Mortal Shell is an action RPG developed by Cold Symmetry and published by Playstack for Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC. The game is right now exclusive for Epic Games Store on PC, so you might find yourself waiting long if you insist on waiting for it to release on Steam. Now that the basics are off the way, let’s talk about inarguably one of the best Soulslike games that has ever hit the market.
Mortal Shell, naturally is set in a dark and grim world, where life is no longer an option. Areas are filled with death-driven maniacs, yielding hammers, rapiers, clubs, and whatnot. Our character is a bodyless soul, roaming around, looking for retribution. It’s easy to fall victim to the game’s captivating world and the filthy details that make it a true Soulsborne experience.
Starting off with Mortal Shell, you’ll find yourself transversing the world yielding a huge claymore and embarking into combat for a while. Game mechanics are fed to you little by little. It’s a reality that any studio can make a souls borne game. However, it’s the ability to spice the genre up with new groundbreaking abilities that make a game stand out. That’s something Mortal Shell achieved to the maximum.
For starters, we have the harden ability which serves as a block since you cannot carry a shield in Mortal Shell. Harden can be used to utilize combos, break enemy combos and generally get through the game unpunished (most of the time). Using harden in boss battles is necessary. However, it doesn’t ensure victory as the difficulty cap between normal enemies and bosses is huge.
When engaging in battle, it’s hard not to notice that AI in Mortal Shell is way better than most similar titles. Some of them will just shoo you from afar while others will chase you down through the area. It’s interesting how most of those enemies won’t run at you. It’s almost like everyone in this world thinks you are a nobody and you are not worthy of a true battle. Obviously the goal is to prove them wrong and, oh boy, what satisfaction it is when you do. There are 4 basic weapons to use, including two swords a mace and a hammer and chisel combination. I liked the Martyr’s Blade the most. It’s basically a surprisingly long and slim sword that gives you enough range to abuse with tough enemies.
Where Mortal Shell comes to shine is its Shell mechanic. Shells are the bodies of fallen warriors, which you can occupy and battle with. There are 4 shells in total, each one bearing its own statistics and upgrade tree. We have a balanced shell, a shell with more stamina but glass cannon health, a tanky shell and a somewhat in the middle shell that is better for characters looking for more special attacks. All those shells become available throughout the game and can be upgraded with tar, Mortal Shell’s version of souls.
Where shells exceed is how you can utilize them in battle. Basically, the first time you’d die in a fight, you’ll be forced out of your shell and returning back to your basic body. The shell remains in sight, immobile and you can return back and reclaim it carefully and return into battle. Your health will replenish and you have one more shot in finishing off the enemy. This happens only once though, so you can’t abuse this to get easily off battles. I would love to see even more shells releasing, so we can all cross fingers for potential expansions in the future.
Items in Mortal Shell have another cool mechanic. Each item has a Familiarity gauge associated with them, giving you more perks the more you use them. For instance, your basic healing item is a mushroom which at first heals you for only a small amount over time. When familiarity reaches its maximum level you heal more aggressively. One downside to familiarity though is that you have to use at least one item in order to know what it does. This forces you to use rare items without knowing what they do. This is one of only a handful of downsides I could find about Mortal Shell. Players that intend to play Mortal Shells multiple times, for instance, speedrunners will find that it’s not a big issue as you already know what the items do.
Where Mortal Shell shines though, is in its boss battles. Each one is unique and hard to beat, without being completely broken. Cold Symmetry has managed to replicate the Dark Souls formula perfectly, while letting the game keeping its own character. Each and every one of the gameplay mechanics you find in the game are useful in boss battles. The more you progress and by the time you find a weapon and shell you are comfortable with, you’ll find that boss battles are not insanely hard. They just need your patience and attention. If you rush in hoping for a quick kill you will 100% fail and that’s a promise.
Overall, I found Mortal Shell to be punishing for even small mistakes and that’s something a casual like me can’t comprehend entirely. However, I can assure every hardcore soulsborne fan that its gameplay is polished to its details and isn’t unfair. I would only mark as a negative the fact that the parry mechanic, as well as the shell unique abilities, are not that necessary to use and finding the right way to use them might sometimes force you into dying. I found myself doing better without them and focused instead on harden and strong attacks to tackle strong enemies.
The world of Mortal Shell is dark and twisted. Each of its areas has its own kind of vibe, a vibe that is so strong you can almost smell it. Unlike Dark Souls, Mortal Shell has multiple directions to go to, which prove useful the more you progress for more items and secret passages. I found myself getting lost and having to die way too many times from enemies while trying to find my way to a boss fight.
What works perfectly though despite getting lost is the atmosphere in each area. For some reason, the intensity of each area almost gives you certain smells. The first area, which is set in a watery area filled with trees and bushes had me thinking of moss and how strong it would smell.
Or the second area which is set in a dungeon of sorts gives out a stench of death and rot. It sounds a bit weird to put it into words but the atmosphere is so strong, it pulls you in instantly.
Mortal Shells borrowed one more thing from Dark Souls and that is the way characters talk. NPC you’ll find along the way (and there are not too many of them) are talking in old English and will almost sound like jibberish at first since the story unfolds slowly and in a subtle way.
In that aspect, I would love Mortal Shell to be taking its own road than following exactly the steps of Dark Souls but that’s a small price to pay. Character design and voice acting make the world even more rotten than it is and that’s something I appreciated from the beginning.
After reading so much about a game filled with insane battles and a robust dark world, the least you’d want to hear is that its graphics are not up to par. You’ll be glad to hear that this is not the case. Mortal Shell is as good as any AAA title. The fact that the game was made by only 15 people shows how much dedication and expertise has been put into it. Everything looks crisp, from fawna and terrain to characters and animations.
As expected, there are a few bugs with enemies colliding with objects along the way. However, this won’t stand in the way of experiencing Mortal Shell to its fullest. As a lover of great imagery, I was surprised to find that graphics are exactly how it was pictured in the trailers.
A cool fact about graphics in Mortal Shell is that it houses an “Indie Mode” which lowers the pixel density down to the game being a pixelated RPG from back in the 90s. I didn’t play around with that setting but I can’t wait to see players mastering the game in indie playthroughs.
Ultimately, Mortal Shell is a hidden gem. Thankfully, the game already has its fair share of attention on Youtube and Twitch so its safe to say that it earned its place as a love child of Dark Souls and a classic in its genre. Its price tag set at $30 is way less than what the game actually is worth. Most likely, its price is low due to its short playtime, being at around 15-20 hours.
However, with soulslike games, you get way more than that as you can do multiple runs and still have a great time. It wouldn’t surprise me if shell-less runs, no force out of shell runs and speedruns start popping up this week. For what it’s worth, this is 100% a must-buy for every hardcore gamer that loves brutal boss battles and the sound of heavy steel.