“Rogue-lite” is becoming a very popular genre within the indie game industry. Everywhere I look, it seems like some new indie title is coming out with “procedurally generated environments” and “run based gameplay.” I by no means am saying this is a bad thing, but I do think that with the ever-growing library of games with a “rogue-lite hook,” each new title needs to do something to stand out. For example: Moonlighter has the shop-keeper portion, Enter the Gungeon has an absurd amount of hilarious and creative guns and enemies, and Crypt of the Necrodancer revolves its combat and movement around the rhythm of the soundtrack. Children of Morta, an upcoming game by Dead Mage and publisher 11 Bit Studios, aims to stand out by adding a detailed, meaningful narrative on top of a solid, rogue-lite gameplay cycle.
The first thing I noticed during my three hours with Children of Morta is the absolutely gorgeous environmental visuals. I’m not sure if calling them “pixel art” is technically the correct terminology, because the backgrounds and other environments are densely packed with so much detail and color that it barely looks like pixels. What I do know is that some of the distance shots melted my puny mind, and I couldn’t wait to go exploring more in the world just to see the beauty that the devs have cooked up. In contrast to the highly detailed world, the art for the characters is a much more traditional, simplified, pixel art. This is not at all a bad thing, as it makes them stand out – which makes sense because the game is all about the family.
In Children of Morta, you play as various members of the Bergons family, with the intent to save the world of Rea from a deep evil that is overtaking everything. During my time, I played primarily as John Bergons, a sword and shield based character. The basic, top-down, hack-and-slash combat felt great, and some of the upgradeable moves I unlocked felt deeply satisfying to use. There is something so exhilarating about calling down lightning infused swords from the skies on the unsuspecting draugr and spiders. In addition to playing as John, you can also play as his daughter, Linda, a more distance focused bow and arrow wielding fighter. In the full release of the game, there will be more members of the family to play as, particularly other children of John’s that were separated, each with their own unique weapon set and play style.
The thing I found particularly interesting was the fact that you aren’t doing runs just to get to the next dungeon and get more powerful upgrades. All of that comes as part of it, but there are actual story based mission structures and a plot progression each time you enter and exit a dungeon. Whether you fail or succeed in completing each dungeon’s multiple layers and (surprisingly extremely difficult) boss, you leave the dungeon with all of your XP, money, and quest items intact. For example, I found a little wolf pupper surrounded by monsters; when I saved it and returned home, new quests opened up about gathering items on future runs to help it. Rather than having repetitive “kill 200 spider” type quests, I loved having actual unique goals to search for that mattered to the story.
There were some things, however, that I didn’t love that I hope get ironed out before the full release. Firstly, the load times, especially during startup and in between runs, are often quite long. I had my game crash a couple times on startup and once in a dungeon, making these load times seem even longer out of fear that it froze. Other than that, the game ran quite well and didn’t have many technical issues!
My other big issue was the balancing of the character Linda. I really enjoyed playing as her, but she is simply too underpowered to make here a viable character to progress with far into a dungeon. John is slow and powerful, but has a shield to absorb damage and protect himself. Linda is faster and distance based, but is much weaker in offense and has no great method to defend against large chunks of enemies. The tradeoff doesn’t really seem all that fair, and while she is fun to play, I hope the rest of the family doesn’t have balancing issues like this.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed my three hours with to Children of Morta! I was actually really bummed when I finally was able to beat the first dungeon, only to be rewarded by a “thanks for playing” screen and getting sent back to the main menu. To me, a rogue-lite needs to have a solid gameplay loop and a unique incentive to keep playing, and I really think that the narrative and visuals could be more than enough! Fall of 2019 is going to be jam-packed with titles, but I am absolutely going to keep my schedule clear so I can dig more in the world of Rea!
Children of Morta is aiming for September 2019 release on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.