Children of Morta Review
Something terrible stirs beneath Mount Morta. Darkness has begun to seep into the forest around it, and the beautiful creatures of the woods are being slaughter and changed into denizens of darkness. It is time for the Bergson family to once again protect against the evil within the mountain. Developed by Dead Mage, Children of Morta has been one of the most anticipated indie titles for quite some time, and it is finally here. Much like the mountain of Morta itself, this game cannot be judged by a few simple glances at it from the outside, for what you might see is a rogue-lite dungeon crawler but what you get is so, so much more.
The Bergson family have been tasked with protecting Mount Morta for generations, a task which has remained relatively peaceful until now. Rather than selecting from which class to play as, you’ll pick which family member to take into the field. The father is your typical sword and shield class, his eldest daughter a nimble archer, and his middle child of whom he is over-protective, a fierce dual-wielding rogue who wants to do his family proud. There are a number of family members to choose from, each entirely unique from the other so you’ll always find the play style you are looking for.
Like a Beautifully Tragic Fairy-Tale
The game is broken into three main dungeons, with each of them consisting of multiple stages. These are procedurally generated which – while it may sound like a tiresome trope at this point – still lends itself to tell an incredible story, and that is where Children of Morta truly sets itself apart from other rogue-lites: the incredible narrative. While in a dungeon, it is possible to encounter other family members who will unlock new skills for you, open new challenges, or travel with you as an NPC companion. Whether you live or die, each time a mission ends you will be treated to a heavy and somber intermission at the house as the story moves forward and the darkness continues to spread. I never felt like I had to grind to a certain point to keep the story flowing, the story is going to continue whether or not I succeed in my adventures.
It’s also worth noting that while this is a beautifully detailed pixel-art game, this is not one for the whole family. Sacrifice, evisceration, and tragedy seem to loom around every corner as the world grows more and more grim. It’s a powerful gut punch you don’t expect out of a video game but one they handle with complete respect. Nothing feels like shock value or shoe-horned in, it’s honest to goodness immaculate story telling. Whether it’s the way the game shows you the story, the incredible dialogue between the characters, or the gravitas of the narrator himself, this feels like a big-budget AAA experience.
At its core, Children of Morta is a game about family. Not only do we see how lovingly they all care for each other during intermission scenes, in between missions, and even popping up during missions to help, but as each family member levels up they unlock a wide array of perks for everyone else. This encourages you to keep your family leveled up together to get the most out of their shared abilities, after all the family who slays together, stays together! Of course each family member will level up individually as well with their own character-specific tech trees of unlockable abilities and cool-down buffs. Linda, the archer and eldest daughter of the family is my personal favorite, being leveled just a little higher than the rest. I love her ranged combat and it feels just as tight as anyone else. Back home, Uncle Ben runs the forge in the house to keep everyone’s gear in tip top shape. This is where your winnings come into play as you’ll be able to purchase armor, speed, and damage upgrades – plus many more – and each purchase again goes towards the entire family. Having this streamlined approach to powering up the entire team drastically reduces the feel of being another grindy rogue-lite and for that I applaud it.
Of course what is a rogue-lite without stage-limited abilities? Exploring every nook and cranny of every cave will bring you face to face with enemies, treasure, puzzles, and delightful bonus powers such as creature allies that will attack for you, elemental attacks, and so much more. There are also one-time-use items and recharging items you’ll discover as well, so be sure to look in every corner to get the most out of the dungeon. These come in a wide variety of effects and so far none of the ones I encountered felt useless or under-powered. Children of Morta wants you to feel confident in the dungeon, but don’t confuse confidence for arrogance. The monsters you face will easily find a way to swarm you, so channel your favorite skill-based combat game and get ready to dodge roll into battle with split-second tactical decisions.
Finally, the one downside I experienced during Children of Morta comes from the audio. While combat itself sounds crisp and snappy with each sword slash or shield bash, the background music fades in and out in the dungeon, sometimes offering awkward stretches of time without kicking in only to ramp up sporadically. The music itself is great but it never seemed to time well with what was happening on screen at any given moment. Not a huge problem, but just noticeable enough.
Children of Morta is a resoundingly impactful, thoughtful, and humanizing rogue-lite with an all-consuming narrative you simply can’t stop chasing. Even with its dark, fantasy filled setting it tells a very grounded story about family, love, and sacrifice in the face of adversity. The voice acting is spot on, the complex pixel-art is gorgeous to pause and behold, and combat feels powerful with everyone in the family. The dungeons are vast enough to compel you to explore without wasting your time on endless corridors, and the game strikes a perfect balance between entry-level rogue-lite and epic RPG that makes it stand tall over your average rogue-lite. We’ve waited a long time for Children of Morta and the wait was more than worth it.
**PC code provided by the publisher**
- Gorgeous Graphics
- Entrancing Narrative
- Crisp, Challenging Combat
- Powerful, Emotional Themes
- Inconsistent Soundtrack