You know, you really have to give From Software a lot of credit. It's not many Devs that can create a whole new genre, have it named after their game, and for it to become a byword for difficult and challenging titles. The game type has become so popular that other developers have started to emulate the formula: some creating nearly carbon copies, and others using the same mechanics but giving it a little twist to create something different.
And it's this second path that Morbid Seven Acolytes has taken. Developed by Still Running and published by Merge Games, it's a title that uses a Diablo-esque top-down viewpoint and playstyle and blends it with the mechanics of the Soulsborne genre while giving the whole thing a story and pixel art aesthetic inspired by the Lovecraftian mythos. It's a recipe that works well and creates a game that, while hardly groundbreaking, is interesting to play with amazing environments and enemies to contend with.
It also sticks to the one thing that Souls-like games are most known for. It's difficult. Even the lowliest enemy is capable of killing or greatly injuring those who aren't paying attention. Of course, boss enemies up the ante considerably, but every fight requires you to stay on your toes. You'll need to learn movement and attack patterns and watch out for the opponent's tells to be successful in combat.
And obviously fighting plays a major part in the gameplay. While you do actually have ranged weapons, ammo for them is extremely limited, so most of the fighting becomes an up close and personal hacking and slashing style affair using the various weapon types you will collect on your journey. Swords, axes, maces, and spears, all with different strengths and element types, can be located by thoroughly exploring each of the world's varied locales. Using these to swing wildly won't go well for you though as, just like in other Souls type games, stamina management is a key mechanic. Swinging your weapon, blocking, running, and dodging all require it so managing your stamina while finding time to let it recharge is the key to progress in this game. Approaching an opponent, getting a few hits in then dodging out of danger to recharge should become second nature, as combat revolves around this pattern. You can also block or parry attacks but it requires split-second timing to be successful and I found it difficult to pull off. It isn't always obvious when you do it correctly and missing or mistiming leaves you open to retaliation. The dodge is more reliable. The actual mechanics of battle are relatively simple: we've seen the same tactics in other games, but it still manages to be very satisfying and fun to do, especially when more dangerous opponents get involved.
And speaking of opponents, the myriad types of enemies and the locales you'll fight them in really are a standout part of Morbid. The game uses a pixel art style to depict everything and looks great. Taking obvious inspiration from the Lovecraftian mythos, the creatures you'll face are varied and take many forms. Fungus riddled corpses, root covered boars, pus-filled sea monsters, cancerous lumps of deformed organs, and even the ever-popular fishmen of the Dunwich Horror make an appearance, as well as many more. Some are small, some are large but all have their own movesets to learn and deal with, feeling different from one another as a result. The fact that each can also significantly damage your health with a hit means that each new type you come across can make you pause for a second, as you worry about what it'll do.
Bosses take this a step further, often capable of killing you in a couple of good hits, they tend to fill you with apprehension when you stumble upon their lair. If I had one criticism about combat in general it would be that it's easy to fall into a routine. No matter if it's run-of-the-mill enemies or a boss opponent, I found myself relying upon and succeeding with pretty much the same tactics - learn its attack patterns, close in for a couple quick hits, then rolling away to recharge stamina as the enemy counterattacks. It's still fun, and avoiding their different attacks still requires you to pay attention, but I'd have liked a little more variety on how I could approach combat with attackers.
Just like with the gameplay, Morbid takes storytelling lessons from the work of From Software, with information being given out sparingly and in small doses. Fragments of lore and titbits of info come from a variety of sources and the resulting story has a Lovecraftian feel with world-building that comes together to great effect. The basic beginning goes like this however -
Many years ago, corrupted and malevolent elder Gods called the Gahar came to the land and spread their influence as far as they could. Infecting and molding life wherever it was found, the country became a place of death, where normal life was impossible. What really cemented the Gahars influence, however, was the Seven Acolytes. Formerly powerful kings, priests, rulers, and warriors, the seven were possessed by the evil Gahar, who bound their twisted minds to the Acolytes powerful bodies. Over time they began to corrupt their flesh, turning their once noble hosts into crazed and cruel abominations. Luckily, it's known that the Gahar are like parasites and that without the bodies of the Acolytes to sustain them, they'll quickly die and free the land.
Which is where you come in. Playing the role of a dedicated warrior called a Striver, you and the rest of the order set out on an expedition to slay the Seven Acolytes. However, things don't go as planned. A great storm sinks the ship, leaving you as one of the last surviving Strivers in existence. You must search the corrupted and ruined land, seek out weapons and supplies to aid you while tracking down each of the Acolytes and slaying them. Success will mean the world is cleansed of the Gahar corruption. Failure will mean the land is eternally damned and the Gahar will take over the entire world.
Details about each of the Acolytes, different enemies, and locations, as well as the tragic fates of various characters, can all be found scattered about the world in various books, and gleaned from conversations with NPCs you'll come across. There are no cutscenes, dialogue choices, or anything like that but the little chunks of text you come across still create a world that feels well filled out, with plenty of lore to think about and tragic tales to discover.
Now, so far I've mentioned how both combat and storytelling take obvious "inspiration" from the Soulslike genre but the influence goes much deeper than that. While searching through each location, whether it's the beach, the forest, ruined castles, fishing villages, or more, you should always be on the lookout for statues you can meditate at. These function exactly like the bonfires of the Souls games. They refresh your health, refill your meager ammo pouch, and also the estsus flask-like healing crystals you can collect. They also function as teleporters allowing you to move between the statues you've already discovered. Just like in Souls though, refreshing your health at the statues will also cause all the enemies to respawn. Using it while exploring means you'll need to fight through everything you've killed, all over again. Morbid also uses a shortcut system that will also be familiar to From Software fans. Many locations will be blocked by masses of thorny vine-like tentacles, but careful exploring usually by a long path, will lead you behind these thorns. Take out the pulsing heart located here and the vines will retract, opening a shortcut and allowing you to cut out much of the dangerous path you had to traverse before.
There is one thing that Morbid does do differently, however, and that's how it handles leveling up. As you kill enemies you'll gain experience with each level granting a skill point. Instead of assigning these to abilities or using them to increase stats, you'll use them to level up icons you'll pick up on your journey. Each of these have different effects, one might make your health bar longer, another will increase your stamina regeneration rate, yet another makes dodging less strenuous. There are many to discover, each of which can be leveled up numerous times, increasing the effect they give. I found this system quite a good one as it meant there was a hard limit to how much grinding could help you. You can't just farm experience in an area till you become all-powerful, however, looking for new icons and experimenting with their effectiveness could still satisfy the build obsessed amongst us.
Ultimately, Morbid Seven Acolytes is a satisfying variation on the now popular Soulslike formula. Mixing it up with a Diablo-style top-down viewpoint, and an excellent pixel art aesthetic, it creates a game that, while hardly new, does enough to be fun and challenging to play. The excellent sprites and environments are extremely well done with a Lovecraftian influence that both pleases and disgusts. Combat is satisfying, working out each enemy's attack patterns and how to dodge their moves feels satisfying and, although the technique required to beat enemies can get repetitive, it's fun to do. One I'd recommend to those looking for a Souls-like with a little twist, despite its combat getting a little samey by late game, it's world-building and lore make this one to consider. Easily worth the price of admission, in my opinion.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 8/10
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