The screenshots of Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is what first grabbed me. It took me back to my beloved Super Nintendo days where you could get lost in an action RPG for hours (thinking of Secret of Mana or Secret of Evermore at the moment…or more recently, Children of Morta). The difference this time around is that Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is touted as an isometric Souls-like Horrorpunk Action RPG with Lovecraftian notes. It was developed by Still Running, a small indie gaming company consisting of only six people, and published by Merge Games, which has quite a few notable titles under their belt. For these titles, we’ve got Stranded Sails: Explorers of the Cursed Islands, Dead Cells, Aragami, Moonlighter (great game), Frostpunk, Slain Back from Hell, and Dwarfheim, just to name a few. In short, they’re in good company.
The protagonist of the story is known as the last Striver of Dibrom, who has trained her entire life to dismantle the Seven Acolytes, which are cursed beings that control the kingdom. These beings are possessed by deities known as the Gahars, which can only survive if they have a host. In short, if you succeed and take out the hosts, the kingdom is free. If not, the Seven Acolytes and the Gahars deities will continue to dictate their will on the people.
Graphics & Sound
Typically, I leave my views on the graphics and sound until later in the review, but it’s imperative for me to note how fantastic the sound is in Morbid: The Seven Acolytes. What makes it so memorable is the fully orchestrated music for giant set pieces and boss battles. Even when your character is close to the brink of death, the score alone brings about an extra layer of suspense to heighten the moment. It’s hard not to be moved during these epic battles. Just excellently implemented.
Graphically, the macabre world of Dibrom looks desolate and hopeless. It’s probably best described as a gross and visceral aesthetic in a pixel art environment. The environments are full of decay and its occupants are full of despair, probably still remembering Dibrom’s days of former glory and beauty. All of it contributes well to the forlorn outlook of the world.
Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is marketed as a “Souls-like,” which I think is a fairly reasonable assessment. I’d say it’s not as difficult as some games in the “Souls” genre, but you’re definitely going to die quite a few times. Combat can be grueling as you experiment with different weapons using perfect parries which open up an enemy to massive damage, sneak attacks, dodges, quick and strong attacks, long range weaponry, some of which are painfully slow to execute. Each weapon has unique pros and cons which impact your fighting style, but typically you won’t just be able to hack and slash your way through each engagement. There is a health bar, stamina bar, and even a sanity bar to manage as well, so really battles depend on a combination of your weapons, items, weapon rune upgrades, and “blessing” statues found throughout the game.
One interesting thing to note about the sanity meter is how it impacts your character’s performance. As you are attacked and successfully damaged, you will notice your sanity meter ever decreasing. With your sanity bar worsening, it can impact the damage you output, increase enemy confrontations, as well as making it more difficult to navigate. I feel like this will be hit or miss for some people. Some may just want the simplicity of dealing with their health/stamina bar and won’t want added difficulty thrown in, but it’s there to increase the challenge.
Items do the usual in these types of games. You have some that imbue your weapon with fire while others heal your character or even completely stop your stamina from draining for a short period of time. The majority of the items are based on a timer so you don’t usually get the full benefits of said item in a short period of time. In other words, if you’re using an item with health restoration, don’t get hit.
Traversing the World of Dibrom, you will stumble upon many different weapons either dropped from enemies or found in chests. However, you have to be discerning in deciding what weapons (and items) to carry on your journey, as your inventory space is limited. This can be gut-wrenching later on when you have a weapon or two that you have fallen in love with. Thankfully, there’s ways to upgrade said weapons using Morbid’s rune system, which allows you to attach a limited amount of runes with different properties, e.g. add poison and ice damage to this weapon. There’s also a way to remove runes on a weapon, but for some reason it seemed as though my runes were then deleted from my inventory. Sure your weapon can now be upgraded again, but that’s not ideal. Not sure if that is a bug or not, but I’d prefer being able to hold onto my hard-earned runes and reuse them.
There’s a lot riding on this character upgrade and leveling system; you’re either going to love it or hate it. From the beginning of the game you’ll notice your character leveling up over time. You can check your experience points and available skill points, but you’ll notice that your stats aren’t increasing. That’s because the leveling up system is predicated on your ability to find statues throughout the game that correspond with certain blessings you can bestow upon your character. One blessing can be activated after killing one of the Seven Acolytes, two blessings after killing two Acolytes, et cetera. The problem with that is it takes a considerable amount of time to get to the first Acolyte, which might cause quite a bit of confusion and frustration to some just getting started.
Then you’ll quickly notice that activating only one blessing at a time doesn’t massively improve your character’s abilities in battle. In the beginning, you might only increase your health blessing just to stay alive a bit longer. That means any increase in weapon damage will have to rely solely on rune upgrades and items, which is a bit disappointing. To be fair to Still Running, I never did locate any blessings that increased my primary weapon damage, so perhaps I may have just missed them, which would have affected how I chose to spec my character.
So does this system work? I begrudgingly suppose it does. It gives you an extra push to pursue the Acolytes in order to diversify your character upgrades more. There’s certainly an increase in difficulty because one can’t simply farm with their character and improve them to god-tier status. Regardless, I do think they should allow you to respec your character, though. Not sure why that option isn’t available.
I’m a self-proclaimed stickler for pacing because why spend time playing something that isn’t pleasurable?!? Honestly, one of the strongest aspects of Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is the progression towards the end goal while simultaneously rewarding you for your progress. Would I have liked them to allow for upgrading your character sooner? Sure, I think that is more ideal and enjoyable.
There’s one boss in particular (we will call him boomerang boss to keep it spoiler free) that gave me a really hard time, which being able to upgrade my character for that engagement would have been helpful and a relief. In that particular instance, when I took a step back, I found that the surrounding area had enough items I could farm to make the battle easier to overcome. Experimentation is key here. And to be fair, Morbid also claims to be a Souls-like game, so what do you expect? Regardless, again, I’m thinking that if your character started with one upgradable blessing, that would drastically improve pacing.
As an aside, it should also be noted in here that there is fast travel in Morbid, which is much needed in a game like like this. There is no in-game map, which some may find frustrating, but really the different areas aren’t so gigantic that you consistently lose your place. Most areas feel like they are pushing you towards an end goal and you are on the right track. Again, me personally, I wouldn’t have minded a map.
The one real negative that comes to mind is the movement speed of your protagonist. She is just a bit too plodding for my liking and needs a bit more umph, if you will. Now, I’ll fully admit this is a hard line to navigate because it could drastically affect the battle difficulties, but there just seems to be a bit lacking here on the sprinting side especially.
Lastly, Steam says I clocked in around 14 hours, but this game can certainly be thoroughly beaten much quicker than that. I struggled with a few bosses in particular and had long pause sessions, which definitely added to my total gameplay time.
Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is currently available for Playstation 4, PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One for $24.99, but who is it really for? I imagine the ideal person is someone who is craving to play an nostalgic action RPG with adult themes, that doesn’t hold your hand, yet they don’t want to spend 40 hours of their life crawling through it. They just want a succinct and polished game that they can get through in a few gameplay sessions. This is it.