First off, I’d like to preface this review by saying I’m admittedly ashamed that it took me this long to play Children of Morta. Developed by Dead Mage and published by 11 Bit Studios, (developers of another great title reviewed at ABG: Frostpunk) Children of Morta is a RogueLite Dungeon Crawler with elements of action-RPGs. You’ll play the Bergsons, a family of warriors and the keepers of Mount Morta. I was delightfully surprised with this particular 2015 kickstarter success story, so let’s delve into specifics and review why.
How one derives fun from a product tends to be highly subjective. Therefore ALL forms of review are opinionated, and should be taken with a grain of salt (this included). So let’s review Children of Morta through the lens of more objective metrics such as; graphical fidelity, characters/story, content/length, controls & gameplay, then finally, sound design & cinematics. This product was reviewed on a 1050Ti 4Gb, 8GB Ram, with an i5-7300HQ. For full transparency: this content was reviewed using a provided key.
I’ve just gotta say it: Children of Morta may contain some of the most beautiful applications of pixel art I’ve ever seen. Landscapes are breathtaking, environmental animations are fluent, it’s nostalgic – yet modern in paradoxic harmony. Character animations are eloquent and smooth, along with thoughtfully detailed hand crafted locations. The use of visual depth tied to the particular graphics style invents moments of raw scale that are detailed nothing short of awe-inspiring. Camera use often epitomizes this, drawing back to allow players to really take in the breadth of the surrounding world.
As far as performance is concerned, Children of Morta runs exceptionally. Although I did experience a few minor frame dips on Co-op it never effected playability. I never noticed any screen tearing, artifacting, or pop-ins – to my delight. Graphical options are fairly slim, although with Children of Morta looking its best at all times, they’re hardly required. Some of these options include UI & HUD scaling for larger or smaller screens, aim assist, screen shake, vibration for controllers, varying resolution options, and Vsync.
What truly brings Children of Morta together aesthetically is (in my humble opinion): the immaculate micro-animations breathing life into its setting. The darkness shrouds and pulses, sand blows and settles, fires flicker gently, and fish swim as flowers blow in the wind. Environments will occasionally react to player movement or proximity, sometimes in ways so minor. It’s this impeccable attention to detail that resigns me unable to understate just how beautiful this game can be. This is a title for one to enjoy each and every detail of – a game to savor.
Characters & Story
Primarily throughout your journey, players will be accompanied by the Bergson family. You’ll start with John (The Warrior) and Linda (The Archer) attaining more playable members of the family throughout your journey. Other characters include: Kevin (The Assassin), Mark (The Monk), Lucy (The Pyromancer), Joey (The Brawler), and finally Apan
The DLC (The Healer). While these may be the only playable characters, our protagonists know and meet many others throughout their journeys.
As players invest more time with the Bergsons they’ll become intimately engaged in each of their personal stories and backgrounds. Personally, this became the primary driving factor for my intrigue with Children of Morta. Though the Bergsons are one absolute unit of a family, it’s the distinctive and personal tales of each member that fascinated me the most. Contributing to this were the multitude of side stories players will encouonter in their travels. I couldn’t help but get a vibe of Castlevania’s Belmont Clan, and I’d love to know if there was any inspiration there. This isn’t a negative note, rather an observation. The writers do an excellent job of portraying emotions through their characters that allow players to empathize effortlessly. Children of Morta can be a moving and sometimes emotional journey. Hardship and darkness face the Bergsons and Mount Morta, only in unity can they save everything they know.
Content & Length
The sheer amount of hours I’d sunk before even unlocking every playable character is a testament to its longevity. With 7 unique characters (one added in a free update) to level up and upgrade, coupled with the highly replayable Rogue-Lite mechanics; Children of Morta will keep players captivated for dozens of hours. Averages pin it at approximately 14-15, but without rushing and stopping to ‘smell the roses’; I’d dunked 40 hours easy. After all, most of us purchase games to enjoy them and Morta is a title that begs to be relished. Sure I could have min-maxed stats, ignored half of the optional content/story, and beaten it within 20 hours but that’s not nearly as fun. Never at any point did it feel like a chore to play Children of Morta, merely a long-lasting and replayable delight. What propelled me within Morta’s universe was nothing more or less than: excellent writing, world building and characterization.
A large contributing factor to Morta’s player interest may derive from a co-op mode! I quite enjoyed this function, as I believe Children of Morta is best played with a friend beside you. That’s not to say it isn’t possible or fun solo, rather the difficulty is a touch more demanding and less forgiving. That said, early in the game players have Linda as an AI companion – I was disappointed that this function wasn’t available for solo players later. It would definitely be nice for players to have an optional co-op companion, even if they’re playing alone to lighten the load. That said, not every game needs to conform their challenge for player convenience and I can understand the potential design choice. The takeaway though, is: that it’s fantastic to plug a controller into my PC, hand it to a buddy and play co-op with mouse and keyboard. Jolly good times.
Lastly in regards to content (also acting as a sick segway into controls), we have tutorials! Even bearing in mind the pick-up-and-play format Children of Morta contains, the tutorials still manage to do a great job conveying smooth, effective, and concise lessons for the player to learn with. Easy to play, easy to learn, hard to master.
