One of the great things about the indie scene is that you are far more likely to come across new ideas. I love a good sequel like the next person but as I get older it is the fresh takes on established genres that really stand out. Titles that are so unique you really don’t know what to expect as you step across the threshold. This year we have already seen some absolutely cracking indie games such as Knights and Bikes, Void Bastards and Astroneer. Children of Morta has finally been released from developers Dead Mage and it stands to join this ensemble of excellence, let us take a look at how it did.
The first time I saw Children of Morta I had been looking for new indie games to keep an eye on and this one jumped out at me. After watching the trailer I immediately added it to my ‘must review’ list and that was that. While the game did suffer delays it has now thankfully made it to the finish line for PC with other versions coming soon.
The game is split between two main sections, the Bergson family home and the excursions in search for an answer to the corruption which now plagues the land. The corruption has spread from Mount Morta, turning innocent creatures into denizens of evil that these resilient folk must now engage in battle. The eldest of the Bergson family, Grandma Margaret, has foreseen the coming conflict and has pledged that her kin will seek to destroy this menace which threatens the world.
The house is a bastion for sure, but also a place of rest and recuperation where the heroes can heal their wounds, discuss new threats they face and improve their skills. The Bergson’s are a group of extraordinary individuals who seem to have heroism in their blood, but they are also a family. Each time you start the game the camera pans in, the roof fades away and you can see a hive of activity below you. As you pan around the home there are so many wonderful details to admire, the family cat playing on the rug in front of a roaring fireplace, Uncle Ben honing weapons in his workshop or Linda calming her nerves in her room by playing her violin. There are hotspots in this view that give you access to various facilities. Grandma Margaret can increase your chances of success through alchemy with improvements to things like XP gain or the number of runes you can carry. Uncle Ben‘s workshop can bolster the more practical aspects of combat such as damage, walking speed and critical chance. Each time you run a chapter you will gain a certain amount of money (called Morv) and it is this currency that you use to upgrade all of these skills.
Six of the family members are playable and before each run you must choose one (or two) you wish to take forth. Each has a unique fighting style, John for example carries a sword and shield so is your basic fighter. Linda, the eldest daughter, used her dexterity to her advantage with a deadly bow and happens to be one of my favourite characters to play with. As the game progresses more of the family members become available through various story beats. Joey, for example, is the last family member to unlock and brings his devastating hammer to the fight.
While on paper these various fighting styles might seem a little generic, the way they have been implemented into the game's combat makes them all really fun to play. Lucy, the youngest of the fighting Bergson’s, is a fire mage and devastating once she has mastered her powers. Each member has a unique skill tree to unlock with skill points earned by levelling up, as you add more points to the skills you have unlocked, more tiers become available which allows you to customise to your fighting style. One nice touch is that with each tier of skill progression the entire family receive a buff linked to that members fighting style. For the ranged fighters, I did often wish the camera would pan a little further around as some enemies can close ground on you pretty fast, but this is a minor issue.
The combat is the bread and butter of this title and so it had to be good, thankfully it really does shine. No matter which character you are playing as attacks feel impactful and satisfying. When you eviscerate smaller creatures you can see a smear of body fluids across the dungeon floor and larger foes will erupt into a gib-gasm. I also have to give praise to the enemies you face in each of the games three main areas. Each seems to have its own way of bringing you down and on the first encounter can surprise you. One aspect, in particular, is the timing of enemy attacks. While this might seem trivial, is very important to making combat feel challenging and yet fair. There are also plenty of enemy types with elites and super elites being in plentiful supply.
There are also numerous ways for the dungeons to become part of the fight, spike traps, for example, can be set off for enemies giving chase or explosive spores can be set off just at the right time. On top of your already ample arsenal of attacks, you can pick up Divine Relics which add a range of abilities from invisibility, large AoE attacks and so on. Divine Graces add passive buffs, Charms act like consumables and runes add class-specific improvements to your attacks. Getting the right set up for the end of level boss fight can be the difference between success and failure. One of my favourite aspects of the game is the fact you can play in local co-op. This really does open the game up and the combat is even more rewarding. As I have covered, the skills open to each family member are well designed and implemented but when used together you can form some killer strategies. Our favourite duo was Linda with her ranged attacks and Mark holding off the attackers in a hurricane of punches. There is not currently an option for joining players over the internet but this feature is in the works and I can’t wait to give it a whirl.
The Art of Adventure
The family members don't speak but this doesn’t stop them brimming with personality. They are brought to life beautifully with hand-drawn animation that is just exquisite. I have always admired animators who work in pixels because with just a few subtle frames they can make a movement seem fluid and lifelike. This is some of the best pixel animation I have ever seen and it really does bring the story to life in the most evocative way.
Ed Kelly is the talented voice behind the Narrator who does a sterling job. Each of the many story-driven scenes, both in the house and out in the wild, Ed helps deliver the story perfectly. The game fuses story beats together with the action in a few key ways. When running dungeons you will actually come across other members of the family engaged in all kinds of activities from saving refugees, healing the sick or collecting essential items. While the dungeons are largely procedural, these small ‘bolt on’ modules provide a more handcrafted experience.
The Bergson house also acts as a living record of your exploits, for example, you come across a camp that has been destroyed with a single surviving wolf pup. When you bring the pup back to the house it needs herbs to make a full recovery and so this is then added to your duties for the next trip. Once the pup is fully healed you can then see it playing in the gardens with Lucy. As the main story progresses you will see the house itself change depending on what is happening in the greater world.
Is it PC?
So the game is currently only available on PC with the console releases coming soon. While I have tried the controller (and it works perfectly fine) I do prefer the precision of the mouse and keyboard. You also have a greater degree of control over your attacks, like being able to pinpoint where Linda’s seconds attack lands for example. As I have mentioned, the graphics are an ever-shifting mosaic of pixel art and by using this art style the system demands are relatively low. The graphics options are about as basic as they come, resolution, v-sync and a few sound options. This isn’t an issue though because the game just runs so well out of the box I never had any cause to change these.
I don’t normally talk about other media sites as it can come across unprofessional but I have to say something on this occasion: the PC Gamer review of Children of Morta is a travesty. Not since the review of Alien Isolation have I seen a journalist get a review so badly wrong. Almost every criticism made is either overstated or patently wrong and I get the impression she didn’t even take the time to finish the game. While the age-old argument of ‘it’s just an opinion’ can hold up, a bad review from the biggest PC gaming site in the world can have far-reaching consequences for that developer as every sale counts. I believe this review is grossly unfair and therefore I had to say my piece.
I have managed to wrap up my review of Children of Morta without saying Roguelike, but at its core, this is what the game is. However, in the last few years have been seeing a variation of this genre which adds more permanence to the progression the player receives after each run. I will say that while I do occasionally like getting lost in a more punishing and traditional roguelike, playing Children of Morta was an absolute joy. I think Dead Mage has really nailed the feeling of family bonds and friendship, while also delivering a fantastic dungeon crawler in its own right. I would urge you to pick up this game right away because it is well-deserving of your time.
Thank you for reading my review of Children of Morta on PC. I purchased the game from Steam for a price of £16 which is an excellent ask for a game of this quality. You can always see my new content by following me @riggedforepic and I hope to see you back here soon.