Dead Mage Studios has been working on a new title for a few years now, called Children of Morta. It’s set for a September release date, but for a short time, Dead Mage has made a beta version demo available on Steam.
The game’s story centers around the Bergson family: Grandma Margaret the seer, her two sons, Ben the blacksmith and John the warrior, and John’s wife and their children Mark, Linda, Kevin, Mark, and Lucy.
The Bergsons are tasked with defending the land of Rea from the lurking Corruption, a task given them by the goddess Rea herself. However, their story is told by a narrator, punctuated with snippets of dialogue here and there — also voiced by the narrator — to give each character some personality. It’s an interesting choice that gives the impression you’re experiencing a book that happens to let you control its characters.
That impression is only furthered by Children of Morta‘s overall design. The plot and setting are something straight out of a fantasy story, and while the Bergsons themselves might not be brimming with personality, it’s their roles in the story that make them stand out.
Like many good fantasies, this one drops you straight into the world with only the bare necessities as far as background and how the world works. It makes for a compelling reason to continue uncovering the plot and lends an air of mystery to the entire game.
The art design deserves a mention as well. It’s a delicious mix of basic sprite art for characters and streamlined, modern animations for the rest of the environment. The Bergsons’ home, which doubles as the game’s hub, is a good example, especially the dollhouse-opening-up effect that takes place each time you return to it.
It’s a bit disappointing that design doesn’t apply to the dungeons, though, which are fairly bland affairs compared to the darkly beautiful overworld.
Children of Morta‘s gameplay is a mix of ARPG, dungeon crawler, and roguelite. John Bergson and his kin are tasked with recovering three spirits connected to Rea in separate parts of Mount Morta to combat the plague consuming their world.
Each area is composed of several smaller dungeons, which themselves are made up of multiple floors and a final boss encounter, and the layouts are completely random; every time you die (which will happen often), you start back at the beginning of that sub-area and try again.
Like all good roguelikes/lites, though, there’s a tangible sense of progression. The Bergsons gain Morv, the game’s currency, for defeating enemies, and they can use the Morv to purchase attribute upgrades like improved health and defense from Uncle Ben back at their home. Yes, Uncle Ben makes you pay to get a better chance at staying alive.
Each playable family member also has a unique and upgradable skillset. Skill points are earned by gaining experience from combat, and they can then be spent on improving specific skills or unlocking new ones.
These skills, plus the different artifacts you can collect in each stage, go a long way in keeping what might seem like basic combat from being stale. There’s always something new to try, some other strategy to adopt, or, of course, a different character to attempt a challenge as.
I played as John primarily, because the demo’s opening segment gave me enough skill points to start making him stronger, and new or improved skills make a huge difference in how you can approach enemy mobs and strong single foes.
Getting swamped by hordes of spiders can be frustrating, but it’s incredibly satisfying when you can use that loss to improve your chosen Bergson and jump back into the game, ready — and able — to push further ahead.
Despite the variety of skills and attribute upgrades at your disposal, Children of Morta is still a challenge. At times, it seems like playing solo isn’t really what the game wants you to do, especially if you go for the faster, but more fragile Linda.
Where her father can cut through swathes of enemies, Linda is initially limited to targeting one foe at a time with her bow and arrow. Single player mode isn’t impossible by any means, but even with John the warrior, there are plenty of places where solo players have their work cut out for them.
Children of Morta has a lot to offer already, and it’s worth noting that while this is only a beta build, it’s a very polished beta build with only a few minor problems noted.
If you’re a fan of action RPGs, gorgeous and unique visuals, and compelling high-fantasy stories, the Children of Morta demo is well worth checking out before it’s gone for good on June 22.