Mortal Shell PC Review

Since the birth of the souls-like genre created by the genius minds over at From Software, companies have since been trying to replicate the perfect formula and for the most part they have fallen short of capturing what really makes this style of game so successful. Now we welcome the latest addition; Mortal Shell has been developed by a small team over at Cold Symmetry, serving up an exciting new entry for the genre by retaining the old fan favourite features whilst experimenting with new ideas to keep things fresh and exciting.

In the usual souls-like style, you make your way through an open world area discovering hidden lore and secrets around every corner. Along the way you will kill swarms of difficult enemies to progress and if you die you have to return to your fallen body to recover any lost Tar; Tar and Glimpses are your currency for upgrading and purchasing items you collect throughout your journey. Both can be obtained by killing enemies however Glimpses are rarely dropped and each enemy has a specific amount of Tar they drop every time; they can also be obtained by using certain items. You can use either to purchase abilities for the Shell (armour loadout) you have equipped to gain upgrades like more health or more powerful passive abilities.

In your typical RPG you would usually use the in-game currency to upgrade your stats such as health and stamina however Cold Symmetry has developed a unique feature called ‘Shells’. Shells are basically armour loadouts that, depending on which type you equip, will alter your stats in different ways. Shells can be discovered throughout the world and swapped out at any time so you can find the right shell for your playstyle. I like this idea however it does remove the customisation options that most RPGs have; there are only four weapons and the game feels pretty short, giving you little opportunity to really develop your characters if stat upgrades were included. As Shells are a key story element, they are well integrated into the game, offering various dialogue options and working seamlessly with the added mechanics dependent on which Shell you have equipped.

If you’ve played any of the Dark Souls games you will quickly become familiar with Mortal Shells combat, however the new mechanics are enough to make it feel new and interesting. Instead of blocking using a shield or other means, you Harden your body which turns it to stone for a few seconds. This blocks a single hit but you can do this while dodging, rolling, attacking or jumping. Because Hardening has a cooldown you have to be tactical about when you use it but I found that running away and waiting for the cooldown to refresh before running back in to use it again was one way to abuse this mechanic; no enemy punished this method, not even some bosses. With the addition of this new blocking mechanic, the unique parry system and the Shell feature, it doesn’t matter if you’re new to the genre or a master you will find something new to learn. 

Shells add a lot to the game and story but my favourite part about them is the extra life it grants you. The first time you die you will get a chance to run back into your Shell and heal back up to full; because you don’t have access to any healing items that refill upon resting this is a welcomed addition. Also, you gain a small amount of health back for every successful parry you manage to pull off. You gain the Tarnished Seal (the item you use to parry) early on and it comes with the ability to heal as long as you have enough resolve metre (increased by attacking enemies) to execute your Empowered Riposte attack. This forces you to experiment with the parry unlike other games in the genre and was an element I thoroughly enjoyed mastering.

Mortal Shell doesn’t have too many enemies in each area but this gives you the opportunity to learn their attacks and when to parry instead of giving you hundreds of enemies and little time to figure it all out. I would still like to see a more diverse range of enemies as the areas become repetitive when facing the same few monsters over and over but the ones we’ve been given are fun to fight. Unfortunately I found the main bosses to be very bland with a low number of attacks and fights that tend to drag on running the risk of it becoming boring especially if you die and have to do it all again; I think they did this to make up for the lack of bosses the game offers. The bosses are always a big part of every souls-like game with the incredible challenges they offer and unique fight elements, so this came as a bit of a disappointment.

Familiarity is a new system where you become more familiar with items when you use them a certain amount of times, this can make good items better and even make initially bad items become useful. Making you experiment with items or even use them once before you know what they do is a great idea which could add a lot of depth and exploration, however I believe this mechanic failed to reach its full potential as there aren’t that many items in the game to experiment with.

Mortal Shell is not a perfect game and still requires a bit of polishing but for a game this enjoyable to be developed by such a small team I’m excited to see what they have planned for the future. The potential to make Mortal Shell into a great franchise is definitely there and I hope to see another game in the series or DLC adding diverse bosses and more items to utilise the amazing elements they have introduced with this game.

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7 out of 10
DarkZero