Published on August 31st, 2020 | by Abdul Saad
Mortal Shell PS4 Review
Summary: Regardless of all its faults, I believe Mortal Shell is a solid game. It transcends itself from being another Dark Souls imitation to an excellent game based on true inspiration.
The Souls genre has been a prevalent part of the industry for quite some time now. Since the release of FromSoftware’s groundbreaking game Darks Souls, a lot of games have come out of the woodwork trying to replicate this formula to varying degrees of success. However, Cold Symmetry’s Mortal shell seems to have successfully captured the essence of Dark Souls, unlike any other Souls-like I’ve played.
In Mortal Shell, players start as a shell-less hollow spirit woken into a foggy, mysterious world where they’ll quickly learn the basics of the game such as running attacks, heavy attacks, light attacks, and a core mechanic of the game, Hardening. This is the game’s supplementary mechanic for blocking incoming attacks where players will be temporarily frozen in a stone-like state. To end the tutorial, players will then have to face a mini-boss called Hadern, who will test all the moves you’ve learned so far. You’ll will need to effectively use Hardening while managing your stamina bar to have a chance at defeating him.
Like most Souls’ tutorial bosses, victory is optional as, without a shell, players will be at a notable disadvantage and will only have one chance at defeating him. However, you will be rewarded with a golden trophy for downing him nonetheless. I was among those successful in defeating him in the tutorial, and it granted me a level of accomplishment previously only seen in FromSoftware’s titles.
After finishing the tutorial, players will then find themselves in the shattered world of Fallgrim, a gloomy, swampy, and uninviting area reminiscent of the early levels of Darks Souls. This is where players will encounter all four shells the game has to offer. The first of which is Harros, an all-rounder shell with a balanced amount of health and stamina. Then there’s Eredrim, a shell with a significant amount of health and defense but with minimal stamina. Tiel, a highly mobile shell with a unique shadow dodge and high stamina but low health and defense, and Solomon, who’s similar to Harros but with low stamina.
All these shells felt unique, akin to character classes that can be used in different kinds of situations. Shells are fallen warriors in battle, and players will learn their history as they upgrade them using two of the game’s items Tar and Glimpses. Tar is gained all around the world in item form or by killing foes and is lost upon death, whereas Glimpses are rarer and are randomly dropped by enemies or found as items all around the world. They aren’t lost upon death, but are fused to each shell you used to acquire them.
I found it quite irritating that two items are needed to upgrade shells right from the get-go as it makes the process unnecessarily tedious. Thankfully, the game makes it easier by making these shells quite balanced at the start so you won’t be at a disadvantage as a beginner, and you’ll be free to choose whatever shell is most comfortable for you.
Weapons basically follow the same pattern. At the start, Players will make use of the Hollowed Sword gained after completing the tutorial. Later on, however, more weapons can be acquired from finding statues around the world where you’ll have to challenge Hadern multiple times for ownership of these weapons. I enjoyed this system as it makes acquiring weapons an event and accomplishment, unlike in many other games. These weapons can then be upgraded at a workbench by finding special upgrade items hidden around the world.
Combat also gets more fleshed out. As players progress throughout the game, new mechanics are introduced, such as parrying, ripostes, and a “resolve” meter, which players can fill by defeating enemies and getting successful parries. Fill up enough resolve bars, and you’ll be able to execute a special attack with your weapon.
In terms of narrative motivation, players are tasked with bringing three glands back to the chained and weakened Dark Father. These glands can be obtained by traveling to three distinct locations in the game and defeating the bosses stationed there. Much like Dark souls, lore is also provided to players through Item descriptions, as well as Shell upgrades, and NPC dialogue. Though there aren’t nearly as many NPCs in the game as you’d expect, so you’ll have to put things together with the little dialogue you get from them.
There’s a lot of things Mortal Shell does well. First is its interesting character, enemy, and environmental designs that feel highly unique from any other game I’ve ever played. The visuals are also surprisingly clean and highly detailed for a game of its size. The game’s shell mechanic also does an excellent job of differentiating the game from other Souls-likes.
However, there are also some cons to Mortal shell. The game’s starting area, Fallgrim, can be highly disorienting and confusing to new players especially. I got lost the first time around and had a hard time navigating back to my initial position. While I understand this is a game for the dedicated and devoted, it can still easily be a deterring factor for the game.
Another annoying part of the game is its item system, where players will be unaware of what an item does until they use it the first time or even multiple times. While this adds some weird realism to the game, it’s still a very off-putting mechanic, especially in risky situations. Other than that, the game is also quite short; this isn’t much of a con than it is an understandable fact. So players looking for a long adventure won’t find one here.
Regardless of all its faults, I still believe Mortal Shell is a solid game. It transcends itself from being another Dark Souls imitation to an excellent game based on true inspiration. This is all the more impressive once you realize that a small studio of fifteen people developed a game with such high quality. Mortal shell is a remarkable love letter to FromSoftware’s Staple series, and its asking price of $29.99 is just an added reason for why Souls fans especially should be picking up this game.