Mortal Shell – Review
Follow Genre: Souls-like, Action-adventure
Developer: Cold Symmetry
Publisher: Playstack
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Tested on: PC

Mortal Shell – Review

Site Score
6.5
Good: Mixes the old souls-like genre with some experimental rules
Bad: Target locking distance, repeats the same enemies in rows, overall imbalance
User Score
7.4
(5 votes)
Click to vote
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 7.4/10 (5 votes cast)

“ThiS gAmE is JuSt liKe DaRk SoUls.” It’s a phrase that’s been overused terribly up to the point where it essentially became a meme. It’s supposed to indicate that a game is hard. Especially hard compared to games such as recent Nintendo titles that cater to all ages. But Dark Souls is more than that. Demon Souls, the very first Souls game, actually started it: A whole new genre resembling a tough and dark adventure. It’s been overtaking the industry as many creators have, more or less, been trying out this formula themselves. But Mortal Shell is something else. It comes closer to the Souls games than anything else. This game IS just like Dark Souls.

Story

At the very least the story of Mortal Shell is as vague as the Dark Souls series. Perhaps it’s even worse. Looking at Dark Souls III, it was clear quite fast you had to fight a number of bosses. No matter what direction you were headed in, you were bound to bump into one sooner or later. Mortal Shell pretty much leaves you hanging. The game starts with a boss battle which you can win or not. The outcome doesn’t matter as a huge fish swallows you and you spawn in a weird forest. You are like half a ghost in Mortal Shell. Vulnerable, yet fast. To become less vulnerable, you get to take over whatever empty “shells” you find. These shells are dead warriors who used to have a name.

Besides this information, you just get to wander the forest looking for the right direction. The forest is littered with (the same) enemies grouped around campfires who might or not be playing the lute. Because whatever hints you will get are cryptic and there’s nothing else being told, Mortal Shell perhaps gives you too little to go on. The way it communicates little is part of what makes it feel a bit empty.

Graphics

Where the other elements of Mortal Shell leave something to improve without question, the graphics are great. The environments you come across are rich in confusing detail as each landscape feels like a solid, single piece. That being said, the things that are there, such as bonfires and tents, quickly seem to repeat themselves and take away some of the unique touches that Mortal Shell initially has. Also, the game changes between a damp forest and a vast futuristic plain without hesitation. While impressive, the game does not seem to want to dabble in a single world but instead makes multiple appear after each other.

Sound

While minimal, Mortal Shell has some voice acting going on when talking to NPCs. Enemies have some grunts and swords clash, but other than that characters are pretty quiet. The environmental sounds are, especially in the first forest area, rich and well done. The lute is being played by enemies and you can play as well, so that’s a recurring sound with a variety of songs, especially since other background music is lacking. Overall, the sound is being used to give each and every enemy their specific array of grunts or giggles, and in combination with the sound around you, it’s enough to create a tense atmosphere.

Gameplay

As a Souls-like game, Mortal Shell is a dark action-adventure. It involves walking around to explore areas and fighting unknown dangers to survive as long as possible. Where the Souls series has a wide offer of weapons and magic spells to find and play around with, Mortal Shell is stripped down to the basics. As a corpse-like ghost creature, you get to find about five characters total to take over. Each has slightly different statistics (health and endurance) and can unlock slightly different skills. These skills are either passive such as a boost in defense when you kill two enemies with little time in-between, or they are active such as the ability to lunge forward with your weapon or kick somebody in the face.

There are also weapons to be found and upgraded, but again, these are just a few. What’s worse even, is that the resources to upgrade your characters and weapons are pretty harsh to get. Where in Dark Souls you collect souls, you collect Tar in Mortal Shell. This is simply done by farming enemies, though when you die you will lose them all and you will need to find your way back to your corpse to reclaim the lost tar. There are also “glimpses” which are a required extra currency to unlock skills. So even when you got five times the Tar needed to even unlock the first skill, because glimpses are hard to come by, you can’t do anything with it. This is one part of the imbalance that Mortal Shell seems to shimmer through.

Another part of the imbalance is that the fights don’t feel like a fun challenge. This is partly because of the hitboxes such as a stuck out (idle) spear that still does the thrusting impact when you walk against it. Another part is the camera control. Locking on enemies requires a pretty close distance, and it does not feel smooth to change the lock. The same goes for getting knocked down and just being there, waiting for the enemy to come and knock on your skull instead of getting up fast. In Dark Souls you also bring your Estus Flask, which is like an upgradable healing potion. These sips of the brew got replaced by consumables that you need to farm, which don’t heal a lot, quickly letting you run out of support items. Other support items can taunt enemies, increase stamina (endurance) and more, but it doesn’t really seem to matter a lot.

In combat, you can either dodge once by jumping to the side, twice by rolling on the floor, or use harden to protect yourself. Harden is a bit tricky as it offers a small time window where you make your skin turn into stone. When getting hit while hardened, a hit of the enemy gets negated. You then attack yourself with a light or heavy attack. Those attacks quickly turn into a rinse and repeat to what seems to work best for you, which probably is playing it a bit safe. But combined with the repetitive enemy AI, a lot of farming and little to explore in terms of items and character builds, Mortal Shell seems to be pretty hollow in the end.

Conclusion

Mortal Shell offers some interesting aspects such as finding shells to take over but eventually does very little with the available weapons, characters, and more. The game does not feel balanced which undoes some of the initial excitement. You need to be patient to play this game and go beyond the set-up that the start gives you, which just feels like it’s not enough to actually be in the range of the real Souls games.

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Rating: 7.4/10 (5 votes cast)
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Mortal Shell - Review, 7.4 out of 10 based on 5 ratings
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Find me on youtube to see some playthroughs! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuBrlulGywcb0EiYWBnA1ng

1 Comment

  1. […] Just in time for the scariest time of the year Mortal Shell is getting its first update. Rotten Autumn brings something wicked to Fallgrim, unlocking a new mini-quest for curious players who go out to talk to Gorf. The update also includes the highly requested photo mode allowing players to take great cinematic shots in-game. The update came with its own trailer which you can see down below. If you’re curious about the game in general definitely check out our review of it over here. […]

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