A game clearly derived from the Dark Souls series: will it be able to hit the mark?
Genre: Action, RPG
Developer: Cold Symmetry
Release Date: 18 Aug, 2020
Mortal Shell is a souls-like title that, unlike other similar games, doesn’t even try to take its distance to the Dark Souls series. It instead accepts it and embraces it, to the point that, to a non-expert eye, it could be mistaken for one of the three famous titles. But this can be overlooked because of its price, which sits a 29.99€, and the fact that the game was made by a rather small team of 15 people. Being able to fight against such a competition is quite a feat for such a small group: will have they succeeded?
Lost and Found
One of the biggest gameplay twists that Mortal Shell introduces are, as the name suggests, the shells. These are bodies of fallen warriors that you, as the Foundling, an enigmatic and alien-ish looking creatures, can bring to an un-death state by inhabiting them. Each one of these shells has a different past, brings up different visions (the game’s lore is partially explained through them) and has not only different amounts of HPs and stamina, but also different abilities, which can be improved over time by spending tar and visions. The possibility to switch from one shell to the other in real-time, even during fights, allows a great dynamism and the possibility to adapt to fights where one shell might struggle a little bit.
On the weapon side, you’ll have to forget the drop system of the Souls series, that is here non-existent. Instead, there are a restricted number of weapons that can be found scattered around the map and, instead of swapping a sword in favour of a stronger one, you’ll have to rely on different items that allow to upgrade them. While a lower number of weapons should imply a greater balance among them, I found some to be too heavy and cumbersome (but maybe that just me, the one light and agile style player).
Combat in Mortal Shell is deeply inspired, like the rest of the game, by the Souls series, but with two major twists. Unlike in Dark Souls, in fact, players don’t have a flask at their disposal to regain health: instead, they have to make use of the different items scattered around the world, like Wealthcaps (mushrooms that greatly increase regeneration), or parry using a special sigil. This sigil allows players to consume resolve and absorb a health chunk from the enemy they successfully parried. This might seem very difficult at first, as the parry time window is tiny and enemy attacks are often made to throw you off time, but as you progress in the game and acquire more confidence, parrying becomes an incredibly useful feature.
The second big twist, in combat, is the possibility to harden your character: this means that your shell immobilizes for a couple of seconds, becoming immune to damage and staggering the enemies that hit you in the time frame. This mechanic is incredibly dynamic and can be used even during an attack or a dodge.
A Strange and Twisted World
One of the worst problems of Mortal Shell is undeniably its level design: there is a subtle difference between complex and confusing and, unfortunately, this title is the latter. Exploring the different locations is at first a tedious job, as even the very first map tends to be unnecessarily intricate. This, accompanied by the numerous enemy camps and an extremely cryptic lore, disadvantages exploration and, after some time, the bore of backtracking starts to kick in.
Technical Highs… and Lows
Mortal Shell’s experience isn’t the cleanest one I’ve ever had, but it’s also not completely bad. Besides a few bugs, the most prominent problem here is the camera and targeting system, which sometimes just doesn’t work when swapping from one enemy to the other. It’s a problem that similar titles have too, sure, but having to deal with it each time is pretty annoying. Another strange behaviour is the one of some enemies: sometimes, in order to react to your presence, stand up and attack with impossibly high speeds. We’re talking about 2x or even 3x their normal animation speed here, which can be quite annoying if you get hit unexpectedly.
For my final verdict, I’m honestly torn between a SAVE and a SAVE FOR LATER. Giving it some thought, I believe a SAVE is more appropriate, especially when considering the asking price of 29.99€ when most of the titles in this genre started from a way higher price point. Mortal Shell is a good game plagued by some poor design choices, especially when it comes to worldbuilding. Luckily, there are also some good ideas to counterweight the bad ones: if you’re a fan of the Souls series, you should give this a go.