First appearing on Kickstarter back in 2015 Children of Morta has had a pretty long road to release. After a few years Children of Morta is finally ready to be released on PC tomorrow and consoles (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One) on October 15th. While I didn’t back Children of Morta when it was on Kickstarter, it is a game I have been monitoring for a while after hearing about it a couple years back. What initially interested me about the game was its idea of a family of heroes/adventurers. The family theme wasn’t just a story mechanic either as you could play as quite a few of the members of the family. I was a little leery about the rogue-lite aspects as I am not a huge fan of the genre, but Children of Morta looked so unique that I had to try it out. It may have some inconsistent difficulty and grinding, but Children of Morta creates an original and fun experience of a family trying to save the world from evil.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Dead Mage and 11 bit studios for the review copy of Children of Morta used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
An evil force is growing in the mountain of Morta. After a cataclysmic event the corruption begins spreading throughout the land. For generations the Bergson family have protected the inhabitants of the mountain. With the corruption spreading the Bergsons need to work together utilizing their own unique talents to aid in the fight. Can the Bergsons successfully fend off the spread of corruption while figuring out what created it in the first place?
If I were to classify Children of Morta I would probably say that it is a combination of a couple different genres. At its core the game is an action game with a lot of combat. Basically you will choose one of the Bergsons to play as. You will then enter a dungeon that consists of a couple levels filled with enemies. You will use your hero to clear out all of the enemies as you proceed to the entrance for the next level of the dungeon. Depending on what hero you chose combat mostly consists of either melee or ranged combat. In total there are six different characters. Two characters are unlocked at the beginning of the game while the other four unlock after you have played for a certain amount of time. The characters you can play as are as follows:
- John (father): John is your typical sword and shield fighter.
- Linda (oldest daughter): Linda is your typical bow and arrow character. She can use her bow while moving, but receives a bonus if she attacks while standing still.
- Kevin (youngest son): Kevin is the rogue character. Kevin uses daggers to attack quickly moving between targets and evading attacks.
- Mark (oldest son): Mark uses martial arts to attack. Mark fights by quickly jumping between enemies to attack and dodge enemy attacks.
- Lucy (youngest daughter): Lucy is a mage that mostly utilizes fire. Lucy’s attacks are mostly ranged and she can’t attack while moving
- Joey (Uncle Ben’s kid): Joey is your typical tank character. Joey uses a large hammer and can deal devastating attacks. Joey moves and attacks slower than the other family members though and thus has a harder time avoiding enemy attacks.
I would say that the characters are both unique and also feel kind of similar. While each character has their own unique strengths and weakness, most of the characters tend to break down into a generic fighting style which they share with another character. For example Linda and Lucy are your typical ranged attackers. Their combat plays pretty similarly, but each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Linda can attack while moving, and Lucy can only attack while staying in place but deals quite a bit more damage. Meanwhile Kevin and Mark are your typical fast fighters that rely on quickly attacking enemies and then avoiding enemy attacks. John is kind of by himself as you can attack with the sword and use the shield to block enemy attacks. Finally Joey can deal a lot of damage but is vulnerable when attacking.
For the most part I really liked the combat. The combat basically consists of using the abilities you unlock for each character. Each character has a basic attack as well as some other attacks that require a cooldown. The controls are responsive as the combat is quite fast and smooth. Instead of a few powerful enemies, you will be mowing through hordes of enemies. While you will be hacking through a bunch of enemies, Children of Morta is not just a hack and slash game. You need to be smart with blocking/dodging enemies as you can die quickly if you get hit by a lot of attacks. The combat might not be as deep as some other action games but it is fun and satisfying.
