Sometimes it takes dedicated time to suss out a game’s influences. Maybe a strong thematic element to a story only becomes truly apparent near the ending or upon repeat playthroughs. Other times, however, developers aren’t shy whatsoever about what inspired them to make their game. Go to the Steam page for Morbid: The Seven Acolytes, and you’ll find that developers Still Running fall into the latter category.
“Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is a Horrorpunk Action RPG filled with Lovecraftian horrors and Cronenbergian gore, making it the most gruesome take on the isometric Souls-like genre yet!” reads the page.
The first several minutes of play quickly make this description unnecessary, as even small things like proper nouns seem to echo the conventions of titles like Bloodborne. So it’s clear where the developers’ hearts are with this project. The question is, does Morbid: The Seven Acolytes manage to make a meaningful contribution to its genre, or will it forever stand in the shadow of the giants that came before it?
- What is Morbid: The Seven Acolytes? It’s an isometric action RPG with clear influences from Lovecraft and Cronenburg, not to mention games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Take on the role of a Striver, the last to offer meaningful resistance to the eldritch horrors that have laid claim to the land of Mornia.
- Reviewed On: PC
- Price: $24.99
- Developer: Still Running
- Publisher: Merge Games
- Release Date: December 3, 2020
- Website: www.mergegames.com/morbid-the-seven-acolytes
We might as well jump into a key question — does Morbid: The Seven Acolytes hold up in the gameplay department? The answer, for the most part, is yes, with some noticeable caveats. Combat generally feels elegantly simple, intuitive, and satisfying. It’s always gratifying hearing the clash of weapons as you manage a perfect parry and dispatch your foe with blinding speed. What’s more, the game does a solid job of equipping varied enemy types with predictable attack patterns that make initial explorations a process of discovery and danger, while later treks become more of a practice in improving efficiency.
That said, and given the game’s clear Souls-like elements, the bosses are kind of a mixed back. Much like other enemies (albeit to a greater extent), bosses tend to be visually interesting but underwhelming as opponents in a vicious, pitched battle. You either quickly read and counter them for an easy win on the first try, or withstand a few failed attempts before using an incredibly powerful item to make short work of an otherwise challenging boss.
One obstinant foe proved utterly helpless when I decided to use a limb to increase my damage and a genetically modified broccoli to negate stamina loss for a short period. I went absolutely bonkers from using the limb, but I defeated the boss in no time flat, and a couple of herbs and pills cleared up the whole insanity problem remarkably quickly.
Speaking of sanity, we should discuss that mechanic and the inventory system with which it interacts. A sanity mechanic is very apropos for any game fitting under the broad “Lovecraftian” umbrella, but the one at play in Morbid: The Seven Acolytes feels somewhat underdeveloped. While it tries to add intrigue through a sense of fatigue and weight/logistical considerations, it usually boils down to “pop a pill if you start to see purple.”
Items related to sanity also have to contend with the broader issues of inventory. Without an in-game economy to sell off excess loot or even a stash at shrines for storage, you’re almost constantly worrying about inventory space. The consequence is that when you see a cool item drop from an enemy or boss, you’re just as likely to be annoyed as excited. It’s not an ideal reception to the game’s ostensible rewards.
As for audiovisuals, atmosphere, and narrative, Morbid: The Seven Acolytes has some considerable strengths and weaknesses. Sound design is generally very strong. As mentioned earlier, the sound of blades clashing followed by the visceral squelch of steel on flesh elevates combat marvelously. The act of slaying the horrors of Mornia is made exceedingly more satisfying with clear, weighty sound design. The music is serviceable (if a bit generic), and it amps up when the player character’s health is low to add a nice sense of urgency to difficult fights.
Visuals are something of an odd point for Morbid. On the one hand (and this is a problem for the game in general), it needs to distinguish itself from other isometric Souls-like action RPGs. Cleaving too close to the genre’s aesthetic trends will leave the game floundering for an identity of its own. On the other, branching out carries its own risks. Broadly, character design for enemies and NPCs is striking and well-executed. Acknowledging that this boils down to personal taste, weapons are conversely somewhat ugly. Plenty of games can thread the needle between a sci-fi and fantasy aesthetic (Children of Morta comes to mind), but the weapons that attempt this balance in Morbid lose out on the best of both worlds.
The game’s story and worldbuilding also suffer from the identity problem. Broadly, the story concerns the exploits of the last Striver of Dibrom, an order of warriors devoted to hunting down and destroying the corrupting forces that have consumed Mornia. The fact that you could replace the proper nouns in that sentence with any number of counterparts from other games illustrates the problem with the game’s rather generic setup. Plenty of lore entries are well-written (except for some unnecessary commas), but considering the number of other games with this particular tone, atmosphere, and story elements, Morbid needed more distinctive ideas to set itself apart.
Zoom Out: Verdict
Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is a solid, competent game. It’s fun to play moment-to-moment, its sound design elevates the combat, and there’s some genuine visual creativity at play here. However, there’s not enough here to make Mornia feel like an unforgettable setting worth exploring again and again. If you’re a huge fan of the genre, check it out, but if you haven’t played something like Bloodborne, I’d say you have homework before playing this.
- Fun combat
- Great sound design
- Creative character designs
- A bit generic
- Certain mechanics feel half-baked
- Some gameplay and visual inconsistencies