Generations Of Guardians

HIGH Exciting battles against impossible odds. A terrific story.          

LOW An ill-advised timed section.

WTF Did we really need jiggle effects for pixel-art characters?

Children of Morta, a procedurally-generated action RPG from Dead Mage and 11-bit Studios is elegant, but flawed.  It boasts a transcendent narrative, lovely visuals, and fast, frenetic combat.  However, some questionable design decisions hold it back from being as awe-inspiring as it should be.

Players begin by assuming the role of John Bergson, patriarch of the Bergson clan of mountain guardians.  Vengeful mountain god Ou has corrupted nature itself, turning once-verdant forests and fields into decaying, fetid wastelands and tarnishing the souls of animals and the denizens the Bergsons have sworn to protect. 

Victory is not assured.  The Bergsons, despite being capable fighters, archers and spellcasters, are mere mortals trying to end this corruption and ensure the safety of the lands they call home.  They have doubts and fears like any other family, and they face what seem to be insurmountable odds — after all, what good are bows and swords against the will of a god? 

However, the Bergsons are willing to hold the line against darkness as they carry a power that may even rival those of the spirits themselves — their love for one another.  They will face the ultimate evil, but they’ll do it together… Will it be enough?

As Children of Morta progresses, more family members become playable, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities.  Remarkable writing makes each one feel like a real person worth caring about and protecting, adding further impetus for the player to succeed. 

After selecting a family member, play consists of isometric dungeon-delving and questing that will be immediately familiar to fans of Diablo­-style titles.

Players can use the right stick or X button to launch basic attacks, while A is a dodge.  Shoulder buttons utilize special powers such as the ability to slam the ground and stun enemies, or launch a volley of arrows into the air which cause damage in a specific radius. Combat is fast, and enemies swarm relentlessly. 

While Morta says it encourages various play styles, I found that the tank characters face a significantly higher degree of difficulty than their ranged brethren. Linda’s ability to move and fire at the same time and Lucy’s potent fireballs and damage-reducing shield make them the go-to choices for just about every situation. 

In order to prevent players from simply choosing one of these overpowered characters every time, Children of Morta introduces “Corruption Fatigue,” which temporarily removes a percentage of max health from a character that’s been selected too often.  While this encourages using every Bergson in rotation, some, such as the hammer-wielding Joey, are simply not as suitable due to their reduced speed or ineffective melee strikes when completely surrounded and being pummeled.  This “fatigue” mostly feels like a way to artificially increase playtime. 

As each Bergson becomes more experienced, he or she gains access to a tree of various upgrades, and if they advance enough, they can grant boons to the entire family. These generally come in the form of limited tag-team attacks or increased abilities shared by all characters.  It’s a solid system but hampered by the fact that it’s extremely unlikely to max everything out in one playthrough.

While levels are procedurally generated, they basically follow the same pattern —  players are highly encouraged to defeat every foe and search every corner of each map in order to collect gold (for permanent family upgrades), gemstones (to open chests scattered throughout each map), and to find as many upgrades and temporary perks as possible.  Doing so will make each area’s boss more manageable. 

This gameplay loop is broken up with numerous sidequests of varying lengths, each of which is fully narrated.  There are a few minigames as well, including a cool take on Pong, a memory game, and some games of chance.  Aid characters such as a wandering merchant can be rescued as well.  However, a lack of enemy and location variety make Morta‘s mid-game feel tedious and the late-game’s escort and timed missions are ill-advised, at best.

The campaign is supported by strong narrative and character development. Players learn things like the fact that Ben is an excellent smith and inventor, but also quick to anger and hides his pain behind an alcohol. Youngest daughter Lucy loves to draw and play while also becoming an adept fire-mage. Linda’s love of music and Kevin’s need to be accepted as someone who can assist in the fight all illustrate the deeply-involved backstories of every member of the clan. Amazingly, these pieces of dialogue are easy to miss, as they appear as static text while navigating the Bergson’s home which serves as a base of operations and main hub.

Despite its flaws, Children of Morta’s incredible story and generally enjoyable combat kept me coming back for more, and while the mid-section did drag, I still felt compelled to see the story through to the end.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Dead Mage and published by 11 bit Studios. It is currently available on PC, PS4, Switch, and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 22 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed2 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Mild Language, and Violence.  The official ESRB description is as follows: This is an action role-playing game in which players take control of the Bergsons, a family of heroes battling an evil force called the Corruption. From an overhead perspective, players traverse fantastical environments, collect various items, and battle enemy creatures (e.g., goblins, robots, skeletons). Characters use swords, arrows, and magical attacks to kill creatures in frenetic battle; combat is highlighted by large splashes of blood and slashing/impact effects. Some scenes depict dead creatures on the ground, with small blood stains surrounding them. One cutscene (also depicted from a distant perspective) shows a kneeling character shot to death by a crossbow. The word “bastard” appears in the dialogue.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options. 

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is fully subtitled.  However, I encountered a glitch towards the final cutscene where the subtitles did not match the spoken dialogue.  While this was more flavor text than plot-specific information, information about a boss (not critical to gameplay) was lost.  While audio cues are matched by onscreen visuals, offscreen enemies do provide audio clues as to their locations/intent which can be missed by those unable to hear them.  This could lead to a player receiving extra damage or being swarmed by foes the player would be otherwise unaware of until it is too late.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

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