Mortal Shell is the latest entry into the Soulslike genre and unapologetically shows off the influences of the mighty Dark Souls. Other souls games at least make an attempt to change the setting to something other than dark fantasy but not so for Mortal Shell. A big question, therefore, is does Mortal Shell do a good enough job of differentiating itself from the original Souls? Thankfully the answer is yes. Dark Souls fans will feel right at home here but there is more than enough here to make Mortal Shell stand out in its own right. Right, no more mentioning of Dark Souls, I promise…
Story is a bit thin on the ground here and the game does little to fill you in unless you explore every nook and cranny. In summary, you play the role of a being who has travelled to the world of Fallgrim and you have the power to inhabit and control fallen corpses in this new land. Fallgrim itself is dark and dismal and full of things that want to kill you. Early on you’ll come across an imprisoned giant who asks you to retrieve three glands for him. In return, he’ll grant you power beyond belief. That’s it for the story so all there is for it is to set off exploring in the vein hope that you don’t get killed too much.
Watch the announcement trailer below:
Exploration is definitely one of the better aspects of the game, there are so many routes to take from the starting area that at first, you’ll find things very confusing, to begin with. Stick with it however and you’ll soon be able to navigate with relative ease. There are lots of hidden areas containing items and bosses which offer great rewards for those willing to put in the effort to find them.
The main differentiator from other soulslike games is how characters work in Mortal Shell. Rather than simply upgrading one character the game gives you a choice of four shells to choose from, once you’ve found them, with each having fixed stats. Whilst this might sound limiting to players who are used to being able to customise to their heart’s content I found it actually forced me to adapt my playstyle to the shell I was using which I liked. Each of the four shells differs wildly in stats making each more suited to a certain playstyle. There are still plenty of options to upgrade your character(s) although it will be along a fixed path. Once again these upgrades serve to reinforce the playstyle of each shell.
Weapons are also limited and there are currently only four melee weapons to choose from. These range from an ultra-heavy sword to a light and fast hammer and chisel. Each of the weapons can be upgraded to increase their damage output and unlock special abilities. The weapons offer a variety that could encourage you to replay the game but I found myself sticking with the starting weapon for the most part finding it to be somewhat overpowered.
Combat is excellent and not surprisingly very challenging. Even the enemies at the early stages demand your respect and if you let your guard down you’ll be toast. There is a nice parry system built into the combat and although you can complete the game without using it you’ll be at a serious disadvantage. Parrying will not only stop you from taking damage but can also be used to heal your shell. There is no estus flask equivalent in Mortal Shell so getting the hang of parrying in order to heal will make things much easier. Parrying will also stagger enemies giving an opening to do more damage.
Whilst combat in the main is excellent I found the boss fights rather disappointing. Most can be beaten after a couple of tries and the mechanics are incredibly basic. They simply lack the aggressive nature of bosses from other titles and give you too much room to take a breather and heal up. For me, these boss fights became a test of patience rather than skill with even the final boss being an anticlimax.
For the most part, Mortal Shell looked and sounded good. It oozes atmosphere and there are lots of sound cues that will let you know if you’re about to be blindsided. The performance was also steady on PC and I encountered zero crashes. For the most part, the game was bug-free up until the final boss fight which was, sadly, filled with them. I would be frequently be pushed outside of the invisible wall bordering the boss arena giving me as much time as I needed to heal. The camera was also appalling in this fight. It would stick to the floor looking up and as you’re fighting in water it would be looking through the water at the boss.
The game is also pretty short in all, my playthrough took about ten hours although I’m sure I haven’t managed to unlock or find everything there is. Once you’ve completed your playthrough you unlock a new game plus mode so there are plenty of chances to go back and explore more or get used to different shell and weapon combinations. Although short, Mortal Shell is very reasonably priced so the game length isn’t much of a bugbear for me. It’s also important to remember that the game was developed by a team of fifteen people and they can only do so much.
Overall, Mortal Shell is one of the better soulslike games out there. It does more than enough to make itself stand apart from Dark Souls but manages to maintain the core aspects of the genre. If this is what a small team can manage on a limited budget I’m very excited to see what they can do with more resources should they choose to make a follow-up game. If you’re a fan of the Soulslike genre it’s a no brainer that you go out and buy Mortal Shell now!
Mortal Shell was reviewed using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Publisher: PlayStack Developer: Cold Symmetry Release Date: 18th August 2020 Reviewed On: PC Also Available On: Xbox One, PS4