Ah, the Soulslike. Nowadays it feels as if every other game is likened to FromSoftware’s series in some way, but some games hew closer to the formula than others. Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is a game that’s cut from Dark Souls’ cloth in terms of atmosphere, setting, and the need for careful, considered approaches to its combat heavy world. It even takes clear visual influences from the Souls series, albeit transforming them into a top-down retro pixel aesthetic. Yet a review by comparison can only go so far, so how does Morbid stand up on its own bloody stumps?
Morbid’s visuals are probably going to be divisive. For some, pixel art is as overdone as the Dark Souls comparisons, but Morbid is one of the more effective faux retro games I’ve played. Rather than limiting themselves with a lower pixel count, Still Running use the overall effect to create a sinister and twisted world full of foul beasts and flowing in blood. Everything looks and feels corrupted by the pseudo-Lovecraftian presence of the titular Seven Acolytes and there are plenty of enemy types to discover and defeat. Your journey will see you move from the opening coastal region to swamps, a corrupted city, a graveyard and beyond, all of which have a distinct style and specific enemies to match.
Story-wise, Morbid is nothing new, but the world lore is interesting and delivered through books that are scattered around the environment. You can safely ignore everything outside of the central go here and kill things plot if you wish. You play as the last surviving Striver of Dibrom, washed up on the shore of a land under the tyranny of the Seven Acolytes, accursed beings possessed by the evil Gahars. It’s a fairly standard horror-fantasy setting which Still Running have dubbed Horrorpunk.
To begin with, your Striver is relatively weak and weaponless. You quickly pick up a basic sword and then regularly find new weapons as you progress. At first I thought these were random drops, but backtracking and farming for items showed that there were in fact set places for both weapons and items. This is useful for farming, but means that about 80% of the destructible scenery is purely decorative and offers no rewards.
The weapons range from spiked gloves to giant hammers and all offer different risks and rewards as you might expect. I found that certain weapons seemed far more useful than others, but this could be down to my playstyle rather than balancing. The heavy hitting two handed weapons felt too slow and took too much stamina to swing, but your mileage may vary.
Combat, as is typical of the genre, is a cat and mouse affair. Your initial health bar is small and going blow for blow will quickly see you put down, while a familiar feeling dodge roll will sap your stamina if you use it too much. Obviously your attacks drain your stamina as well. Alternatively, you can defend and parry, which can prove essential in cramped spaces, but as is my usual experience, I sucked at the parry timing and found rolling away to work better. You also find secondary ranged weapons, but these have very limited ammo and are often best saved to help out in boss fights.
The weapons you find can be improved through the use of runes, mysterious glyphs found along your adventure. These offer benefits such as increased attack speed, elemental damage, and health draining abilities. Once you set these runes they are fixed unless you use a rune removal tool, which in turn destroys the runes, so there is some strategy in play to find the best balance for your approach. This is helped out by having two weapon loadouts available, though I didn’t see any way of switching between them other than going into the inventory menu. There is also plenty of room in your inventory to hold a few different weapons until you find the one you like best.
A whole host of items will help restore your health, stamina, and sanity bars. Some of these are simple recovery items whilst others trade off attributes against another, so that your sanity bar will rise at the cost of stamina. There are four quick item slots but one of these is always taken up by the Soul of Dibrom, a health replenishing item that is Morbid’s equivalent to the Estus flask. This is upgradeable if you find the right corpses in your explorations, but is only refilled when you meditate at the shrines that replace the genre’s typical bonfires. Structurally, you can see here just how closely Morbid follows the Souls formula.
The highlight of the combat is clearly battling the seven Acolytes themselves, huge bosses with uniquely grotesque appearances and challenging attack patterns. These will quickly kill you if you rush in carelessly, but aren’t as formidable as they first appear. I managed to finish the game in around 8 hours even with my old man reactions, so this is a refreshingly doable Soulslike.