REVIEW: ‘Mortal Shell’ A Love Letter to Dark Souls (PS4)

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Mortal Shell

Test your sanity and your resilience in the newest Souls-like game on the market, Mortal Shell. Created by the indie studio Cold Symmetry, Mortal Shell is an action-RPG that uses many of the same game mechanics as Dark Souls but brings with it a shattered, corrupted world to explore and a novel and demented story to pursue. Awakening to a dark world where humanity is in shambles and the landscape is littered with hostile creatures, players take control of an empty vessel. Upon exploring the world, players realize they can take control of the shells of fallen warriors, imbibing their strengths and weaknesses. A derelict tower holds a mysterious prisoner, bound and chained, who pleads for players to collect the sacred glands and bring these items to him for a reward. Players must track down hidden sanctums of devout followers and slay their “gods” to collect these sacred glands.

The original aspect of this game that stood out to me was the gorgeous graphics. The world of Mortal Shell is as familiar as it is foreign. From swamps to catacombs to alien ruins, some aesthetics will feel familiar but plenty will still be novel and intriguing. With the wonderful graphics to bolster the fascinating landscapes, you’ll encounter, this is a world you won’t grow tired of looking at any time soon. Although the beautiful graphics are what originally attracted me to the game, the mysterious story and the challenging encounters kept me around.

The plot of Mortal Shell is a bit vague and the world around you has few explanations for who you are and why you’re here. Parts of the story are revealed through unlocking shells and their skills, talking to NPCs, and finding objects or inscriptions, incentivizing players to explore. Despite all this, I was still left with little understanding of the place and time of the story. On top of this, the game is a short one, a drastic difference from other Souls-like games.

The one aspect that was a boon for the plot is that it is extremely non-linear. You can choose just about any path and can tackle any of the various areas at your leisure. There’s no one right way to go or a specific order you need to discover things. There are also multiple endings to uncover, and I tip my hat to Cold Symmetry for some of the humorous endings to be found. Brigands for life. Throughout your time exploring the world of Mortal Shell, players will find other shells to inhabit. Each of these shells comes with different amounts of health, stamina, resolve, movement capabilities, and specific skills that can be unlocked. In this way, Mortal Shell takes a different stance on the usual character creation.

Mortal Shell

Whereas other Souls-like games often allow you to choose a character class to start with and use points to increase character stats to further diversify your character, in this game shells act as classes and there is no way to change their stats. While this seems like a bane, it was an interesting twist and one that I enjoyed heartily. Shells not only need to be discovered, which adds a certain amount of difficulty to the game, but players can also switch out between shells, allowing the ability to change classes at any point to better tackle an enemy or to better favor a player’s personal playstyle.

The only aspect of these shells that can be changed is their abilities. Each shell has a separate set of abilities that can be unlocked. From the ability to create a noxious gas cloud after a successful parry to being able to harden twice as long, there is a shell to suit every player. On top of this, there are a variety of weapons to find that require a bit of effort but will pander to specific play styles. Like shells, players can upgrade these weapons to gain abilities. The one downside here is that there are a limited number of weapons to find in this game and some may find this a bit stale. I particularly enjoyed the twist to item discovery in that players won’t know what items do until they use them. Players gain familiarity with each use of an item, and how these items can be used may change with increased familiarity. This familiarity system might be a drag sometimes, but at least it precipitates some wicked lute solos.

The actual combat mechanics are very similar to other Souls-like games. Upon death or upgrading your character, entire areas will reset, respawning all enemies. The enemies are similarly merciless. The combat requires precision and strategic action. Each type of enemy comes with its own attacks and movement capabilities, requiring players to adapt or die. One of the main aspects of the game that sets it apart mechanically is the ability for players to harden. Instead of using a shield to block blows like other games, the main character turns into stone for a limited time or until struck by an enemy. Using harden in conjunction with movement or attacking brings about interesting and useful abilities to further diversify this mechanic.

Although Mortal Shell starts off being rather difficult, the more you upgrade your shells and weapons, the easier it gets. This is entirely understandable but eventually, with enough upgrading, the game becomes a cakewalk. There’s currently no way to increase the difficulty of the enemies, but it may be something needed in the future if the creators expect the game to have high replayability.

Overall, Mortal Shell feels like a Souls game. It’s difficult, the enemies are punishing, and the combat mechanics are familiar. Mortal Shell is undoubtedly a love letter to Dark Souls, but Cold Symmetry has added enough novel mechanics and intriguing landscapes to make a game that stands out from the crowd. Personally, I hope the creators add more content to further elucidate the world and plot of Mortal Shell, but even without more content, Mortal Shell is definitely a game to check out.

Mortal Shell is available now on PC, Xbox One, and PS4.

Mortal Shells
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TL;DR

Overall, Mortal Shell feels like a Souls game. It’s difficult, the enemies are punishing, and the combat mechanics are familiar. Mortal Shell is undoubtedly a love letter to Dark Souls, but Cold Symmetry has added enough novel mechanics and intriguing landscapes to make a game that stands out from the crowd.