There's no stronger bond than blood, it is an unbreakable link that gives us strength, connecting our relations together and a primary focus in Children of Morta, a story-driven action RPG with rogue-like elements developed by Dead Mage. Focusing on the legend of the Bergson family as they stand against an overwhelming enemy known as the Corruption and featuring branching story arcs involving each member of the Bergsons. The storyline as a whole sees the family tackling dangerous enemies and meeting new friends, all whilst attempting to figure out what caused the Corruption and how they're going to defeat it. Working as a team, the family will have to make devastating sacrifices in order to restore the world to its former glory.
Set mainly over three worlds, each split into three again, Children of Morta has the Bergsons travel to distant lands in order to free the trapped deities in each area. By playing solo or in co-op (local at launch and online in the near future), players will be tasked with pushing through countless enemies to free these immortal beings from the Corruption, in order to further understand the cause of this terrible plague.
The Bergsons, the family the story is based around, is the thing that makes Children of Morta so unique. Each playable relative has a different playstyle revolving around the specialised weaponry they use. For example, John, the eldest brother, uses a sword and shield, making him especially deadly at close range. John is also particularly good at sponging damage and acting as a tank, just like his cousin Joey, who wields a large hammer. Kevin, one of the youngest members of the Bergsons, uses dual daggers and is much faster than the others, although he doesn't do so well at absorbing hits. Kevin's playstyle is quite similar to that of Mark, one of the older brothers. Linda, daughter of John, is the archer of the family, she uses ranged attacks to dispatch enemies, allowing players to put some distance between them and danger, much like the youngest member of the Bergsons, a fiery mage called Lucy.
Even though each character is unique in the way they operate, and undoubtedly you will have a favourite, the optimal way to play is to spend time with each member of the family, in fact, this style is encouraged. Unlike a traditional roguelike, Children of Morta doesn't take you back to square one should you fail a dungeon. You will have to start the level from scratch, but you return from each quest with the gold you amassed and the experience you gained, meaning every run promotes growth with the characters used.
Levelling and unlocking new abilities with skill points, which are awarded after eliminating enough enemies on each separate character will allow new features to be used across the entire family as well as personally, such as faster movement speed or greater critical hit chance. These unlockable upgrades are found in the skill tree, bringing an option, all be it rather limited, to build each character the way you like. For example, you can either choose to level damage on John straight away, or alternatively focus on health and protection, depending on how you want to play the character and all this is before you count the upgrades you can purchase with the looted gold in every run.
The gold dropped by enemies or found hidden in destroyable objects such as pots allows players to marginally upgrade certain statistics at either Uncle Ben's workshop or at Grandma's lab, both of which can be found at the house. The other unlockable items are run specific, meaning when you die or complete a level, you lose them all. These range from Divine Items, essentially adding a new ability or tool to your kit, to simple enhancements that can put a knockback effect on weapons and even blessings, which can increase XP gain among other things. These upgrades do not work the same as gold or skill points, since they don't affect the character permanently. Instead, they temporarily enhance them with a buff to their base statistics or by spawning a miniature companion as an example, but they do, without a doubt, make progressing through dungeons and taking down enemies easier with each pick-up.
Aside from fighting off hordes of enemies and finding loot, the procedurally generated levels of Children of Morta offer random story objectives to be found and completed. For example, one of the earliest encounters we came across was of a young wolf pup who was trapped by a group of demons. After defeating them and rescuing the pup, you have to find a herb to heal the animal and then obtain some nails and wood so you can build a kennel for it to live in. This mini-quest, which is seemingly random, shows just how important story development and family is, despite the implementation of rogue-like mechanics that often work to counter this sort of experience.
Aside from the character development and upgradable options found throughout, Children of Morta has an impressive variety of enemies to fight. These are relative to the location of the dungeon and to some extent, the depth of it as well, meaning you will find scorpions and thieves among the enemies in Barahut, the desert region, and goblins and bats in the Caeldippo Caves, the subterranean portion of the story. Each enemy has a unique attack and health bar, meaning the way you approach them is of the utmost importance. Sometimes you will even encounter a mini-boss at random. These are regular enemies with a great deal more health and the ability to use special skills, but at least they reward you with things like extra gold when defeated.
As well as this, at the end of each level is a boss, which is tied to the design of the dungeon. The first you encounter is an oversized spider who has made the highest level of the Caeldippo Caves its home, however, further through the story you'll encounter more, each with their own unique styles. These bosses have unique attacks, several of them in fact, and a mega health bar to boot, making for a tough fight for an unprepared Bergson. It is worth saying at this point the challenge of playing Children of Morta solo sometimes makes the game a little bit tedious, especially when taking on long levels, however, it can be simply resolved by partnering up and playing cooperatively.
More so, playing with friends is by far the best way to enjoy this title. You can, without a doubt, run through a solo campaign but it will be much more difficult and more of a grind to complete the lengthy dungeons. Cooperative gameplay is easier to jump into, as you can work together to progress through levels and even revive fallen partners, meaning personal death is not necessarily the end of a run. What's more, the synergy between the Bergsons makes the co-op experience even better, and we'd suggest taking Joey and Linda for a spin as they work extremely well together as a tank and ranged character duo.
Finally, we have to mention the alluring hand-drawn pixel art style and the elegant soundtrack, both of which genuinely make this game a joy to spend time with. The music sounds very medieval and mystical in places, perfectly reflecting the era and world this story takes place in. The art style, on the other hand, is some of the most stunning pixel work you will ever see. Not only does it capture the opposing beauty and horror of the world, but the visuals are also lifelike enough to help you grow an attachment to the Bergsons.
The audio-visual design, coupled with the variety of upgrades, enemies and playable characters, makes Dead Mage's family-focused adventure a joy to play. The biggest issues come from the difficulty of pushing through hefty dungeons alone, which can be easily overcome by joining up with a friend, a move that makes the experience a great deal more fun and shows its true potential. With its diverse storylines, satisfying combat, and remarkable world, Children of Morta is a treat for all action-RPG fans.