Family is important. As a soon-to-be first time father of twins, I’ve spent more time thinking about the concept of a family in recent months than ever before, and it’s almost certainly because of this that I’ve connected with Children of Morta on a more personal level than any other game I’ve played this year.
Children of Morta is centred around the Bergsons, a family unit tasked with protecting an ancient mountain from the ever-growing threat of the Corruption. The game plays out across a number of procedurally generated areas, battling the Corruption, and in roguelite fashion if you die you are sent back to the start. The difference to other games like Binding of Isaac and Enter the Gungeon is that the start is the Bergson family home. What makes Children of Morta truly special is the way it weaves an engaging narrative between these interchangeable gameplay elements.
Progress is made between attempts as players collect money and experience which can be used to purchase new skills and stat buffs. Each character has their own set of skills matched to their general gameplay style. The father, John uses a sword and shield and represents a more general and defensive play style. In contrast, John’s son Kevin uses two daggers and moves swiftly between enemies, but lacks the ability to guard.
As the story develops, members of Bergson’s family are introduced, unlocking new playstyles. In an effort to reduce the chances of players relying too heavily on a single character, each family member can experience fatigue if used too often. This reduces combat effectiveness and the only way to remove it is to allow them time to recover. It’s a system that initially frustrated me as I had found my favourite character, but I eventually came to appreciate the way it forced me to play the game differently and step outside of my comfort zone.
Depending on which character you play, Children of Morta’s combat is a mix of melee, long range and special attacks. Levelling up provides players with a number of advanced attacks that can range from large-scale AOE attacks to player stat buffs and debuffs for enemies. There’s a lot of customisation to be found here, all of which can be customised to specific play styles.
There are also a number of items to be found throughout each level which can modify your character’s attacks, defence and stats. Split into six different categories, these help add some variety to your runs, ensuring your character plays ever so different on each run. Divine Graces give you passive abilities, Relics are active abilities that you can hold one at a time, Runes are character specific special modifiers, and so on.
The number of collectables combined with the variety in the cast of playable characters makes for some really interesting builds. It’s something I enjoyed in the Binding of Isaac series and it’s a welcome addition here as well.
The difficulty and roguelite design of Children of Morta may put some people off, but the learning curve is much more reasonable as characters level up. It is very much a trial-and-error game though and you are likely to die a lot before making any real sort of progress.
All of that said, Children of Morta’s biggest selling point is still its narrative. Narrated by a third party from a top-down perspective, the story is interwoven between runs and throughout the randomly generated levels. Watching the family develop as they fight back the approaching Corruption is genuinely fascinating and engaging. Each character has their own personalities and how this affects both gameplay and the wider narrative is impressive, especially when you consider just how developed and comprehensive the gameplay systems are.
It’s also a reasonably short game, lacking some of the replayability of many of its contemporaries, so where I’ve put quite literally hundreds of hours into Binding of Isaac, you could probably see most of what Children of Morta has to offer in ten to fifteen hours. I can only hope we see some more content in the near future!