Dungeon crawlers with a strong narrative are few and far between. Sure, they have a story, but usually the game will end up devolving into a mindless grind for the best loot and require minimal brain power. While I won’t deny that running a greater rift in Diablo 3 does provide some form of entertainment, I’ve been looking for something to raise the stakes. Children of Morta expands on the idea of what a dungeon crawler can be. The game does contain the usual combat and skill building, but it does it so well. Along with that comes a narrative about family and the bonds they share in troubling times. I promise you that by the end of it, you will absolutely care for the Bergson’s and hope that they survive this horrible ordeal they’re in.
When Children of Morta begins, we are first introduced to Margaret, the grandmother of the family. She senses something wrong with the world and fears that the corruption is returning. After some deliberation, it is decided that one of the family members should investigate. With a sword and shield equipped, we take control of one of the eldest sons John and learn the games mechanics as we cut our way through enemies through a dark forest. Meeting up with our daughter Linda who uses a bow to rain down a volley of arrows on her enemies, we realize that the corruption 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 three different dungeons you’ll need to conquer and restore peace to the land.
What made this world immediately stand out to me was the story, 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), the games do share similar graphics and sound effects. What sets Children of Morta apart though (other than the fact that you don’t run your own shop) is its story and how it’s delivered. Each line of dialogue and story is spoken by the narrator. In between the dungeons you’ll get cutscenes that push the narrative forward. Every new development pulls these characters further towards the brink of disaster. In between the chaos, you’ll be able to watch the family in their house from a birds eye view and see what they’re up to. Lucy might be sitting on the floor drawing or Uncle Ben will be in his lab creating something. It’s these quiet moments that let you peek into the souls of this family. Children of Morta might have limited looking character models, but the amount of emotion that’s on display here is very impressive. A mother breaking down into tears. A son hiding in his room, conflicted with who he is and what he believes he’s destined to become. It all looks fantastic and makes you care.
While only John and Linda are available when you begin, you’ll gain access to four more playable characters, each with their own skills and weapons. The shy and misunderstood Kevin carries daggers and can make himself invisible before striking. Joey is a heavy hitter who carries a giant hammer. Mark uses his fists as weapons. Even the youngest of the family, Lucy, gets in on the action. She’s a feisty little girl with orange hair who can shoot fireballs from her hands and summon mini tornadoes. Each character feels different and offers something new to combat. I usually played as Lucy, Kevin or John, but I quickly learned you can’t get too attached to one character. They can receive a debuff if they’re used too much called Corruption Fatigue, which means that you should give them a break and play as one of the other family members until the other is well rested. This encourages players to not play as one style of character and keeps things fresh.
Children of Morta does include local co-op. I mostly played single player in my play-through but I hooked up an Xbox One controller for my wife and I played on keyboard. The controls were smooth and responsive on the controller. The game becomes a twin stick shooter where using the right analog stick allows you to attack. If you’re waiting to purchase the game when it launches on consoles in October, just know that you’ll be getting the full experience and nothing was compromised when transitioning to the controller.
The camera is set above the action like Diablo. 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 extra abilities that can be used within the dungeon, such as a totem that can be set down to give you a damage 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 in one members skill tree also opens up different passive abilities like increased movement speed that are shared with all the family members. This connection creates a greater sense of progress. No matter who you play as, you’re always getting stronger. Uncle Ben, the family blacksmith, will increase your armor, weapon power, critical hit, etc. Grandma Margaret can give you access to bonuses like increased experience from enemies or longer buff durations. There are even people you can rescue in the dungeons, like Hojjat the Rune Mender, who can mend runes you will find that increase your weapons strength… for a price of course.
Each of the dungeons you’ll explore – the Caeldippo Caves, Barahut (a desert town turned to slavery) & TerraLava (an industrial area with robots) are full of personality and depth. There are so many different events you can come across. In the first dungeon alone I rescued a wolf pup whose mother had been killed and brought it back to the house. It turns out the wolf pup needs medicine, so that brings on a side quest to find different ingredients to create 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. Each time you enter a dungeon you honestly don’t know what to expect. Discovering characters within each of the dungeons has its ups and downs though. Much like the main family in the story, their outcomes don’t always have a happy ending. You grow to care about these characters, but much like having a favorite character in Game of Thrones, never become too attached because you never know what could happen next.
My only complaint with Children of Morta would have to be the difficulty. Especially towards the end of the game, enemies can overwhelm and kill you within seconds. In order to continue on, I did have to go back to previous areas to grind out some experience and gold to upgrade my abilities. It’s satisfying once you finally clear a dungeon and see that progression, but sometimes you just want to find out what happens next in the story and you have to pull a Dark Souls and sprint past all the enemies to get to the boss. If you do decide to sprint, just make sure you come back later to discover anything you might have missed.
I know I really didn’t have anything negative to say about the game but it’s the honest truth. Children of Morta is one of my favorite games of 2019. It’s fantastic and full of addictive combat and a heart-wrenching story. It’s a testament to the creative team behind the game and I really hope we’ll see more from this franchise in the future. – NVJ
Children of Morta will be available on PC September 3rd, 2019
PS4, Xbox One & Nintendo Switch versions will be available on October 15th, 2019
PC review code provided by Evolve PR