Children of Morta is a game about what it means to be a family. A game about overcoming seemingly impossible struggles and in the end to save the world from the corruption of darkness. By hacking and slaying through this roguelike dungeon crawler, you unlock new abilities and boost your stats and dive deeper into the world’s history and why it is on the brink of destruction.
In Children of Morta, you play as members of the Bergson family, a family that is guarding the mountain Morta for generations. A dark force simply called the Corruption is befalling the mountain god Ou and the lands surrounding the mountain, the Bergson’s home and is threatening all life. It is now up to the Bergson’s to ready their weapons and to face the forces of evil.
As one of six members, you are now tasked to explore three regions, divided into several areas, kill monsters and face off against continuously more difficult bosses. Each of the regions features its own set of enemies, traps and events that will challenge you and will give you more insight about the Bergson’s and the history of the world.
The biggest strength of Children of Morta is its progression system. Everything you do feels rewarding, even if it’s a short run into an area where you are crushed in the first couple of minutes, you still earn experience and money and maybe new lore or unlocks. Up until the end, it was exciting for me to just replay the levels and make the Bergson’s stronger. The motivating progression loop starts right at the beginning of the game.
You start as the father of the family, John, who is your typical fighter-type character. With sword and shield, John is able to hit quite hard and block enemy attacks. Soon after your first steps into the levels, his daughter Linda is joining him. She plays very differently in comparison to John, as her hit points are lower and she is using a bow, draining her stamina when she moves while she shoots and later on gets boosts while she stands still while attacking. Later on Kevin, a rogue type character who attacks get faster the more attacks, joins the team and soon after Mark, a monk type character and Joey, your bulky two-handed hammer user, as well as the youngest daughter Lucy, who becomes the mage of the playable characters.
Each of the characters is able to level up and unlock new active abilities, such as a powerful area of effect attacks as Linda or a decoy as Lucy and passive skills, like a damaging dash as Joey. But they not only unlock new abilities and skills for themselves, but also for the family when you put a certain amount of skill points into a characters skill tree, which underlines the importance of family and gives you incentives to play each of the characters.
But not only do your playable characters support the family, but also the other members that stay at home. First of all, there are Ben, John’s brother and uncle to the kids, and Margaret, John’s mother and the oldest member of the family, where you are able to turn in your earned money to upgrade passive stats. In Ben’s workshop, you can increase your hit points, attack power, crit chance and many more stats to make your dungeon crawls easier from the start. Margaret is the alchemist of the family and lets you enhance the power of runes and other modifiers you find in levels, but also increases your experience and money rates. And then there is John’s wife Mary, who is pregnant at the beginning of the game. Even though she has no gameplay function, she plays a central role in the story and encourages her family to never give up.
Each of the three regions is filled power-ups and events for you to discover. There are divine graces that give your heroes passive abilities like little companions who fight for you, boost your attack or health or debuff enemies with fire or poison and many more things. Then there are divine relics, which give you active abilities like totems, potions and shields and charms that give you power-ups like gemstones, you can use to open chests with or trade it at vendors inside the dungeons or make you temporarily invincible. And last but not least there are rules. Runes modify each family members attacks and abilities and give them new properties like piercing damage or slows or simply let enemies explode.
Events give you more inside into the lore of the world of Children of Morta. You might meet grandma Margaret exploring mysterious obelisks that unlock new wisdom for her alchemy studies or other members of the family purging giant crystals or rescuing other inhabitants of Morta. Or you will find old scrolls in abandoned libraries or people threatened by monsters and corruption.
All of these events are elevated thanks to the awesome narrator of the game. He is a big part of why the game is so atmospheric and dense.
Right from the start, you are greeted by the narrator who tells you about the history of the Bergson family and gives you inside about their feelings and motives. In cut scenes that progress the story or little events inside the Bergson’s house, he atmospherically describes what is happening and sometimes foreshadows what might happen in the near future. The game is doing a great job to give you the right amount of story and insight between your dungeon runs and there is nothing more exciting than when you find a certain item in a dungeon and you know that there will be a new cut scene or event inside the Bergson’s house after you come back. The developers really did a great job here.
All of this is supported by Children of Morta’s gorgeous pixel art style. Every region and enemy has a unique style to it. From the deep dungeons of the Caeldippo Caves to the lost cities of TerraLava, each of them has a distinct look. And then there is the beautifully stunning canvas like backgrounds and sceneries in the game, with so many details that you just have to stop and breath them in.
The game also gives you the option to play in two-player coop offline and the game balances to it accordingly. It is fun to play with a friend and there are some great synergies between some of the characters, but you really feel the additional challenge.
Then there is the technical side of things and the game mostly runs at a stable and smooth framerate, but there are some drops here and there when there are a lot of enemies and effects on the screen. Additionally, the game has very long loading times between areas, this might be because of the level generation, as all levels are randomized, but could definitely be improved.
Children of Morta (PlayStation 4 Pro)
In the end, Children of Morta might be one of the best independent games of the year. It takes the usual roguelike a dungeon crawler and elevates it in any way. Be it the smooth gameplay experience when you explore the multiple regions and beat one boss after another or the gorgeous art or the incredibly rewarding progression system. You want to know if the Bergson family defeats the corruption in the end because during your journey you deeply connect to them and get invested.