Dungeon crawlers with a strong narrative are hard to come by. They usually devolve into a mindless grind for the best loot and require minimal brain power. While I won’t deny running a greater rift in Diablo 3 doesn’t provide some form of entertainment, I’ve been looking for something to raise the stakes. Children of Morta looks to change that when it releases this September. The game promises the usual dungeon crawling and skill building, but along with that comes a narrative about family and the bonds they share in troubling times. We could end up really loving these characters.
What made this world immediately endearing to me was the sound effects and art style. They are very reminiscent of 11 Bit Studios other fantastic dungeon crawler Moonlighter. Despite coming from different developers (Moonlighter was developed by Digital Sun, while Children of Morta is being developed by Dead Mage), and similarities aside, what sets Children of Morta apart is that it forgoes the whole shop owner mechanic of Moonlighter and gets right into the dungeon crawling. Sure, you can check out what everyone is up to at the house, but ultimately you’re just killing bad guys and getting stronger. I’m not saying one is better than the other, because you should absolutely give Moonlighter a chance. There have been so many updates for it, they’ve really fleshed it out into something special.
When the Children of Morta demo begins, we’re first introduced to Margaret, the grandmother of the family. She senses something wrong with the Goddess and fears that the corruption is coming back. The narrator, which is entirely voice acted, sets the stage for each set piece like a sort of dungeon master. After some deliberation, it is decided that one of the family members should investigate. Margaret sends her son John to find out what’s wrong. With a sword and shield equipped, we’re introduced to the games mechanics as we cut our way through enemies through a dark forest. Meeting up with our daughter Linda we realize that the corruption (essentially black sludge) has spread throughout the land. Back at the house John and Linda explain the horrors they’ve seen and Margaret takes the family down into the basement to show them The Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is where you’ll access the different dungeons and it’s conveniently placed underneath the house. While only John and Linda (she’s a bow wielder) were available to play in the demo, the full game will offer six family members to play as, each with their own skills and weapons. Being able to swap between the different family members keeps the game feeling fresh. It is hinted at during the demo that Kevin, one of the younger members of the family, needs to be found. Kevin has ventured out from the family home with the daggers his Uncle Ben made him to prove to himself he’s worthy, so I assume he will be a rogue type class which I cannot wait to try out when the full game releases.
The camera is set above the action. Combat is assigned to the left and right mouse buttons. The left is your normal attack, the right is used for special attacks. John for instance has a special ability called Heavens Strike, which allows him to call down an area of effect of swords to attack a group of enemies. Linda can also cast down a barrage of explosive arrows to do some area damage as well. There are different power-ups you can use called Divine Graces. Blood Owed is a Divine Grace that makes it so nearby enemies take damage when you’re attacked. Divine Relics on the other hand are abilities that can be used within the dungeon, such as a totem that can be set down to give you a buff for a short amount of time.
After gaining enough experience in combat, you level up and earn a skill point that can be placed into an ability of your choice that’s available in that characters skill tree. Obtaining a certain amount of skills for each member also opens up different passive abilities like increased movement speed that are shared with all the family members as well. This connection creates a greater sense of progress. No matter who you play as, you’re always getting stronger. Uncle Ben is the family blacksmith, so if you want to increase armor or weapon power, he’s the guy to go to. Grandma Margaret can give you access to bonuses like increased experience from enemies or longer buff durations, for a fee of course.
This demo consists of one playable three floor dungeon. For my first run through I played as John, which ended up being relatively easy once I had upgraded my armor and damage. He can take quite a bit of damage and having a shield to hide behind makes encounters much more manageable. It wasn’t until my second play-through as Linda that I got a taste for just how in-depth the dungeon crawling was going to be in this game. There are so many different events you can come across. In this first dungeon alone, I rescued a wolf pup that I brought back to the house. It turns out the wolf pup needs medicine, so that brings on a side quest to find an antidote to help the creature. I saved a merchant from certain doom, so now before the boss chamber I can purchase items from him. I came across a husband trying to protect his wife and child. I ended up dying trying to save them and I haven’t been able to find them again which is a bit of a letdown. It’s really staggering how much there is to see in this first dungeon alone. For this second play-through as Linda, I haven’t shut the game off yet (I’ve been playing for about an hour and half). if you do decide to shut the game down, you’ll lose any progress and if you defeat the dungeon boss, you have to start over from the beginning fresh and new. I’m just too in love with the game to shut it off so we’ll see how powerful I can make my characters before taking on the Spider boss that awaits me at the end.
Children of Morta has the potential to be something truly awesome. I’m absolutely enamored with its world and game-play. We’ll have to wait until it launches in September to see if it lives up to the lofty expectations set by this excellent demo, but if the demo is any indication, Children of Morta is definitely going to be worth your time. – NVJ
The early access preview for Children of Morta is now available on Steam until June 22nd, 2019
Children of Morta releases on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch & PC this September