- Total Score - 8.5/108.5/10
Mortal Shell is more than a simple Dark Souls clone.
Developer – Cold Symmetry
Publisher – Playstack
Platforms – PC, Xbox One, PS4
Mortal Shell is a game that gamers may write off as a just Dark Souls clone. If it looks, plays, and sounds like a Souls game it must be a Souls game right? Well, yes probably but Mortal Shell has two unique mechanics that make this a perfect entry into that genre. Even if it might follow a little close on the coattails of the mainline Souls games.
You awaken in flooded ruins as a naked grey humanoid entity. Slowly you make your way through these ruins learning the basics of survival; dodge, dodge roll, normal attack, strong attack and, the first unique mechanic, harden. Harden takes the place of a block mechanic in Mortal Shell. An insanely overpowered ability to completely steel your body against an attack and take no damage. The downside to this is that you have a long cool down, which means the iffy dodge will be your only defensive option.
The second mechanic that is unique is your physical Shell. There are 4 Shells that are in the game which replace your stats or class. They have different armor set appearances to make your character look like different knights or a rogue. Each Shell also has a skill tree that you can pick and choose abilities and passives. These include reducing the cool down of the Harden ability by 25% or gain a damage boost for each kill. Each Shell is unique with these abilities so you want to find the best Shell that compliments your playing style.
One Shell has decent stamina and health, and the skill tree helps with your Harden abilities. Another Shell has a bigger health pool and very low stamina. It also allows you to sustain passives and damaging enemies. The third Shell has slightly better stats than the first, and is about generating special ability energy called Resolve. Finally, the fourth Shell has a high stamina and low health and abilities that make it easier to heal and poison enemies. Each Shell is definitely viable and you can easily complete the game with any that you choose.
To upgrade the abilities of the Shells, you have to spend Tar and Glimpses. Tar is the obligatory Souls currency that can be gathered from killing all enemies and using consumables. These are lost on death and can be regained by finding your Shell again. Glimpses are little bits of humanity that are collected as rare drops from enemies and bosses or by using consumables. Upon collecting a Glimpse, it will attach to the Shell that you collected it on and can’t be lost. I found it best to save the consumable Glimpses for the Shell that I wanted to play as the most. This allows you to jump into a Shell and unlock some skills as soon as you find it.
For weapons, there are four as well. The Hallowed Sword, a huge mace called the Smoldering Mace, a large two-handed sword called the Martyr’s Blade, and lastly two small one handed weapons you can dual wield called the Hammer and Chisel. Each weapon has different attack animations and stamina use requirements. You can upgrade each weapon with items that you find to unlock special attacks that use your Resolve. They can also be leveled up with Oil that increases the base damage of the weapon.
Early on you also unlock a parry item called the Untarnished Seal. Using this at the correct time can parry an attack. You can then follow up with a riposte that is also customizable the more you play through the game. The first ability you get, and probably the most helpful, is healing on riposte. I rarely used the Parry mechanic because it was often easier to dodge or harden instead. I found it more helpful to save my resolve on the special weapon attacks instead of healing.
The mechanics of the game were simple to learn and to be honest it was nice not having to worry about stat allocation. I could just choose my favorite Shell and weapon and it would work instantly. You don’t need to think about needing enough of a stat to use what you want. This way you can spend more time focusing on the game’s environment and make your way through the story, instead of spending time grinding out more currency to try the new equipment.
The environments of Mortal Shell are fantastic. It’s dark, grungy, and medieval. You search through catacombs, swamps, forges, frozen castle halls, and archives on top of floating ruins. The level design is well done. I never felt that checkpoints were too far or there weren’t enough shortcuts to keep me in the action. I never felt that I was constantly retreading the same areas over and over again. The game felt very streamlined and purposeful.
Another aspect of the game that I loved was the “Familiarity” system when using consumables. Every time you use a consumable, the item will get closer to providing more benefits to your character. For instance, the consumables that give Glimpses eventually give you more per use once you get max familiarity with them. There is a lute that you find in the game that when you play it several times the song becomes more fine tuned. This actually made me want to use consumable items, which I don’t typically like to do in these games and I hope it is implemented in more games.
More bosses, weapons, maybe some magic abilities would be a welcome addition to the game but I couldn’t really fault it with the price. You can also play through the game again on New Game Plus which adds some interesting changes to the game including taking damage when you harden. Finally, there is a built in no hit mode which includes you foregoing the Shells in the game which means you have barely any health but a ton of stamina.
Overall, the game’s length is about 9.5 hours I died 41 times through out my playthrough. For the game’s cost this isn’t a bad deal, although I do wish it had more content obviously. Hopefully, more content will be added to the game at a later date or they will get funding for an sequel or spiritual successor. I can’t wait to see what Cold Symmetry will come up with next!