When Mortal Shell launched on August 18, 2020, it was seen as a great way to enter the world of the “Soulslike” genre perfected by FromSoftware. I have always been interested in that type of game but have shied away due to the difficulty so when Mortal Shell came along I jumped at the chance to try it out.
What is Mortal Shell?
Mortal Shell is a new IP from Indie developer Cold Symmetry, which core team of 15 who have created a great game. The game’s website describes Mortal Shell as a “Deep Action-RPG that tests your sanity and resilience in a shattered world”. I can attest to that. I’ve put a ton of hours into the game and haven’t progressed as far as I would’ve liked before writing this review, but I have made progress. As I mentioned in my first impressions, I’ve struggled with the game but have gotten more comfortable with it as I have played.
The gameplay in Mortal Shell revolves around combatants and exploration. There is no map to follow and not much to guide you other than your memory and “visions” of where to find things. Early in the game, you find Falgrim Tower which will serve as a home base of sorts. You’ll be able to view clues to where the three other shells are (you get one pretty much as soon as you get out of the tutorial), where you can find the other weapons in the game, the ability to upgrade your shells and weapons, as well as a vendor. Getting here is the first real milestone in the game and gives you a lot to go chase. You will also meet the Old Prisoner who sends you on your quest to find the four glands that will release him.
I have enjoyed Mortal Shell’s gameplay a lot and like the lack of hand-holding that you see in so many games today. It is very rewarding to find the landmarks shown to you on your way to a new weapon or shell. I have gotten used to navigating without a map and how to get back to the last spot I was in to retrieve my shell (this is a very common occurrence). It helps with the immersion in the game since you are not constantly checking a map or following a quest marker.
The combat in Mortal Shell is something that takes time to learn but can be very satisfying once you do. Mortal Shell’s combat is mainly influenced by two things the shell you are wearing and the weapon you are wielding. You start the game with no shell (but get one very quickly) and a large sword. Each shell has its own skill tree to unlock and upgrade as you play through the game gaining tar and glimpses (the two currencies in Mortal Shell). I’ve been able to unlock three of the four shells and two weapons. All of them feel unique from the others and I have found myself switching between the two weapons you have. Along with the weapons and shells, there is are parry and harden mechanics that will help you survive the world of Mortal Shell.
Like other Soulslike games, you need to be patient and patient and deliberate with the combat. You can’t just rush into a new situation and expect to have success. You need to understand your enemies (and sometimes where their start positions are) to be successful. Luckily, there are not that many different enemies in the game and you can tell what move they are likely to perform. The enemies are also mostly slow and very telegraphed so once you know their move set (and can bring yourself to be patient) you can counter most attacks.
Speaking of counters, once of the primary ways to regain health is to parry then perform the empowered riposte move if you have enough Resolve built up. I have found that parrying an attack can be hit or miss. For me, the moves sometimes are almost too slow and I hit the button too early missing my window. While using some of the shells with more health I would take a few more risks with the parry-empowered riposte combo but when in the shell with more stamina and less health I have been mostly avoiding it and dodging more instead.
One of the more interesting combat mechanics in the game is the ability to Harden. This puts you in a protective shell that will absorb a few hits then allow you to continue with the action you were previously performing. You can Harden at any time and in any situation (as long as the cooldown is over). Working through how and when to Harden was one of the things that took me the longest to grasp but can be very satisfying when done correctly.
Mortal Shell’s story is interesting but since I haven’t progressed as much as I would have liked I haven’t been able to dive deeply into it. You are on a quest to release the Old Prisoner and get yourself out of Falgrim. Much of the story is revealed slowly as you find and upgrade your shells and weapons. You will also encounter shrine-like things in the world that have small epitaphs to read. This is an area I want to explore more but the game keeps pulling me back in so I am confident I’ll progress enough through it eventually.
Even though I have not progressed very far (I’m still stuck on my first crypt) Mortal Shell keeps pulling me back in. I have found a few shells and am finally settling into the combat and mechanics of the game. There are a few things that could be improved, like the parry timing and some Harden bugs I’ve experienced, but I think the game is fantastic. As I mentioned at the start of the review, I have never really gotten into a Soulslike game before (I tried Dark Souls and Bloodborne at one point) but Mortal Shell has made me reevaluate my stance in the genre. It even convinced me to pick up Dark Souls 3 from the Xbox Summer sale.
While I am not giving it a traditional score, I do highly recommend it to anyone looking for more of a challenge or who wants to try out a Soulslike game without being too intimidated. The Cold Symmetry team has a talented group and I look forward to what else they come up with whether it’s expanding the Mortal Shell universe or a completely new game.