Mortal Sin Preview: "Bone Crunching Fun"
There is perhaps no better tone setter for Mortal Sin than reading an opening passage about suffering, and then being plunged into an unknown land with no recourse or aid. Made by lone developer Nikola Todorovic, Mortal Sin is a roguelike that challenges its players to outlast sequential dungeons, forests, or caves filled with various debased creatures, equipped only with the items they find throughout their journey. But does Mortal Sin do enough to stand out among a sea of similarly constructed roguelikes? Carry on reading to find out.
There isn't a huge amount in the way of story in Mortal Sin, but there doesn't particularly need to be. The general framework is that you are stuck in a never-ending loop of torment, and are working towards absolution by defeating sin itself.
You can take various different paths to absolution, but they all lead to the same end goal. That doesn't however mean that there is redundancy within these paths though, as they offer variation in both structure and combat. You are given a choice between the cave, the dungeon, and the forest to suffer through, and each one has different enemies, traps, and layouts.
Furthermore, there is an incentive to diversify your runs, as each path has a number of different checkpoint rewards that permanently unlock abilities or boosts for your character. Completing the fourth level of the dungeon path, for example, will unlock the ability to craft higher-level gear in the starting area, which makes tackling the earlier levels a lot easier.
Looks Like Meat's Back On The Menu
The biggest appeal of Mortal Sin however lies within its weapon and combat system, which emphasizes weight and decapitation. Central to the idea of taking down enemies is the necessity of decapitation, as although all enemies do have an overall health counter of sorts that will deplete if you hit them enough, you are very much encouraged to take enemies down quicker by targeting specific limbs.
Severing an enemy's arms, for example, prevents them from attacking you, allowing you to focus on other threatening dangers if you don't have the time to fully commit to a kill. The same is the case for beheading - which leaves demons wandering around aimlessly - or chopping off the legs, which inevitably has your foes slowly crawl towards you on the floor.
This adds an objective to the combat beyond simply hitting, making you perhaps think a bit further about how best to tackle a situation, which raises the combat ceiling. To complement this is an intuitive colour-based indication of enemy health, in which specific limbs turn an ever-increasing crimson the more you damage them, letting you know where you should be targeting in the heat of the moment.
And what would a target-based combat system be without some meaty hits to back it up? Each of Mortal Sin's weapons feels heavy in your hands and punchy when they connect, giving each connection - and inevitable decapitation - a satisfying crunch that you would want from a sharpened weapon. I do feel like there is room for improvement for the audio of the weapons, as the sounds don't quite capture the full density of each swing, but the visuals do in part make up for this.
An Impressive Armoury
To be used in tandem with the heavy standard hits of your weapon are two subsidiary abilities: kick, and bash. Both of these do have standard purposes that help control the aggression of enemies, but they really come alive when combined with the standard attack. Chaining together a standard hit and a kick gives you a thrusting attack, and a standard hit plus a bash gives you a power strike. Both of these special attacks output extra damage but also help you group attacks together to take down your foes quicker. It is very satisfying to be surrounded in a near-death situation, only to claw yourself out through a series of kick and bash combos.
Each of Mortal Sin's collection of weapons brings a new move-set to the table too, which can very easily change your approach to each situation. I found the fast cleaver to be incredibly satisfying, as it allows you to disperse a frankly ridiculous amount of hits which can be really advantageous if you're feeling a bit lax with your placement. Longer weapons like the spear and halberd are quite the opposite though, offering a slower, accurate, and more damaging experience that can really mow through enemies if you hit your shots right.
Surprisingly though, I actually found the most satisfaction within the game's various spell weapons, which seems initially contradictory to how important weight is to Mortal Sin's combat. You would think that ranged options would take away from the brute physicality of each hit, but weapons like the magic mace - which expunges enemies with a downward slam - prove to have quite the opposite effect.
Of course, tied directly to combat is challenging difficulty, and as a roguelike, it is bound to cause you some suffering, at least at the beginning. There is a good sense of progression both throughout each run and in the overall ecosystem. You gain access to new abilities, weapon types, and base upgrades that help you tackle the game's increasingly difficult scenarios.
One difficulty that I found myself running into though is an inconsistency in difficulty between different runs. While there is always going to be a sense of variable difficulty in a roguelike as in-run upgrades are completely random, but there did seem to be a rather stark difference in some runs that dramatically altered the sense of challenge. The availability of health in some runs for example saw the balance swing a bit too far in either direction, where I would either have far too much health and opportunities to heal, or be severely capped, making progression far more sporadic than I would have otherwise expected.
Overall, it did tend to balance itself out in the end, and I did always find myself eager to go for another run regardless of how successful the last was, but it did often make it challenging to actually gauge how well I was moving through the game.
Beyond the hard-hitting combat, one of the most alluring aspects of Mortal Sin lies in its incredibly distinct art style. The deep blacks and illuminating whites blend together to create an almost chiaroscuro environment that is supported by incandescent splatters of red and blue.
It is an art style that very much creates an atmosphere of despair, as the world is lit up only by the demons that you lay waste to, or the aftermath of said destruction. This does however create a real sense of visual direction, as Mortal Sin very cleverly uses colour to keep the player moving forward. You're always searching for that next enemy, upgrade, or button to keep you moving, and these all stand out starkly within the darkness.
Here Comes The Sin
One thing that did feel slightly lacking in regards to the art style is the various enemy designs, which felt like they didn't quite reach the creativity that the atmosphere reflected. Some of the larger enemies that you encounter as you progress, and the various creatures that inhabit the walls and the skies were impressive, but I would have liked to have seen a bit more eccentricity and variety within Mortal Sin's standard mobs.
Music is unfortunately another area that I felt also didn't quite match the intensity of the atmosphere, as it often felt rather reserved and disjointed from the actions that were taking place onscreen. I did appreciate the ominous hum that seemed ever-present throughout your travels, as it crafted a sense of uneasiness and intrigue as you delved further into the depths of each path.
However, it didn't really feel as if the sound progressed beyond that initial level of intrigue, and failed to truly match or elevate the chaos that often occurred. There are sections of grander sounds, as drums pound among the hum, but it always felt as if it was missing that final step to embolden the actions of the player, which made some rather significant moments in a game run unfortunately a bit flat.
However, Mortal Sin is still an impressive entry into the roguelike genre that has a very satisfying combat system to make each run feel enjoyable enough to keep going. It is very easy to slip into a loop of 'just one more run', which is so often the sign of a game that gets its core mechanics right, however, there are a couple of factors that slightly downplay the step into the grandiose I feel the game wants me to take.
Previewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.