Children of Morta

A game by Dead Mage for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch, originally released in 2019.
Children of Morta is a roguelike dungeon crawler set in a world where a great corruption has begun to spread. At the base of Mount Morta lives the Bergson family, and they may be the only ones who can prevent this darkness from taking hold. The family lives together in a large house, and each member of the family possesses a unique skill that can be used to fight back the encroaching hordes of undead, hulking ogres, and corrupted beasts.

In the opening cutscene, a colorful landscape is suddenly shaken by a powerful explosion from Mount Morta. The mountain peak shatters and emits some kind of purple fog that spreads across the surrounding area, blackening the nearby foothills and forest… but it turns out that this was just a dream, envisioned by an old seer. The Bergson patriarch, John, takes a sword and shield and departs the safety of his home to investigate the possible return of darkness to the land.

The opening area acts as a tutorial, teaching the player how to damage enemies and defend against their attacks. Here, John walks through the nearby forest and encounters eviscerated animals, and a dark purplish sludge that has come to life, which moves in to attack, transforms creatures, and blocks his path forward. Finally, he reaches an alter and witnesses these dark creatures corrupting others and adding to their numbers.

Recognizing the return of the corruption, the Bergson family stands by its duty to protect the land, as they have done for generations. In the basement of their home lies the Sanctuary, which allows the family to travel between regions to face the corrupted. The player must travel to three regions (each divided into a few sub-regions) to defeat the bosses and free three spirits in order to open the gate to Mount Morta.

John is a competent fighter, but his movements are slow. He carries a longsword that allows him to strike nearby enemies, and his great shield allows him to defend against attacks from any direction, even if he is struck from behind. A special attack allows him to summon daggers from the sky, which fall down onto nearby enemies, but this attack has a long cooldown period. He can also perform a dodge roll, but the cooldown for this is significantly longer than is typical of the genre, so players will need to make regular use of the shield to keep from being overrun.

After the opening tutorial area, the player is able to play as Linda, John’s eldest daughter, who has an entirely different playstyle. Instead of a sword and shield, she fights with a bow and arrows. She can move while firing, but doing so slowly drains her stamina. As such, players may stand still to target enemies, and then move a bit to dodge incoming projectiles, or shoot in one direction while moving in another… with the tradeoff being that Linda moves more slowly.

Linda’s special attack allows her to fire an explosive arrow into the air, working similarly to John’s falling dagger attack. Unlike John, she can dodge roll twice before the entering a cooldown period, making her more agile. The player needs to get the timing right between firing while stationary and firing while moving, lest he finds himself unable to move… but mastering this timing turns the combat from a melee slog into more of a Hunter the Reckoning-style shooting affair.

In either case, the starting stats and skillsets of these two characters are unlikely to see the player through to the end of the first dungeon, and getting killed returns the player to the Bergson family home. Between bouts in the procedurally generated dungeons, the family interacts with one another, ponders the situation at hand, or helps each other to hone their combat abilities. Little by little, their story unfolds, and new family members become playable… often after overcoming their parents’ desires for them to remain in the safety of their home.

The Bergson’s youngest son, Kevin, has been feeling the absence of his older brother, Mark, who left home some time ago. His Uncle Ben gives the boy a pair of daggers and sets him to practice, much to the chagrin of his mother. However, he ultimately proves himself and becomes playable, using his daggers to deliver quick blows to his enemies, and the more he hits them, the faster his attacks become. He can slice through multiple enemies in succession, but it’s easy to become overwhelmed. He has a special attack that sends daggers flying around him, but this prevents him from attacking during this time. He can also perform three dodge rolls in succession before a cooldown.

Mark eventually returns home, and once he recovers from his injuries (with the player finding the needed quest items within the dungeons), he becomes playable as well. Rather than wielding a weapon, he attacks with his bare hands, automatically dashing toward the nearest enemy, and using a whip as his special attack to push back nearby foes. He’s fairly agile and can dash twice in succession, but he’s certainly not the easiest character to use.

The youngest daughter, Lucy, reveals her skills at summoning fire magic, and - after a few mishaps - she joins her family in the field. Like Linda, she fights using projectiles, but her skillset differs substantially. First off, her rate of fire is significantly faster, with only a slightly shorter range. By firing off multiple quick shots in succession, she begins casting a secondary fireball that does additional damage. She can also launch a whirlwind attack that pulls in nearby enemies and causes constant damage, and this attack has a very short cooldown. She also occasionally laughs while running through the dungeons unleashing unbridled flaming death.

More importantly, Lucy cannot move while launching fireballs, but after avoiding damage for a few seconds, she eventually becomes able to absorb a single strike without being hurt (or more, once this skill has been upgraded). This is extremely important, as it allows her to unleash quick strikes without needing to retreat whenever an enemy gets close. And because her firing rate is so high, she can often stun enemies to prevent them from being able to attack, allowing her to kill them in a few strikes without fear of retaliation. She can also dodge roll twice before the cooldown, allowing her to get away quickly in case she does get overwhelmed.

Finally, there is Joey, a hulking brute of a man who carries a giant hammer. He is able to perform heavy blows that strike multiple enemies simultaneously, as long as they are close enough together, but it takes a long time for him to wind up a swing, making it easy to become overwhelmed. He gains the ability to cause damage while dashing and to perform a heavy overhead strike with his hammer… but it doesn’t do much more damage than a regular attack.

