Love is the heart and soul of Children of Morta. When corruption ravages the land, and cruelty, desperation, and pain become the norm, love becomes the final bulwark against the darkness. The Bergsons, a family of warriors committed to protecting their homeland, personify that love. No single chosen one will deliver Morta from its peril, but a family devoted to compassion, selfless acts of heroism, and kindness just might do the trick.
It’s a touching theme, and it elevates an already well-made hack ‘n slash roguelike with RPG elements and a focus on narrative. Ironically enough, however, if you want to take those themes seriously and bring a sibling with you into Morta, the game’s worst problems come front and center. Even still, Children of Morta is a well-designed, gorgeous fantasy game that’s well worth your time.
- What is Children of Morta? A hack ‘n slash roguelike with RPG elements
- Reviewed On: PC
- Price: $21.99
- Developer: Dead Mage
- Publisher: 11 Bit Studios
- Release Date: September 3, 2019
- Website: childrenofmorta.com
- Multiplayer: Up to 2 players
Welcome to the Family, Son
The Bergsons have a particular routine. They hack and slash their way through semi-randomized dungeons, collecting Runes, Divine Relics, and Charms to aid them in their struggle. Once they’ve defeated the boss of a dungeon (or been snatched from the jaws of death by magic), the Bergsons return home, often finding new story beats and unlocks awaiting them. Additional members of the family join the playable roster as the game progresses, each one touting a distinct playstyle. Occasionally, a big narrative setpiece will occur, introducing novel gameplay elements and propelling the story forward. Once you’ve completed a rotation, the cycle begins anew.
While Children of Morta may not be endlessly replayable, this cycle is dynamic and engaging enough to carry you from the title screen to the credits without becoming monotonous. Even after failed runs, the Bergson home is likely to be packed with vignettes and visual changes to pique your interest. The children play and wonder aloud about the world around them, corruption encroaches upon the trees encircling the big house, and little lights can be clicked on by the player to reveal story beats. Colorful, beautifully animated visuals convey these beats, which are further backed up by solid, emotive narration. Concerning dungeons, while bosses are tied to specific levels (somewhat reducing variability), the item drops and questlines which appear throughout freshen the experience considerably.
A Child of Two Worlds
Planning and maneuvering in warfare can be broken down into two broad categories: strategy and tactics. Strategy happens on the macro-level. Deciding when and where an army marches, determining troop composition, these are strategic choices. Small-scale, fast-paced decisions such as “should we charge them head-on, or wheel around and try to strike them on the flank?” occur on the tactical side of things. It’s a simple dichotomy, and it also happens to help describe the interaction between Children of Morta’s RPG and roguelike elements.
The RPG elements, including experience, levels, and equipment upgrades, are a good metaphor for the strategic layer. These are usually long-term, permanent decisions you make which affect every subsequent run. The roguelike elements, such as item-based progression, resource management, and dungeon crawling merchants all provide a tactical framework. This framework produces engaging micro-level questions about which Runes or Obelisks to utilize and when, about how to spend your resources efficiently to maximize your effectiveness. When these two broad categories intersect, that’s where exciting choices arise.
Even after failed runs, the Bergson home is likely to be packed with vignettes and visual changes to pique your interest. The children play and wonder aloud about the world around them, corruption encroaches upon the trees encircling the big house, and little lights can be clicked on by the player to reveal story beats.
Say you’ve got a problem: you’re low on health, and your damage output isn’t cutting it. Luckily, you’ve got a new Skill Point and a few Gemstones to spend. You can acquire a new Skill and buy a Divine Relic to create a cool synergy, giving you the edge in damage that you need. But then again, you might choose to upgrade an existing skill and spend those Gemstones opening chests instead, hoping to get some health and maybe a lucky item drop along the way. You’re making a long-term choice with the Skill Point and a short-term one with the Gemstones, and weighing the impacts of both is an interesting dilemma to parse.
Art and Artifice
As far as RPG elements go, there’s more from that genre at play here than the basics of experience and leveling. Children of Morta emphasizes narrative, seeding questlines, and intimate character interactions throughout the adventure. While the premise of fighting off corruption is fairly tropey, I think the characters are endearing, and the story writing is earnest and effective.
