Children of Morta is an Action-RPG with Rogue-like gameplay mechanics from developer Dead Mage Inc and published by 11-bit studios. At first glance, Children of Morta might appear like a Diablo-clone with pixel-art graphics – and you’d be half-right. I feel like there are a lot of similarities between Children of Morta and Diablo II in particular, but whereas the loot is the focal point of Diablo the same can not be said for Children of Morta. It is a wonderful mix of genres that I think takes more inspiration from the randomized elements of the Rogue-like genre to provide a beautiful blend that feels unique. Although with the dark story and the brutal bosses, Children of Morta is not for those who are looking for an easy dungeon-crawler. Here is our review of Children of Morta.
A STORY FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
The cutscene introduction to Children of Morta doesn’t tell you much in the way of the story, only that there is some great evil that has been unleashed from the distant mountain and that this is not the first time such evil has sprung forth. It’s up to the Bergson family to find out what this evil is and put a stop to it. During the first mission, I played as John, the father to most of the characters I would be utilizing throughout the journey. I enjoyed how he seems like the typical father-archetype – holding steadfast with sword and shield, protecting and fighting for those he loves most. As I progressed in the prologue, I discovered a dark and tar-like corruption that oozed and bubbled, seeming to writhe with a life all its own. It spawned corrupted monsters that tried to bar my progress. I learned that this evil corruption was slowly transforming once-peaceful animals into terrible monstrosities and that, if not stopped, eventually the world world of Rea would succumb to this corruption. During this intro, there’s a narrator that gives voice to what’s happening around you as none of the characters have a voice themselves. I didn’t mind though since I thought the narrator’s performance was perfect for the story-telling narrative he was telling. After this prologue, you meet most of the other Bergsons and are led down to the Sanctuary, a basement underneath their house that harbors gateways to different lands. The whole gameplay loop in Children of Morta is going through these gateways, fighting your way to the spirit of each one, and saving them from the corruption so you can use their combined might to put a stop to the evil that’s been unleashed.
Each land reminded me of a different ‘Acts’ of Diablo II. The beginning areas took place in caves very similar to the beginning of Diablo and the caves in the first act of Diablo II. Likewise, the second land you explore is a desert-region full of mummies, scorpions, and snakes that reminded me so much of Act II in Diablo II. I don’t know what it is about Action-RPGs but they always seem to have a desert theme for their second act (it’s even the same in the recently-released to console port of Torchlight II). I loved that the dungeons were randomized each time I would go explore one of them though. This prevented me from getting too bored with repetitively clearing out floors to get stronger. Maybe I’m a tad weird, but I love unveiling fog of wars on mini-maps and exploring every nook and cranny in a particular dungeon – especially when in doing so I often chanced upon side-stories or random mini-boss encounters.
DUNGEONS, MONSTERS, & LOOT! OH MY!
As mentioned, there were a lot of random events that I came across in scouring the randomized-dungeons in Children of Morta. Some events were as simple as defeating a group of enemies, but some were especially creative and provided a fun distraction from the hack-and-slash gameplay loop. For example, there was one event I encountered a few times where I had to play pong against an enemy and hit him a certain number of times in order to clear it. Another event involved a memory-game with four pressure-plates in which if I guessed wrong or got the wrong order it would spawn a group of enemies that I had to take out before it let me try again. These events would often-times provide new power-ups in the form of Divine Graces, Divine Relics, or Charms. Each provide either a temporary buff, a new ability to use, or a passive skill that will remain with you until you either die or clear the dungeon.
Both the Charms and Divine Graces provide passives that influenced the way I would play a particular dungeon-run. Depending on the Bergson family member I was using, there were some Divine Graces and Charms that would synergize so well that my character became nearly unstoppable. For example, I thought I had messed up my entire game when I was playing as Joey, the heavy-handed fighter who wields a massive two-handed hammer because I picked up a charm that increased my movement speed and dodge chance at the expense of losing the ability to evade. Joey was already a slow character but losing the chance to evade out of an incoming attack made me scared that he would become overwhelmed. Additionally, I had unknowingly picked up a charm that increased my critical hit chance and damage but causes me to constantly lose health. For sure I figured this was the end. However, with a Divine Relic that would, for a few seconds, absorb all damage taken and explode dealing the damage back and because of Joey’s skills where when he’s low on health his damage is increased combined with his skill where after receiving damage, his next attack is significantly increased — I found myself destroying most enemies in one or two hits. When I did get attacked Joey would dodge half of the attacks, and even if I did get hit my next attack would more than likely one-hit kill them, and as a last-ditch effort, I could always go invulnerable for a few seconds. This combination of charms and skills allowed me to go all the way to the boss’s room and take him out on my first try. Even though I thought I was sure to die any second, the synergy between these seemingly-detrimental charms allowed me to stay in a constant state of rage where I could just mow down everything in my path.
