You’ll never win with Mortal Sin!
It seems as though someone just lit the roguelike signal, as I’m back again with another serving of permadeath and randomly generated levels. This time I’m faced with Mortal Sin, a first person, melee-focussed roguelike with a very distinctive art style. It’s a genre I like so I’m quite happy to tool up once more, this time fighting demons and the undead with swords and axes!
The story is limited here, with the plot seeming to focus on your character having made a wish, and this plight being the way in which their wish has been ironically granted. You awaken in a graveyard with nothing but a sword to your name and a footpath leading into some ruins. You’ll be given a few instructions on your way in, but other than that it’ll be up to you to learn the ropes, or die trying. Learn the ropes and die trying seems more apt here though.
Combat is entirely melee focused, with you having a few basic attacks. You can hit, or charge up an attack, kick, or dash to break your opponent’s guard, and that’s pretty much it. There’s some differentiation thanks to there being a variety of weapons, such as hard-hitting axes, or weaker magic staves that have effects like freezing or burning. But for the most part, you’ll be dashing around, hitting enemies, and trying to survive.
It’s quite satisfying though, as the attacks themselves feel suitably meaty, especially when you trigger a weapon’s special effect. Seeing your foe’s limbs go flying after you’ve parried an attack, delivered a swift kick, and then finished up with a charged strike is still enjoyable even on your tenth run. You’re told early on that severing limbs is the only way to kill enemies, and whilst this is true, I didn’t get any sense of locational damage, and big powerful hits pretty much mulched any opponent I was confronted by.
You’ll get taken out pretty quickly yourself though if you aren’t careful. Early on, things aren’t too tough, but as you progress you’ll face huge swathes of enemies in tight areas at once, and getting swarmed is a very real possibility. You’ll need to stay mobile, block, and counter quickly and effectively, as well as making use of your hard-to-replenish healing potions.
Along the way you’ll find randomly generated weapons and armour to help you on your way, and whilst it may seem obvious at first to grab the most powerful item you find, as you progress you’ll realise there’s a little more nuance. Your items have very limited durability, which drops quickly as you attack and take damage. You have some potions that can replenish durability, but they aren’t all that common. It becomes more strategic to pick up less powerful items as you travel through some of Mortal Sin’s easier areas, and then come back to grab something more powerful to carry through into the next. Losing that helm that regenerates your health just as you enter a boss room could be devastating, so swapping it out beforehand might be a better choice.
At first I was a bit irritated by this system, until I started to see how it forced a more thoughtful approach that the gameplay style doesn’t make obvious at first. The somewhat simplistic style of gameplay gives way to a more careful approach, even as combat is fast-paced. Before long I came to appreciate this system, and engaged with it far more readily.
What I enjoyed far less were the frankly obnoxious jump scares. There’s a horror element to the visuals and environments, but having a spooky scary skull leap out at you with an overly loud scream just became annoying rather than scary. It feels like these were thrown in for no other reason than to be annoying and generate screeches from YouTube Let’s Players.
The only other potential irritation is the roguelike element, and that’s only annoying to some. Losing all your progress on death is as aggravating as in any game of this type. There are elements of continuity, such as spending resources to have a better starting item, or beginning your run from an already unlocked area — which interestingly unlocks different routes through the game — but this isn’t a game that’s going to bring those that dislike the genre into the fold.
Something that might grab people’s attention, though, is the visual style. The incredibly striking artistic direction feels like a more colourful version of Return of the Obra Dinn. The block colour skyboxes give a horror comic vibe that would be at home in 80s graphic novels featuring the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, whilst the monsters have an almost eldritch feel to them, especially in the second and third areas. It’s really quite unique, and the somewhat stilted animations play into this nicely.
The sounds are weaker, sadly. There’s no music to speak of, which is fine, but the attacks sound weak, and monsters can easily sneak up on you thanks to them making little to no noise. This is especially irritating considering how easily you can die. It’s surprising how little has been put into this department, as some solid ambient sounds would make a big difference. Maybe those jump scares could be replaced with something more effective.
Those small complaints aside though, I’ve really enjoyed Mortal Sin. With multiple routes through the game, there’s plenty of replay value even beyond the die-and-restart approach of the genre. I’ll be more than happy to play though again and again to get those different methods of victory.
Mortal Sin will be releasing Q1 2022 on Steam.