This wide array of playstyles allows the player to take on enemies in a number of ways – or team up with another player for 2P co-op – although characters can fall to “corruption sickness”, putting them out of commission for a round. This encourages players to swap characters occasionally, although it’s still possible to take a corrupted character into battle, but with a max health penalty… and managing health is of the utmost importance.

There are few health restoratives to be found in the environment, and killed enemies drop health potions only rarely, which fill a small amount of your health meter. Furthermore, the player has virtually no invincibility period, so it’s possible to take multiple hits in succession, which is problematic in a game that constantly swarms the player with enemies. There are a couple of items that you can pick up that offer health restoration, but these are even more rare. Players must battle their way through multiple large environments before reaching the boss at the end, with only a single health meter to see them through to the end. Getting killed during a boss encounter sends the player back to the hub area to try again from scratch… although he retains any collected gold and skill points (more on this in a bit).

This makes for a game that is slow to get started, as the player is weak and has a lot of ground to cover. Even after gaining some upgraded stats and moving into a new area, the player finds himself facing tougher enemies that negate many of these upgrades. Further adding to this slowed pace is the fact that environments are very similar.

The first three areas all take place within a cave system, with room after room of similar-looking walls and doorways, and hordes of repeated enemies. Completing this area sends the player to another cave but with a brown tint instead of grey, fighting the same enemies with one or two new ones worked into the mix. It isn’t until the player beats all three areas, and the bosses at the end of each, that he reaches a new themed environment, where he faces new traps and tougher foes.

Bosses are tough, due mainly to their long health meters, combined with the fact that they can unleash heavy attacks that knock off big chunks of your health, usually with no way to recover. And, if you made it to the boss without a full health meter, you’ll die even faster. As such, it is important that you spend your gold on new upgrades and spend your skill points on new abilities, which will eventually let you win by attrition if you’re willing to put in the time.

Gold can be spent between levels to purchase permanent upgrades that affect all playable characters. These include increased damage output, movement speed, damage resistance, and critical hit chance, among others. Later, you are able to purchase better currency drops, experience bonuses, and longer buff durations. Combined, these make you a more formidable fighter, but they do not alter your core abilities.

New abilities are gained by earning experience from killing enemies, with each new level unlocking a single skill point. Each of the six characters has his or her own unique skill tree, opening up quite a few combat possibilities. The player starts by spending skill points on the lowest tier, which opens the next, and so on, with some upgrades having prerequisites linked to them. Not only does the selected player character earn a new skill, but with each new upgrade tier, every member of the family gains one new ability or buff.

Individual skills include secondary special attacks that cause damage to groups of enemies, faster or more powerful primary attacks, a longer dash, rage-based attacks that unleash powerful attacks once the player has defeated enough enemies, the chance for a defeated enemy to explode, the ability to return damage to enemies when attacked, attacks that stun enemies and knock them back, and some basic stat boosts. Family upgrades include increased health, increased damage output, the ability for another family member to hop in for a quick support move, and even constant health regeneration on the top tier.

In addition to permanent stat upgrades and abilities, the player regularly encounters objects within the dungeons that offer buffs and ability enhancements. Some of these are manually initiated by the player and have a cooldown period, such as a shield that makes the player temporarily invincible before exploding and causing damage to nearby enemies, or a totem that fires off projectiles at nearby enemies every couple of seconds. Some are single-use items, offering a one-time full health restoration, or a drop of gemstones, which can then be used to open treasure chests or make purchases at the in-dungeon shop. In both cases, the player can only carry one of these at a time, and their details are shown side-by-side when the player encounters another item of the same type.

Some objects are activated instantly but are only good until their time runs out, like increased movement speed or increased currency drops from killed enemies. Other buffs last for the duration of the run and can be combined, such as causing struck enemies to burn with fire, the chance to fire off a secondary projectile while attacking, or a support drone that follows you around attacking nearby enemies.

Gameplay occasionally changes up with a few switch puzzles here and there, and even an odd game of Pong, but the bulk of the game sticks to its hack-and-slash foundations. Players occasionally find side rooms with buff items or combat challenges, and the player is always on the hunt for the exit to the next level of the dungeon.

There are a few enemies that present unique challenges, but most are simply buffed versions of standard foes, as indicated by yellow or red outlines. Some enemies can summon others, so it’s important to destroy them quickly lest you find yourself losing ground to the coming horde. Some enemies can fire projectiles from the far side of the screen, and these are occasionally mixed in with other similar-looking enemies, making them difficult to detect. Bats are also a bit difficult to deal with if you’re playing with a melee character, because they often fly just out of reach and have subtle attack telegraphs. Also, some bodies leech corruption and can spawn corrupted enemies nearby.

Aesthetically, the dungeons are generally dank and drab, but the overworld is colorful and warm, offering a contrast between the darkness and corruption below versus to the loving family home above. The game features incredibly detailed sprite art and animations for the family members and many enemies, and this is further emphasized in numerous between-level cutscenes.

Children of Morta was developed by Dead Mage. The studio previously developed Shadow Blade and Tale of Ronin.

The game was published by 11 Bit Studios, the developer behind This War of Mine and the Anomaly series. The studio is also the publisher of Moonlighter, Tower 57, and Beat Cop.