Morbid: The Seven Acolytes - XB1 Review

Morbid: The Seven Acolytes by developer Still Running and publisher Merge GamesMicrosoft Xbox One review written by David with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

This is definitely the review I’ve written this year with the fewest expectations. In that, I mean that I knew nothing about this project going into it, which was a major change of pace from my reviews so far here. I was offered the article, clicked the trailer and the tag “Souls-Like Horrorpunk Adventure RPG” and pixel-art style got my curiosity. Diving in and dying like the scrub that I am during the first zone however, is what really got my attention. Bonus points, the ambient rainstorm in the loading screen is fantastic background noise to write to, for those like me with an insatiable need to multitask, even to your own detriment. Besides, dying from a couple too many bad parries calls for a breather when you’re as bad as I am.

I saw this screen way more than I would like to admit.

Dying is frustrating but it's not too bad, it just kicks you back to where you last meditated, the altars conveniently-but-not-too-much-so placed as you progress. These altars also serve as a fast travel point between areas as well as where all the Lorebooks, monsters, weapons, and tutorials will pop up as you find them in your trek across the first few zones.

There's a fairly wide variety, and different approaches with each, causing it to be a good idea to have at least one gear-switch as you progress. Luckily, you're provided with two slots right off the bat that you can switch between while in the Inventory. While not as quick as a single dedicated button or wheel-slot, it amounts to two button presses and you can get pretty quick with a little practice, or desperation. Swords, axes, spears, a human leg, you'll find your preference quickly enough.

Thalas shares a bit of exposition, and sets the stage for how helpful your friends will be.

In Morbid, you are the last of a line of heroes-to-be, having trained your whole life to kill the Seven Acolytes, the mortals whose minds are possessed by a group of eldritch horrors that grip the world. Granted the Sword of Dibrom, a symbol of your order, you are doomed to fight against untold hordes of morbid monstrosities in your quest, and it is messy. The constant flood of death, gore, and the horror of fighting things beyond mortal ken drags at your sanity. Each encounter eats away until your vision and hearing are affected. It's said Strivers die from the madness if not by one of the beasts ravaging the countryside. The truth you'll find once you lose the plot entirely, is that even the shadows are hostile. Things you kill keep coming back and there's seemingly no end.

Along with the fun bits mentioned, Sanity also affects your damage dealt, damage gained, and even your experience rate. Unless my brain has bamboozled me, they all go up. It’s by no mean easier when your sanity is gone, things you could sneak past normally seem to be attracted straight to you like they already knew you were coming along with the rapidly growing spectre problem as you drop to zero, but at least you can smash face for a bit before you fall. I seem to consistently find Calming Capsules as a drop soon after I’ve hit zero sanity and survived long enough to kill a few things though, so it seems the game isn’t totally hopeless once you get there if you’ve run out. Totally worth it when one of the Acolytes is acting up. I had to fight mini-boss Boatswain Borga twice because of it though, fair warning.

Sanity isn't in high supply in Mornia

The leveling system is perk based, coming in the form of “Blessings” you can level up using skill points. Luckily, your deaths save your skills, if not the XP to the next point, so by the time I unlocked these, after you kill the first Acolyte, I had twelve skill points ready to go and entered the next area with a health and stamina bar I feel like I shouldn’t have yet. Your weapons come with a variety of stats too, and you can upgrade those permanently with Runes you find, usually as mob drops, or temporarily with Mushrooms. Combine them for extra oomf when needed and you’ll power strike-roll-stab-stab your way through even the most obnoxious Corpse Kings, just watch out for that AoE.

The quests you follow tell you more of what happened to the world you fight for. From a widow hopeful her husband was on a voyage when the Flesh Plant Plague hit Mornia, to the stories of the Acolytes. Lorn the Blind, Lord of Loneliness, is the first acolyte you fight, not a simple task if you're not ready for it, or just bad like I am. You find references to him in descriptions in the area though. Lorn the Beloved was well deserving of that epithet, and as the plague spread and he was corrupted by the Gahar, they took his eyes, throwing him into the pit known as the Cave of Solitude, his mind twisting that former love he'd lost to rage, vowing to take the eyes of any he came across in his prison.

Lorn the Beloved, twisted into a blind monstrosity, guards the way into Mornia through the Cave of Solitude

As fun as the gameplay is, as much as I love the Lovecraftian horror setting, as much as I genuinely enjoy the art style, the real stand-out part of this game to me was the scoring. From the introduction to the final fight, the mood is set beautifully by the soundtrack that backs everything. If I'm completely honest, I haven't felt a soundtrack in an isometric action RPG like I did this one since Diablo. While Diablo's score was largely ambient, Morbid's reminds you that you're here and you will die here. I found myself drawn into the game more as I listened, leaving it up while at a brief point of respite at an altar to work on this article, ever present and reminding me of the madness to come.

Equal parts disgusting, horrifying, tragic, and downright beautiful, Morbid paints an unforgettable picture of Lovecraftian and Cronenbergian madness come to life.

Score: 9.5 / 10



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