Children of Morta is a game that just wasn't on my radar when I was first invited to check it out by 11 bit studios. It's a shame that it wasn't—a quick look at some of the media that's come out for the game so far had definitely piqued my interest. Now that I've gotten my hands on it, I can say that I'm very excited to see how it turns out.
My time with 11 bit studios' newest publishing project began with a trip to New York City to meet Patryk Grzeszczuk and Jakub Stolkalksi. We first looked at a bit of the console version of Frostpunk and talked a bit about the mysterious Project 8 before moving on to Children of Morta. The first few opening moments left me with the impression that it has a distinctly "magitech" feel to the overall aesthetic, although it's firmly a fantasy game from what I could tell.
Children of Morta tells the tale of the Bergson family, a clan of stewards who are protecting their little mountain home—not terribly unlike the Belmonts of Castlevania fame. Rather than playing one after another over generations, you'll have multiple family members available to you throughout the game for either single-player gameplay or a cooperative experience. Each family member has their own unique weapons, skills, and stats, giving you a variety of different ways to play the game.
One of the gents from 11 bit studios took the controls for the tutorial while he explained the mechanics to me. John Bergson is a straight-up brawler with a sword and shield who makes for a nicely-balanced character that serves as a jack of all trades. As the level went on, artifacts were acquired that gave the player additional cooldown abilities. These special items are different for every single run and are only available for the current level you're on.
Once the tutorial was in the bag, I took over the controls and had the choice of two characters: the head of the Bergson clan or his bow-wielding daughter Linda. I elected to go with Linda—I do fancy archer characters when they're available—and hopped right into the Caeldippo Caves, the game's first proper level.
The demo build I was playing was on an Xbox One and essentially used twin-stick shooter controls. I got used to it easily enough, but I couldn't help but wonder how the game would perform with a mouse and keyboard. (Children of Morta will be one of the many titles that will have keyboard and mouse support on the Xbox One and it will be available on several platforms.) I did my best to survive while simultaneously chatting with the nice folks from 11 bit studios, but I eventually fell in battle and my time was up.
More Time with Children of MortaSome days later, I received access to a preview version of the game that really let me sink my teeth into it. I played through the familiar tutorial level once again and beat it with ease before moving on to the game proper. I then went back into the game's first level, this time on familiar territory and with a little more knowledge about how best to play. I elected to go with Linda once again.
Linda's strength mainly lies in her ability to pelt enemies with arrows from a distance. Moving and shooting costs stamina that gradually depletes—you won't be able to kite enemies forever. A healthy mix of standing still, moving, and dodging is what's needed to keep you alive.
I got a solid grasp of how to play her, but my encounter with the first boss proved too difficult. A gigantic spider sprayed webs throughout the boss arena, repeatedly summoned allies, and dropped right on top of me again and again.
The eldest Bergson daughter fell in battle. Once she returned home, the story advanced a bit. New things were unlocked and plot points moved forward. I was then able to jump right back into thegame with either John or Linda. I chose Linda again and I lost again. After a few attempts with Linda, I decided to go back to basics and give John a go. I failed with him too— I just couldn't get a handle at fighting the first boss.
I wasn't about to give up, but I wasn't really meshing with either of these characters. I was more than happy to grind it out and get their stats and skills up to a level where I could win, but the youngest son Kevin had finally unlocked. Although I had leveled John and Linda up quite a bit, I still was unsuccessful in beating the very first area — and yet the story still progressed in bits and pieces.
I decided to give Kevin a go. Kevin wields a pair of daggers and has terribly low HP, but he can attack very quickly. He also has three dodges (compared to two for Linda and one for John). The ability to dive in, slice up enemies, and quickly dive back out clicked with me instantly and I beat the boss of the Caeldippo Caves in my first go.
My experience here highlighted a point that the developers had made when I had spoken with them: each character has their strengths and weaknesses, and not every character will work for every situation.
Unfortunately, it was here that the demo ended. It ended in a rather terrible way, too: I was prompted to press Space to delete my save data. Lame. I'dve loved the opportunity to continue playing and see if I could beat the Caeldippo Caves with the other two characters.
Narratives Woven Into IntermissionsOne of the highlights of Children of Morta is the way it handles the story. You have an opening movie, a short story cutscene, and then you hop right into the tutorial. The tutorial brilliantly illuminates the way that narrative is delivered throughout the game.
