Developer: Dead Mage
Publisher: 11 bit studios
Review Context: I’m a big fan of rogue-lite games and I have played a lot of them, including Dead Cells and Rogue Legacy.
Date of Playthrough: September 1
PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i3 CPU 540 @ 3.07GHz
RAM: 8 GB
Video Card: GeForce GTX 950 2GB GDDR5 ACX 2.0 SC+
Disclosure: This review is based off of a review copy.
Children of Morta, developed by Dead Mage, is a narrative-driven, rogue-lite, dungeon-crawling experience that is different and extremely unique in how the game is put together. In the run up to release, I was highly skeptical as to what to expect from this because this seemed to be in development for a very long time with no end in sight. Early trailers didn’t really sell me, but the finished product that I played clearly showed why the wait was worth it.
Playing as members of The Bergson family, you are faced with a huge obstacle, The Corruption, that is plaguing your land, Mountain Morta. What makes Children of Morta such a fantastic storytelling experience is not only the beautiful pixel graphics and animations, but the narrator who tells the whole story as it unfolds, as if the narrator is telling a bedtime story. The six playable members of The Bergson family are introduced one-by-one to be played in dungeon-crawling levels as the story unfolds. As you are introduced to each playable character of The Bergson family one at a time they all have have a backstory, and all six have different playstyles that play very different with different skills and abilities.
Dead Mage’s decision to mixing a rogue-lite experience with actual storytelling the way they did is one of the smartest video game decisions in indie gaming I’ve ever experienced. While typical rogue-lite experiences are gameplay only, in Children of Morta the storytelling advances each time you die, making each run feel rich and worth the trouble. So while it was frustrating at times to die in tough spots, I would at least walk away with a new story tidbit about the background of The Bergson family and impact of The Corruption, and early in the game I would even sometimes unlock a new member of The Bergson family to play with. All of these storytelling segments have good pixel animations with solidly voiced narration that are the life and soul of the game.
The rogue-lite element itself in Children of Morta is that can upgrade certain stats in a workshop with Morv (currency) found each run. The cool thing is that every workshop upgrade affects all family members. The upgrades themselves all felt useful, with some of them having realistic caps to not break the game. The rogue-lite element intertwined within The Bergson family members themselves that I thought was very clever is that every member of the family has a skill tree and within the skill tree they have family traits that affect each other to give certain stat boosts. This encourages players to switch characters without feeling punished because each family member gets the workshop upgrades in addition to the family member bonuses. This is by far one of the more impressive feats of game development within Children of Morta that I haven’t experienced before.
The gameplay of Children of Morta is your typical rogue-lite experience, and within each run you will encounter different divine relics, divine graces, and charms that can be toggled. Divine graces are actual skills that can be used with a cooldown, while divine relics are passive boosts. This is not a dungeon-crawler in the Diablo sense, as you can’t upgrade items, but each Bergson family member has a skill tree that is manageable and not confusing for you to put skill points in as you level up to strengthen abilities which all contain cooldowns to boost the family in meaningful ways. This is where player customization comes into play, and rest assured there is a way to respec, but I never did. Additionally, one of the major currency drops is a gemstone that can be used to unlock chests and buy items. I personally felt that divine graces and divine relics could probably use more distinct names, but it isn’t a big deal. Each run you can also encounter shrines that give a temporary buff, similarly to Diablo 2 shrines.
Although the main story constantly gets built upon, sometimes you will encounter random side events that request a quest item, an event to get a quest item, or just a random event to get a prize. If there is one thing that I felt was problematic in Children of Morta, it was the side quests. The side quests didn’t seem ceremonial when you received them, although there are sweet developments within the story once you complete them, which made the casual nonchalant implementation puzzling. At the end of each dungeon, which can be anywhere from 2-4 floors, there is a boss. Another minor criticism I have is that the bosses felt more tuned and easier for the range characters, as opposed to the melee characters. Later in the game they will also introduce a “Corruption Fatigue timer,” which is a temporary debuff on one of the family members if they die, but it is chance and does not happen all the time. This is another sloppy implementation, as it is very random, not consistent, and real timer for when the debuff expires. This is meant to drive players to play other family members, but I feel it could be implemented better.
Each Bergson family member plays and controls differently. Some are quicker than others and I found playing with the controller to be the best and most efficient, although with some characters a keyboard/mouse may be slightly better for aiming. Still, the game plays very well, the movement is very fair, and there is a decent level of enemy variety as you move through the dungeon areas. From a difficulty standpoint I never felt cheated, although dealing with the constantly spawning corruption can be annoying. I sunk in over 10 hours and I don’t feel like I wasted my time and I didn’t feel like it was a grind because I was constantly changing characters for variety. This is what makes a rogue-lite experience feel great. I should note that there is local multiplayer that I didn’t experience and online multiplayer is on the way.
By the end of my journey, I can easily say Children of Morta is one of the best, if not the best rogue-lite experiences I have ever played. I went in with questionable expectations and it turned out to be incredibly fun, never felt totally grindy, and the storytelling from the narrator coupled with the pixel graphics animations and cutscenes provided a really soulful and sentimental experience. I would go as far to say that this has exceeded Dead Cells for me as my favorite rogue-lite experience and will definitely be in the conversation for my favorite game of 2019.
Similar Games Liked:
Dead Cells (PC)
Rogue Legacy (PC)