Furthermore, the gameplay emphasizes the family bond when a Bergson jumps in to aid their family with special abilities after you’ve hit a certain level with them. That interaction between gameplay and narrative is compelling, and it prompted me to seek out more mechanical reinforcement of the family theme. That search led me to co-op.
The music and narration take what could easily be a competent but unremarkable story and make it profoundly emotional in some spots.
Fittingly, I tackled the co-op with my younger brother. When we could play without any hiccups, the cooperative play was awesome. We role-played and joked, coming up with silly headcanons for the characters. My brother decided that Lucy — a little girl and a fire mage — was a psychotic, murderous book-hater, while I made Joey — a huge, hammer-wielding bull of a man — her dim, well-intentioned henchman. In terms of play, using teamwork and synergizing abilities is fun, and enemy health scales decently to match the increased damage output. I found co-op a little too hard compared to the singleplayer; enemies that were damage sponges in co-op disintegrated when I tackled them solo. That said, the increased difficulty would have been a nice challenge, if not for the bugs.
Two major game breaking bugs ruined our experience: one trapped us in the environment (usually rocks or stalagmites clustered in some corner), the other trapped us in certain rooms. Both forced us to restart our runs. I encountered the former bug only once, and the latter not at all, in singleplayer. Thus, co-op is simultaneously the most enjoyable way to play the game and the most unstable, frustrating part of Children of Morta. It’s a testament to the game’s overall quality that my brother came away with a very positive impression, despite the frustration.
A great deal of that quality comes from the steady, capable hands of the developers, who craft encounters and difficulty curves with tact and care. Each area is a considerable escalation in difficulty compared to its predecessor, but I never felt like the challenge spiked wildly. Nor did the game ever become absurdly easy. Instead, challenges are meaty, intuitive, and satisfying to tackle. Furthermore, each character is unique to play, and I never felt like there was a weak link in the bunch.
High Ground View
No discussion of Children of Morta is complete without commenting on the audiovisuals. The aesthetics of Morta are vivid, colorful, and atmospheric. While fantasy staples like goblins and giant spiders make their appearance, the world itself isn’t Tolkienesque. Much of the art seems to draw as much inspiration from science fiction as it does fantasy. Great ringed planets can be seen floating on the horizon, and the mythical past of Morta projected via hologram to the Bergsons.
Consequently, Morta is a unique setting, lovingly, and painstakingly depicted. The audio, meanwhile, does a great job of elevating the emotional impact of scenes. The music and narration take what could easily be a competent but unremarkable story and make it profoundly emotional in some spots. Tears were welling in my eyes by the time the credits rolled, and I felt a genuine affection for the Bergson family when all was said and done.
Currently, the most reliable way to enjoy Children of Morta is singleplayer mode. I have nitpicks, of course. There are typos and localization issues, mostly in codex entries. Against single opponents, the sound of weapon impacts is pitiful and unsatisfying. Initial enemy types are uninspired, with skeletons, bats, and giant spiders lurching forward to assail the Bergsons. But overall, the aesthetics, gameplay, and storytelling at play make Children of Morta a visually stunning, challenging, emotional experience. Co-op is sadly constrained by its buggy nature right now. But should these bugs get squashed, I’d highly recommend grabbing a sibling (or any family/friend) and adventuring through Morta together.
Game title: Children of Morta
Game description: Children of Morta is hack ‘n slash roguelike with RPG elements. Fight your way through dungeons, collecting items and resources until you’re powerful enough to tackle the bosses which oppose the Bergson family. Then return home, upgrade your gear, watch the family carry out their daily lives, and prepare for the next dungeon or narrative setpiece the game throws your way.
Aesthetics - 9/10
Narrative - 8/10
Singleplayer - 8/10
Co-op - 7/10
Children of Morta is gorgeous, touching, and endearing. The difficulty escalates in a reasonable, compelling manner. The mechanics often culminate in large, hectic, crowd-based fights which will keep you on your toes, spending resources carefully to overcome the enemy. The current state of Co-op is disappointing, with many runs going down the drain, victimized by Morta’s bugs. But overall, this is a worthy title for any fan of fantasy, RPGs, or roguelikes. If you are any of the above, consider checking this one out.
- Beautiful visuals and sound design
- Fun, challenging combat
- Earnest, thematic storytelling
- Buggy co-op
- Localization issues
- Enemy types are a mixed bag