Controls & Gameplay
Children of Morta plays like a top-down ARPG (action role-playing game) with integral elements of the rogue-lite genre; mashed up into a dungeon crawler. If that’s got you thinking “Hell yeah, brother”, you’re probably in for a good time. For those potentially unaware, the difference between ‘RogueLite’ and ‘RogueLike’ is the permanence of progress reset after death. RogueLike’s tend to reset all progress, RogueLite’s let players retain some form of advancement.
Generally speaking, Children of Morta is simple to play. Point and click to aim attacks, using WASD to move. Alternatively, with a controller it plays like a twin-stick shooter. Other buttons are used for abilities and items, similarly to the keyboard. Button remapping is available for player convenience (yay), so it can be set to whatever is most comfortable.
Essentially gameplay boils down to this: Players navigate the Bergsons House (used as a hub of sorts) to a crystalline form of level selection. Once in the procedurally generated level, the Bergson must slay the darkness, goblins, constructs, and a decent variety of other enemy types. Even though procedurally generated, these levels contain sidequests and events that trigger unique storylines & cinematics. It all feels quite dynamic and natural. As the Bergsons defeat fodder, elites, bosses, and complete quests they’ll acquire gold (amongst other things). Gold is paid directly for upgrades that apply to the entire family – not just one character. So if players upgrade damage or health, it’s applied to every Bergson (and Apan). I love this design choice so hard because it undercuts what would otherwise be an extremely tedious grind. While it can still feel a little grindy, it’s a rewarding balance that doesn’t spoil players either. Nevertheless If players want that dose of personality, they can level each characters individual skill trees using points acquired with experience.
A rather interesting mechanic is the inclusion of character fatigue. If players play favorites with the Bergsons (which most of us will) they’ll tire their hero and receive a detrimental status effect. What this does is force players to eventually diversify their character choice and try out the other Bergsons, while waiting for their chosen one to be tip top once more after a few run attempts (or successes).
Sound Design & Cinematics
The first thing I’m drawn to speak of in regards to Children of Morta’s sound design, is its exemplary narration. Credit to Ed Kelly for his phenomenal performance that captivated me with an immersive, unrelenting grip. This absolutely makes up for the fact that no other voiced characters are featured. That being said, I legitimately didn’t notice a lack of vocal variety because the narrator does such a brilliant job filling that void naturally. It also helps when characters speak through body language in addition to narrative description as when it all comes together, it’s seamless.
Even the most subtle of sounds in Morta are quite organic. Proximity based environmental noise invigorates forests to sound inhabited, and deserts barren. For example, on one occasion a frog would grow feint or loud depending on character distance. Each location (in addition to visuals) has its own unique sounds and music. On that note, the soundtrack is unwaveringly consistent in tone. Different tracks contribute heavily to how each setting feels. Whether it’s a grim pause, a moment of repose, or cheerful bartering, Children of Morta has a tune fitting for all. There’s something beautiful and serene about Morta’s music, my favorite being those tight market guitar riffs. In regards to glitches or issues, I only encountered one occasion of a repeating “death” audio clip. And if any aspect of the sound mixing is too loud or quiet, players may adjust each independently, including the narrator. Subtitles work as expected with the exception of an instance I notice where the spoken audio “accomplished” didn’t match the written subtitle “performed”. A minor nitpick to be sure.
During my adventures with the Bergsons, I’d constantly crave the discovery of ever more artfully presented scripted segments that would further elaborate on the highly compelling world and its characters. Be it an elderly man, his son and a broken lens, or a pivotal moment for the Bergsons, every syllable and cinematic carries the weight of Mjölnir. Considering how story driven Children of Morta is, I won’t detail any cinematics. However most (if not all) are rendered in-game engine. It’s quite brilliant how much humanity can be bestowed upon pixelated avatars with the right acting & writing. Especially that opening cinematic in particular, what a gorgeous and colourful way to get someone hooked in 2 minutes flat. Truly commendable work, anyone who enjoys either a satisfying story, Action RPG gameplay, or both should absolutely contemplate giving Children of Morta a look (at least). Before moving on I’d like to draw attention to a potential detail that may be overlooked. During cinematics taking place after a level or boss, the game takes into consideration which character you played and incorporates that into the scene. I found this to be a small but welcome detail.
Collectively I thoroughly adored my time with Children of Morta, and I’d highly recommend it. Solid 9.2/10. It makes some of the best use of Pixel art I’ve ever personally experienced, and it’s a truly unique game that boldly carves its own identity. Gameplay is smooth, satisfying, and responsive making exhilarating use of a tried and true formula, topping it all off with excellent storytelling, great writing, and a fantastic performance from Ed Kelly. Children of Morta is available for PlayStation 4, XboxOne, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
Damn, this game is super neat.
What did you think of Children of Morta? Let us know in the comments. If you enjoyed this content, why not check out our Ghost of Tushima PlayStation 4 Review?
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Hell Yeah, Brother
- Score - 9.2/109.2/10
+ Beautiful Game
+ Amazing Story & Characters
+ Great Price/Content Ratio
– Minor Technical Issues
– No Solo Companion