Morphite (We’re Five Games) is a lot like No Man’s Sky. There’s really no getting away from that. It actually goes as far as taking a swipe at the other game with a snide comment about fazing through asteroid fields. But is it better than Hello Game’s 2016 flop? I’m not convinced. Morphite has some nice ideas, but taken as a whole it lacks a strong core. It feels like it lacks a central element that all else can be built around. I felt as though I was simply drifting through the game, going through the motions. Let me explain why.
A word on the story first. Its serviceable. I found the characters a little flat, especially the protagonist, who spends the entire game describing the situation in front of her and then asking a stupid question. I must say however that I did enjoy some of the “cute” dialogue between her and her robo-cat companion thing. It’s mostly just sarcasm and a little dry wit, but it did bring a bit of colour to their exchanges. Outside of that the central narrative concerns the search for a mysterious element, the titular morphite. It provides a decent framework with which to explore the universe, and that’s all it really needs to do. This is at heart, an explore-em-up.
Roaming, Roaming, Roaming…
The games high concept is based around travelling between star systems, touching down on planets and completing various activities. You can complete quests, scan plants and animals (sound familiar) and engage in combat on the planets surface or in simple dungeons. Travelling between star systems is probably my favourite aspect of the game. You have to manage your fuel, trade at space stations and the random events that occur as you travel break up the monotony and add a certain spice to proceedings. I was actually reminded of the indie hit FTL: Faster Than Light. The way you travel around a star map is very similar.
I enjoyed the travelling quite a bit. It actually felt like a journey and enough happened during each voyage to keep me interested. I would come under attack by pirates or be forced into a decision on whether or not to allow a mysterious alien on-board the ship. I was also pleased to discover that fuel refilled slowly over time, so while you may get stuck for a little bit, you are never obligated to get out and scrounge about for fuel. Simply exploring for a bit will also refuel your ship.
Unfortunately the user interface can make things a lot more stressful than they need to be. On console, navigating the menus is absurdly fiddly. Its difficult to see what you actually have selected and the general layout is clearly designed with a mouse in mind, which is a shame. There are other things that can’t really be excused however. I hated the way that simply hovering over an upgrade didn’t give any information on it. You have to press another button and things just get awkward. Its also really difficult to track quests for some reason. There aren’t any real markers and the mini-map is, for all intents and purposes, blank. This really sucked the fun out of exploring the cosmos.
My other big, big problem with the exploration (and it’s a very subjective one) is the way the game looks. I have seen people praise Morphite’s aesthetic and I cannot for the life of me work out why. Everything is low detail, the colours are all either bright neon or horribly muted, and nothing really pops. It just feels utterly lifeless. This may seem like a small complaint but it really killed off my desire to seek out new planets, they were all too ugly!
You really wanna do this?
There were a lot of small things about the moment to moment gameplay that eventually wore me down. Everything just felt slow and awkward. You can’t run so everything takes twice as long as it needs to, and scanning plants and animals is such an annoyingly drawn out process that after a while I just stopped bothering. Trying to scan a small animal while it moved away was frustrating in a way that’s difficult to put into words
Perhaps my least favourite part of the game is the combat. I like my combat to be varied, tactically deep and at least a little bit challenging. The combat in Morphite is none of those things. There are a reasonable number of enemies, but they all either run directly at you or stand in place shooting at you without using cover. The general predictability of the foes you face makes them boring. I was never taken by surprise and I never felt as though I needed to change up my tactics. The fact that you can lock on to enemies with your gun only makes things even more tedious.
Unlikely as this may sound the game also has boss fights. Unfortunately they are some of the most insulting boss fights I have ever encountered. Not one of them even managed to hurt me. They were based around incredibly simplistic patterns and had no answer to my starting weapon’s lock on feature. One boss, a giant worm, was so easy that it actually hurt the story. It was built up as something to be feared and then died in about thirty seconds. Anticlimax does not do it justice. What makes this worse is that I was breezing through the game without even doing any side-quests (because most of them were a right pain) so clearly these activities have little to no impact on gameplay and exist only for their own sake.
In the end, No Mans Sky killer this is not. Its certainly not a bad game but it gets dull quick. I can’t really see what this games central hook is. Exploration? Environments repeat and the visuals are bland. Combat? It’s insultingly easy and the weapons are anaemic. The story alone doesn’t carry it. Too much ambition and a lack of focus bring Morphite down.