After playing through the story and unlocking different events and new family members to play as, I also unlocked a couple of helpful new temporary power-ups. The first are the Obelisks that litter the dungeon-floors. I didn’t know what these were initially because they were covered with the same corruption I was fighting against, but after unlocking them I was able to use them for a limited-time bonus. These timed buffs included instantly healing me to receiving more experience for my kills to even creating a constant, exploding force around my Bergson to damage nearby enemies. Secondly, I unlocked the power of Runes, which are power-ups for either your left-mouse attack or your right-mouse attack. These Runes last only a certain number of attacks and are exclusive to different Bergsons, however, each character has the skill to enable these runes to be shared by other family members. One rune allowed Linda, the eldest daughter of John, to shoot three arrows from her bow instead of just one. These became powerful tools in my arsenal that I would try to save until I was going up against a boss.
DEATH IS NOT THE END, IT IS A MEANS TO AN END
The gameplay loop of Children of Morta involves going into dungeons, finding these random pick-ups and abilities, leveling up your Bergson family members, and trying to defeat the boss at the end of a level. Unfortunately, things don’t always go quite as smooth in runs if you happen to get unlucky drops or if you run into an event that you’re unprepared for at the time. You will die – a lot. But that’s okay because death is not the end in Children of Morta. Each run, you will acquire more gold – or ‘morv’ as it’s called in-game – and this gold can be used to enhance certain passive abilities that affect the whole family via the Workshop. After each run, I prioritized increasing my overall damage as well as the overall health of each family member. Other enhancements include an increase to dodge chance, the ability to run faster, and more critical damage. Eventually, I unlocked the Book of Rea which affects gameplay elements such as increasing the amount of gold dropped by enemies or increasing the amount of experience gained. Even if you find yourself struggling on a certain level or against a certain boss, with enough grinding – and enough gold – you should be able to improve your family members enough to the point where they are able to overcome any trial.
Theoretically, at least. There were a couple of instances in which I noticed certain family members are more apt to handle particular bosses than others. For example, one interlude mission in which I was tasked with venturing back into the forest outside the Bergsons’ residence had me go up against a gigantic, seemingly unstoppable corrupted boss monster. I struggled with the first few attempts but after switching to a family member – that I didn’t even level up nearly as much like one I had been using – I took out the boss after only two attempts. It seemed like Children of Morta wanted me to play around with all the family members and not just stick to one or two that I liked, which I was okay with since each member’s skill tree often-times includes passive buffs to the rest of the family. In developing and growing the Bergsons that you don’t like to play, you inevitably improve the Bergsons that you do like.
A FAMILY THAT FIGHTS TOGETHER, WINS TOGETHER
Although my time with Children of Morta was relatively short to other Action-RPGs I’ve played, like Torchlight and Diablo, I felt more connected to each of the Bergsons than I have to any other character in similar games. Their personalities are on full-display through their fighting styles, and quick little conversations and story scenes between family members only help to grow their personalities. I especially loved the short bios that you can read about each family member. Some, like Uncle Ben – John’s Brother – tell for heart-breaking yet realistic portrayals of character and development that make me wish there could have been more of their backstories integrated into the overall story. Ben’s life has been full of sadness, including the death of his mother, the disappearance of his father, the loss of one of his legs, and even his wife leaving him because of one of his own character flaws. It really paints a picture and made me want to get to know each of the family members more even after the events of the story concluded. I hope that there’s eventually a Children of Morta 2 that might explore a lot more of the Bergsons family history – I feel like there might be darkness to their family tree that warrants more explanation.
Overall, I enjoyed my time playing Children of Morta – from the gorgeous pixel art to the fun side-events, the gameplay was rarely repetitive or boring. Those few instances when it was repetitive however stood out like a sore thumb. Sometimes, it felt like I was pointlessly engaged with a mindless exercise in futility in order to surpass a particular boss, but when I inevitably broke through that wall it was almost as euphoric as defeating a Dark Souls boss. The Bergsons family members were all enjoyable to play and I appreciate that I was forced outside of my comfort zone in sticking with only couple characters so that I could learn to appreciate each of them. I still think Lily is the best family member though. The nature of any rogue-like game is the random elements you encounter in any given playthrough and Children of Morta is no exception. Most of the time, I felt like the drops given to me were fair but sometimes it seemed as if I would go entire levels without finding a single permanent buff that could help me out further into the dungeon. That’s the nature of having an RNG-like system, however, but I didn’t mind too much since it just meant I would get another opportunity to experience something different the next time. To anyone wanting that next Rogue-like experience with the same level of quality as others like Rogue Legacy, I would highly recommend picking up Children of Morta.
Note: A Steam code for PC was provided for the purposes of review.
COMPARE TO: Diablo, Torchlight, Rogue Legacy, Fate, Moon Hunters, Moonlighter, Dead Cells