Title: Morbid: The Seven Acolytes
Developer: Still Running
Release Date: December 3, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Merge Games
As far as Souls-like games go, Morbid: The Seven Acolytes isn’t exactly subtle about its influences. Still, even though it joins many other indie titles as a deliberately tough adventure built around boss battles, there is a lot to enjoy and appreciate here, especially if you are a fan of the genre. Although it wears its inspirations on its sleeve (and proudly so) the execution of the gameplay systems and the overall design still manage to offer something interesting even with so many other Souls-like options around.
One thing Morbid: The Seven Acolytes does well is how it carries the vibe of dark fantasy PC RPGs from yesteryear. This was back when games like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate could only really be experienced on PC, and so Morbid certainly gives off a vibe of a mature PC classic from the mid-’90s, carrying a similar vibe and presentation. As a dark fantasy game, Morbid certainly lives up to its name with its brooding visuals, extensive use of dull colors, and buckets of pixelated blood and gore.
The set up is quite vague with very little back story, as players find themselves in the role of the Striver, a savior of her world and the last of her kind. As players brave their way into uncharted territories, the initial vagueness slowly starts to piece together as the lore builds up. Taking inspiration from Lovecraftian horror, there are a lot of familiar and yet novel elements to discover. As players explore new areas, battle different enemies, visit desolate towns filled with grief-stricken residents, and eventually face the titular Acolytes, all the different elements come together organically to create a world well worth investing in. Much of it is covered by the game’s encyclopedia, but most of the subtext is conveyed through the characters and dialogue.
Although it gets points for originality in its character designs and lore concepts, the experience itself feels largely similar to Dark Souls but instead following the top-down loot gathering sensibilities of something like Diablo. It’s a pretty cool combination, and when it comes down to it, the various familiar ideas create something which manages to stand out on its own.
Much like any Souls experience, intensive and methodical combat forms a large part of the gameplay. The standard enemies are persistent (they will follow you to the ends of the earth), the mid-bosses serve as a formidable obstacle, and then there are of course the Acolytes. The Acolytes serve as pretty epic boss battles, each with their own backstory. These bosses are as grandeur as one would expect, but their patterns are readable enough to not get too infuriating after some practice. The second Acolyte in particular will turn some heads, and all we can say is that this boss has one sturdy umbilical cord…
Combat would have been fine if it weren’t for the handicap of the stamina bar, which greatly limits any possibility of charging in. Stamina drains rather quickly and can be frustrating early on, but once you accept the terms of the game and take a more lethargic approach, things proceed a lot more smoothly. Ultimately the game isn’t necessarily difficult, it’s just a matter of having the patience for a snail pace progression. There is a sanity meter too, which serves as a secondary but less intrusive handicap, as not paying attention to sanity can impact combat ability and damage levels.
Fans of other games in this genre will be familiar with the fine art of rolling and dodging, and it’s become such a staple running joke of these games that it’s surprising Peppy Hare hasn’t made a cameo appearance yet. Similar to those games, it’s all about rolling and rolling, and so when in doubt just roll. There are blocks and parries too, but why do that when you can just do a barrel roll.
Combat is quite satisfying given the number of upgrades and weapons available. Much like in Diablo, it doesn’t take too long to find all the cool weapons. Our hero can equip a melee weapon and a firearm as well, with the latter serving quite useful to land a few big hits early during a boss battle. Upgrades are achieved with the many runes scattered about, which are attached to the weapon for some handy stats and elemental tricks.
Much like the Souls games, respite comes in the form of shrines which serve as save and heal points. These are scattered quite generously throughout the game world (you can fast travel between them too) and so as tough as the game is, dying isn’t really a huge deal as you get to keep all your stuff and respawn at a convenient spot. It’s also at these shrines where our hero can upgrade her stats by attaching skill points to improve health, stamina, and other areas. Given all the weapons and skills, it doesn’t take too long to build up the character to a point where progression feels comfortably steady. Although not always necessary, a little grinding for experience and loot can help with gaining an advantage.
When it comes down to it, all the different moving parts in Morbid: The Seven Acolytes may feel a tad derivative at first, but they come together to create something far greater (and even unique) than the sum of them. The uniqueness is largely thanks to the presentation of the world, which is varied in its level design and where there are plenty of secrets abound too, especially as players take on the various side quests which help with the overall immersion.
Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is a challenging game which generally incorporates both the good and annoying elements of a Souls-like experience. Still, it manages to stand out thanks to its strong dark fantasy presentation, rich Lovecraftian lore, and gameplay systems that offer methodical combat and plenty of features to make the adventure satisfying. It’s a difficult game, for sure, but it doesn’t forego quality-of-life features for the sake of being difficult, and so in this sense, many players outside of the Souls fandom can get something out of it.
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