In addition to the action/combat mechanics, Children of Morta has some RPG elements. As you kill enemies you will gain experience and gold. When you earn enough experience you will gain a level. Each level you gain will earn you a skill point that you can use to unlock new skills or increase the power of skills you have already unlocked. These upgrades include new attacks, passive abilities, or other upgrades that strengthen the character. While in the dungeon you will also pick up gold. This gold is used once you get back to the family home to buy upgrades for the whole family. You can either buy stat upgrades from Uncle Ben’s workshop or from Grandma Margaret. While Children of Morta has some RPG elements they are far from as deep as other RPG games. The choice of abilities is somewhat limited and you can’t assign points to different stats as those are all automatically assigned.
The one mechanic in Children of Morta that I haven’t talked about yet are the rogue-lite mechanics. Like most rogue-lites Children of Morta expects you to die. To avoid having to deal with characters dying, the Bergsons have magical gemstones that teleport them back to their family home just as they are about to be killed (when you run out of HP). When you enter a dungeon you enter on the ground floor. You try to fight your way through the entire dungeon to clear it and unlock the next dungeon. To help you there are various types of gems/relics/items that you will find that give you stat boosts or special abilities. These items are only good for the current dungeon as they disappear whenever you return to the family home. If you die you will return to the family home with the experience and gold you earned in your run through the dungeon. When you return to the dungeon you will return to the first floor and have to fight through an entirely new dungeon as the dungeons are randomly generated each time you enter them.
Regular readers of Geeky Hobbies will know that I am not the biggest fan of rogue-lite games. The reason that I don’t love the genre is the fact that I am not a big fan of losing progress that I have made in a game. I am generally not a fan of having to play the same content over and over again. Children of Morta has a few issues of its own in this area (which I will get to later), but it actually does a pretty good job with the rogue-lite mechanics. I think the main reason why the rogue-lite mechanics work is because the game does a good job making it feel like you made progress even when you die.
First there is usually story progression even when you fail. Most of the time when you return home a little story sequence will play. These little sequences give you updates on what is going on at the family home. For example early in the game you will rescue a wounded wolf pup from a dungeon. You will then get a couple short sequences between dungeon runs where the family heals the pup and eventually adopts it into the family. These sequences are also used to show how the various Bergson children develop their abilities to aid in the fight against the corruption. These little sequences do a good job making it feel like you are making progress even when you have to replay a dungeon. This is because these little sequences are some of the driving forces behind the game. The overall story of the family fighting against the corruption is solid if not super original. Where the story really shines though is these little story sequences. They show you the everyday life of the family and bring a lot of character development to the family as each member develops their own personality. These little sequences and the story in general is one of the best aspects of the Children of Morta.
Second with each failure you can tell that the family members become stronger (unless you die right away and then not much changes). This comes from a couple different areas. First the gold you take from the dungeon can be used to give the entire family upgrades that improve their stats. Whether improving attack damage, defense, agility, or even experience gained; your characters will become more powerful. In each run you will also gain experience. The experience points are used to unlock new abilities or improve abilities already unlocked. Finally each of the characters have special family benefits. Once a character reaches a certain level they will unlock the family ability which gives a passive ability/stat boost to all of the family members. This encourages you to play as all of the characters so you can unlock the bonuses for the rest of the family.
The final thing that makes replaying dungeons acceptable is the fact that each trip through the dungeon is unique. On the surface each dungeon is different as they are randomly generated so the layout will be different. The thing I liked most about the randomized dungeons though is that the game includes some side missions for each dungeon. These side missions could include arena combat situations, saving people from enemies that have surrounded them, escort missions, fetch quests, some mini games that involve luck/chance, and some areas that mostly just add lore to the game. While none of these side missions are game-changing, they add a unique quality to the dungeons where it feels like each dungeon is unique outside of just how it is laid out.
While the rogue-lite mechanics are better than most games in the genre, there are still a few issues with the mechanics. Most of the problems come from the game’s difficulty. Maybe it is just me but I think Children of Morta’s difficulty is way too inconsistent. For example when I first started playing the game I could not make it through the first dungeon. I died a couple times before I successfully made it through the dungeon. Then I was able to make it through the second and third dungeons on my first or second attempt. After these two dungeons though it went back to being quite difficult again. When you average it all out I would say that Children of Morta is moderately difficult to challenging. I don’t mind the game being somewhat difficult, but I am not a big fan of the difficulty regularly changing from too easy to too difficult.
