Fighting the corruption is a family affair. Right from the start you are made aware that the main focus of this adventure will be the love that binds a family. Beautiful artwork and an impactful story tie this roguelite dungeon-crawling experience together in a way that many have failed to do in the past. Legal troubles with the Iranian government aside, developer Dead Mage has created something truly impressive with Children of Morta.
After a brief tutorial you are introduced to the Bergson family who act as the protagonists and playable characters that you (and possibly your friends) will use to fight the corruption; the mysterious purple menace that has begun overtaking and ravaging their homeland. The Bergsons are a talented bunch with each member having their own unique skills, abilities and play style. The patriarch of the group, John, and his eldest daughter Linda are playable from the start with four additional characters becoming playable later; Mark, Joey, Kevin and Lucy.
John plays the role of the traditional sword and shield wielding warrior, his daughter Linda is a nimble archer who specializes in strafing enemies and attacking on the run. Kevin, Lucy and Mark are also the children of John and his wife, Mary.
Throughout your time with the Bergsons, you will no doubt have your favorites. Each character feels very different from one another and the developers have put a lot of effort into just that. As you slay enemies and work your way through randomly generated caverns and ruins, you gain experience and Morv (the game's version of gold) to upgrade the Bergsons.
Earning enough experience will grant you skill points for that specific character to unlock new abilities while Morv is used to unlock upgrades for the entire family. Uncle Ben's Workshop and Grandma Margaret's Book of Rea will allow you to use your pilfered Morv to increase a number of stats for the Bergsons, such as damage and total health, as well as increased Morv and experience gain.
While the upgrades that you purchase between dungeons are kept when you fall to the hordes of enemies, the items you pick up along the way are lost. What kind of roguelite would this be if you didn't lose a little something when you fail, after all? There are several items you can find in the dungeons that will lend you a hand in battle, such as Divine Graces that offer semi-permanent buffs to your attacks and abilities or even a companion that automatically attacks or stuns enemies. There is no short supply of items to collect along your journey.
The enemies that you encounter will generally fall into one of a few different categories; melee attackers, ranged attackers, spell casters or summoners. Things can become incredibly hectic as you encounter large mixtures of each type of enemy and there is nothing quite like opening the gate to the next area in a dungeon only to be greeted by a dozen or more enemies on the other side. The bosses are all unique and have their own tactics which will of course ultimately boil down to don't get hit.
As a self-proclaimed graphics whore, I'm the first to admit that if a game looks pretty and is animated well, it will catch my attention. With that said, Children of Morta is an incredible example of art in motion. The pixelated graphics style brings to mind simplicity and perhaps a bit of nostalgia, but the attention to detail in the environments and animations bring the game to life in ways that other similarly styled games fail to achieve.
The artwork combined with the excellent narration gives the entire experience a story book feeling. The sound design is minimalistic, but it lends itself to the atmosphere of the setting well enough. Music in dungeons is more or less atmospheric background noises, but it does not detract from the overall experience. The Bergsons themselves never speak, instead their interactions and the story elements of the game are portrayed by the narrator. The detailed animations of the Bergsons, however, go a long way to portray emotion during the cut scenes and dialogue driven moments.
Children of Morta is not without its flaws; playing the game with a controller can be a bit frustrating as you learn new abilities and aiming your attacks is not as easy and responsive as it is with a keyboard and mouse. However, if you are playing the game on a console or on PC with a game pad from the very start, you will likely pick up the control scheme quickly.
Sharp spikes in difficulty can be frustrating from time to time, but that is the nature of a roguelite. Upgrading your skills and the Bergsons equipment is very important for getting through the tough spots. You will die. A lot. Combat can easily be reduced to spamming your primary and secondary attacks along with your dodge/roll and special ability, but as you pick up new skills and items it can get fairly complicated if you want it to be.
In the end, Children of Morta is a spectacular entry into the roguelite genre. The gameplay is smooth, the artwork is beautiful and the story, though nothing too inventive, is mature and impactful. The developers have also released a roadmap for 2020 with new content and game modes to keep things fresh in the coming months. With the game currently available for free on the Xbox Gamepass, there is no reason not to give it a try. If you prefer to support the developers more directly, it is available on PC through Steam, GOG and Humble Bundle as well as on Xbox, PS4 and Nintendo Switch consoles.
Developer: Dead Mage
Publisher: 11 Bit Studios
Initial Release: Sep 3, 2019
Reviewed on: PC
Also on: Xbox One, PS4, Switch
In the end, Children of Morta is a spectacular entry into the roguelite genre. The gameplay is smooth, the artwork is beautiful and the story, though nothing too inventive, is mature and impactful.