things too. Like the shared inventory and the battles that may prove challenging if you're not prepared for them. Not to mention that for calculating damage, dodge and other effects the game use dice rolling. Even the damage in weapons descriptions is written as "damage of 1d4" for example. Important difference between the two is that if you die you lose the game instantly and if someone from your party is killed, he is dead for good.



From the very start the game shows that it will not hold your hand at all as there is no tutorial. The eerie world of Vol is dangerous and you're on your own. At the same time you're given total freedom from the beginning. Being God you can create companions and even bind the souls of the people you meet to your biding, turning you in their master. Not to mention that you're totally free to lie, threaten or be honest and kind to those who you meet. It all depends on your moral and how you see the mortals.

Another interesting and well known from old games feature of Serpent in the Staglands is the lack map markers of any sort. You will have to remember what people tell you and you will be given maps with "X" marking where you should go. It's not that the game does not have a map, it does and its big, there is just nothing marked on it other than different settlements that you have found. Traveling between those locations can be done either by walking from one to the other or by opening the World Map and clicking on the place you want to go. Bear in mind that there is good chance to be ambushed.



Conclusions



Serpent in the Staglands is a classic 90s cRPG where you're in the role of a moon god who cannot return to the Moon and now is forced to seek the culprit who has played this trick on him. During his/your adventure you will gather a party of adventurers, much in the style of Pillars of Eternity. But unlike it here you're given the chance to create some characters from the very beginning of the game. You're a god after all. Despite your choice to have a starting party or not, during your quest you will meet characters which you can take with you or even bind their souls to your biding. As I said...a god.

What puts Serpent in the Staglands apart from other pixel style games is all the effort that has been put in this one. From the very beginning you will see how much attention is given to every small detail. I have never believed that is possible to create something so gorgeous using only pixels. From the faces of your characters to your surroundings, everything is so well drawn, with so many details that it is unbelievable. The world is vast, beautiful and full of all kind of enemies and people to kill, lie, hire or help. Why I include animals to the ones you can help, because you can talk to them with the right skills.



In the game you have mainly two kind of skills - aptitudes, which change the way you interact with the world and might have some effect battle, depending on the aptitude you invest in. These skills can turn you into a noble, skillful trapper or as I said even teach you how to talk with animals. The other kind of skills are battle skills. Unlike the aptitudes where you can start with some levels in depending on your Race and Subrace, you start with blank battle skills and is up to you what you want to be.

The problem I had with Serpent in the Staglands is that it came out at the wrong time...its very nice game don't get me wrong, but for me Pillars of Eternity beat it at everything. Graphics, storytelling, world and lore. And because of that unless you really want to play something that will remind you of your childhood and how good pixels may look you don't really have reason to play it. In my humble opinion if it has came out few months earlier it would have been a lot more successful.

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