The first part is the in-game story beats. In the tutorial, John Bergson encounters an item hidden behind a golden forcefield. His daughter emerges out of the woods, primed to help him out with the battle. It's here that we see the Bergson's dedication to fighting the Corruption. Similar events happen in the game proper; a visit from Grandma Bergson told of a mysterious cipher that I'm sure would have paid off later on down the line had I been able to continue.
Other mini story events happen here and there in special side rooms. I found a merchant being assaulted by a bunch of monsters. I kicked their butts (at great cost to my limited health) and later saw his face on the list of things I unlocked after I had died. I encountered him in a later run operating a shop where I could trade valuable crystals for items of my choice.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="full" ids="298014,298015"]
Left: a wolf cup defends its dying mother. You can rescue the cub, but it starts a side quest to retrieve medicine to heal it. Right: a merchant I had saved earlier in the game now runs a shop that can be encountered on your runs.
Another encounter (and a much sadder one at that) involved a poor little wolf cub defending its mortally-wounded mother. I unleashed fire and fury on the bad guys and rescued the pupper, but it turns out that he too had suffered some injury. I had to find plants that could heal him.
I later discovered the very plants I needed, but it was in my last run before the game forced me to delete my save data. I never did find out the fate of the wolf cub or what happens with him. (I suspect that it is something adorable.)
These are just the in-game bits. As I said before, the story also progresses in-between runs. Kevin Bergson first lamented that he was unable to help out with the family fight. In a later scene, his uncle forges a pair of daggers for him to use, but his mother forbids him from heading out into battle. Kevin runs away in another later scene, and he finally returns with a sack full of treasure and gets yelled at by his parents. Finally, mom and dad relent and he became a playable character.
As far as I could tell, the process of unlocking Kevin had nothing to do with how I played the game; all that mattered was that I kept trying. I later tested this on a new save by just dying repeatedly and unlocked Kevin after a few failed runs straight off, although I imagine that the finished product will be more difficult to cheese. It will certainly be interesting to see how this is handled in the finished version of Children of Morta.
A Handful of BugbearsI had a ton of fun with Children of Morta, but that's not to say there weren't any issues. One of the biggest problems I had was with the demo forcing me to reset my data after beating the first boss. I found this terribly inconvenient as I had wanted to explore the characters more in depth, but alas.
The hitboxes were another area of concern, although I'll happily concede that this one might be on me. I just couldn't figure out a good sense of where I was safe and when I would take damage with John Bergson and I took far more hits than I otherwise would have. I'm not sure if it needs to be somehow clearer or if the boundaries of the hitbox just hasn't yet clicked with me.
There is, however, one thing that I was not fond of at all: auto-aim. I first noticed it during my New York City playtest with the gents from 11 bit studios and brought it up to the devs. I mentally dismissed it as I figured that it was a concession made for console players (as auto-aim often is), but I was dismayed to find that it also existed in the PC version. At the moment, this only applied for Linda Bergson as far as I could tell.
I understand how some people like or even need auto-aim in their games, but it's the sort of thing that I have an extreme distaste for. I had sometimes found that my shots wouldn't go where I had wanted them to because the auto-aim decided to loose an arrow to another target entirely. I couldn't figure out a way to turn it off and I hope that such an option will be put into the final version of the game.
One final, tiny issue I had was with the potions. Health potions will randomly drop from enemies, chests, and pots and they're primarily the way you'll be healing yourself in the midst of battle. The upside is that these potions will stay on the screen for ages, letting you go back to them later so long as you haven't moved to the next floor. The downside is that you'll pick them up even if you're at full health. This really should change, as sometimes it's difficult to avoid picking them up if you don't want to — especially in the fray of battle.
A sublime blend of ARPG and RogueliteSo, what's the verdict? I spent only a few minutes with Children of Mortain New York City, but I sank a good three hours and change into the alpha version that was later provided to me by 11 bit studios. I have come to one conclusion: I am in deep, deep trouble.
I am a Diablo II survivor. That's a game that causes what I call "4 o'clock syndrome". You look at the clock, you see it says something like 4:36, and you think that it's the late afternoon. In actuality, 14 hours have passed and the sun will be coming up momentarily. Children of Morta is equally dangerous in this respect — I can see myself sinking a ton of hours into this game.
Children of Morta has a wonderful art style, an interesting way of delivering the narrative, and (perhaps most importantly) incredibly tight gameplay. I'm looking forward to seeing the finished version of this game and already mentally preparing myself for the countless hours I'll certainly lose to this lovely little world.
What do you think of Children of Morta? Does the blending of gameplay styles appeal to you, or would you prefer a game with more of a focus? Let us know in the comments below!