The rapidly changing difficulty leads to quite a bit of grinding where you have to replay old dungeons or the current dungeon just to gain experience and gold to power up your characters. If you are an expert at these type of games you may not need to grind, but I would expect most players will have to grind every so often just to power up enough to have a chance of beating the next dungeon. I think part of Children of Morta’s difficulty comes from the fact that the dungeons are randomly generated. I believe this because I would play the same dungeon two times in a row and one time would be considerably more difficult than the other time. This is due to some dungeons having a ton of enemies in the same area or having to fight a lot of powered up creatures. This adds a little luck to the game where your run could end because you get a bad dungeon or you can breeze through a dungeon because you get a good spawn. With most dungeons taking 20-30 minutes to complete (if you fully explore them), it kind of sucks getting close to the end of a dungeon and failing because you got a bad spawn.
On the topic of having to replay dungeons I am not a big fan of the fatigue mechanic in the game. Basically every so often the characters will become fatigued when exiting a dungeon. This results in the character having a penalty to their stamina/health for a given amount of time. While you can still use the character, this penalty can be pretty severe. Ultimately these force you to occasionally switch to other characters. While you should play all of the characters to get the associated family bonuses, the game basically forcing you to switch from your favorite character goes a little too far in my opinion. If you were going to grind to gain experience/gold this isn’t a huge problem. If you were going to try to beat the next dungeon and you aren’t able to use your favorite character it is going to significantly hurt your chances. Thus you can still attempt the next dungeon with a much better chance at failing or you will have to grind for your next dungeon run.
Before wrapping up I wanted to quickly talk about the co-op. One of the things that intrigued me about Children of Morta is that the game has split-screen co-op. Long term readers of Geeky Hobbies will known that I have always been a big fan of co-op games as I have enjoyed playing games with my brother since we were kids. Thus it should not surprise anyone that I played Children of Morta co-op with my brother. Outside of the tutorial you can play all of Children of Morta co-op. Occasionally the two players will not be able to move in their desired direction because the players are too far apart. Otherwise the co-op works quite well. Having a partner along for the ride allows you to take advantage of different character abilities. It is also just fun playing these type of games with another player. I did check out the single player quickly to see if it is significantly different and it basically plays the same. The only differences is that the single player seems to weaken the enemies/strengthen your character as well as give you a lot more health potions to compensate for not having another player. While I have limited experience with the single player, I would say that the dungeons are actually easier with one player. Nevertheless if you have someone else to play Children of Morta with I would highly recommend it.
Children of Morta may not be a perfect game, but it is a very good game. Children of Morta is basically a game about family. The game is focused on the Bergson family as they fight the forces of evil. This includes little story snippets about the Bergson’s everyday life which leads to a compelling story. The family mechanic also applies to the combat as you can choose to play as different members from the family. Each family member has different attacks as well as strengths and weaknesses. The combat is satisfying as you quickly mow down a bunch of enemies while also trying to avoid their attacks. While not a big fan of rogue-lites I also liked these mechanics for the most part. While you will have to repeat the same dungeons quite a bit, the game makes each dungeon feel unique while also making each run feel worthwhile as you improve the characters and progress the story. The game has some issues with inconsistent difficulty though as the dungeons go back and forth from too easy to too difficult. This leads to times where you will have to do quite a bit of grinding.
My recommendation for Children of Morta comes down to your opinion on the premise and whether you like action rogue-lite games. If you don’t care for the premise or don’t like action rogue-lite games, Children of Morta probably won’t be for you. Fans of the genre or people who think the premise sounds interesting though should get quite a bit of enjoyment out of Children of Morta. I know I enjoyed my time with Children of Morta and I would recommend picking it up.