Review | Mortal Shell
"In a time where many games of this genre are simply yet another clone, Mortal Shell appears and brings a bit of freshness to the table - just enough to make it a solid experience for this genre lovers."
by Foggy, 27-08-2020, Edited by: Jim
What the hell is now this Mortal Shell and why is it yet another Souls clone? First, let me tell you a story about a small development team called Cold Symmetry. They started 3 years ago with just 4 developers that were working on AAA titles just before this team happened. If I'm correct, now they are a team of around 15 people and they made a game that is better than some similar games made by so much bigger teams.
Mortal Shell is another souls-like fix and although it borrows many already seen mechanics and ideas, the core of the game is fun, innovative in its own way and ultimately it creates a standalone bundle suited for enjoyment.
Looks like the same loading screen with tips as you saw in the Dark Souls titles. Check the default brightness on this picture.
So, I’m a vessel without a shell? Sounds about right! The game will introduce you to what it stands for. It will harden your gut and sharpen your senses…It will…show you the tutorial and if/when you die there, it will simply teleport you where you need to start your empty-vessel journey.
The thing is you will very soon notice the unpolished product this is. Don’t get that as a party-breaker too soon, there is much good going on as well! For example, the harden mechanics are what this game is overall. When you attack, or when you see an incoming attack, you can use harden to put up a shield (well, to turn your skin to stone) and deflect otherwise fatal attack or some other non-fatal one. You can harden when you are about to attack, when you jump, when you run away…I loved this and I loved the gameplay very much! Don’t think you can spam this though, but we will touch this area a bit later.
You want that sword and you want to be as "hard" as this statue when they hit you.
When it comes to story, Mortal Shell follows the formula from its inspiration. Many lore’s are scattered around the areas and by reading those you can get the picture what and where you are. NPC’s will also help, but the interaction and the story part is very weak and short, I don’t think you will feel satisfied with this part by just playing the game without revealing all its secrets.
I love the dark, depressing atmosphere. What else can you expect from the game where death is all that surrounds you? Even if it’s not dead, that just means it will try to get you dead. Lovely! Music fits perfectly and although there are no ballads nor riffs you will memorize, there is just the thing that will fill up the gap…You can play the guitar! Well, lute, but still! When you get familiar with the instrument (using items raise the familiarity), you will start playing like a pro. Music that comes out from this segment is brilliant, avant-garde, a bit classic and it’s you sitting down and playing the tunes while enemies are trying to kill you. Or to play with you!
Jammin' with my brosky! Using items raises the familiarity, so use the lute to learn to play well!
When you “feel” the atmosphere, it’s good to have some good surroundings to meld with it. Remember that the game was made by team of 15 people? That also means it’s short, meaning 15-20 hours if you aim to reveal everything. I found this to be the perfect amount and considering the platinum requires another run, but totally different playstyle – I can say it fits perfectly.
Maybe the minus are the confusing areas. First area, Fallgrim forest, is so big and with so many branching paths that leads elsewhere and then lead back to start is confusing to say the least. 90% of the time I was lost and frustrated. But then you start memorizing the area, you remember where some path leads to. It gets better, plus the areas are well designed except maybe the one with all the stones and monuments (also the biggest area in the game).
There are treasure chests to loot, random items on the ground, enemies all over the place, inscriptions and secret etchings. I loved the exploring part, although I missed the variety of the loot you pick up. There is enough, but mostly everything is useless. Also, there is no healing items such as flasks, there are mushrooms which regenerate through the areas, but those will regenerate you for few seconds only. A bit weird, but overall, it fits.
What can bunch of bats do to king Solomon and his Hammer and a Chisel weapon? They could shit on his head for example.
So much has been said and yet nothing about the shells, right? It’s time…
Forget about the RPG system. You start as an empty shell-less vessel and in that form, you are vulnerable to everything. It means you die in 1-hit. What you want to do is to find shells, human shells! There are 4 and by finding them you inherit the class of that warrior. I will not spoil them all, but I will mention I used the Solomon’s shell, that one has above average health and average stamina.
When you use the shell, your looks change of course, but you also get the skills from it. You can upgrade and unlock those by spending Tar (in-game experience) and glimpse (random drops from enemies). Some are solid, some are not worth it. You can beat the game without any upgrades to your shell.
Many items and your shell overview - the menu is simple and you will not use it often.
Similar approach lies in terms of weapons. Also 4 to find. You can choose between some swords, hammer and hammer and a chisel. The ladder is my favorite (dual hand weapons ftw!), but the Hollowed sword (default weapon) is solid one as well. Each comes with the different combo attacks and different special skills that can be upgraded. They can also be upgraded in the terms of power, but there is a limited number of those. One secret weapon I will not reveal in this review but note that some items and corresponding weapon upgrades can be bought from the merchants.
Other upgrades involved resolve, which is something like your special meter you can use to perform special attacks (they help a lot). To sum this up: Variety is not big, but satisfaction factor is decent. Killing enemies and boss’s is fun and what pushes this game one step above average and maybe more.
Learn special attack, use it on bosses to stagger the - that is your winning formula. Don't forget to dodge!
0 game crashes on PS4 Pro. 1 glitch though – I was stuck on top of the tent and I had to restart. FPS is not constant and there are some issues, but nothing that will downgrade your experience. Graphics are average, but I had many issues with the contrast. The dark areas were really dark, I had to raise the brightness a bit. Just before the last update (1.06) every time I restarted the game, I had to re-adjust the brightness again.
The cutscenes are very cringe at moments, especially the Crucix boss in between his phases. That is something to work upon. I really do hope they will release something in the future, they tick every box for these types of games and did the job well overall.
Also, expect the challenge and learning how to play. “Git good” is what you should be doing. For those who think they are badass, try parry (which heals portion of your health btw). Parry is a bit clunky and sometimes it’s hard to anticipate can you parry the next attack or not (your equipment on the back glows red when you can’t).
You want to practice your harden skills - when you decide for a no shell playthrough, you will need to use it often.
I was talking about second playthrough. Well, you have almost a typical new game plus with many progress-transfer points, but for platinum there is something magnificent. No shell playthrough! Remember, 1 hit and you die.
This was so much fun. I even have a full guide how to survive this and how to play. I had so much fun and it was completely different than my first run where I was playing casual with collecting all the items, lore etc. Those 2 runs can take around 30 hours and for a game that is at start less than half of the full game price – I would say it’s a great deal.
This altar will grant wishes - mine was to die. Get use to this screen.
Even though this is literally a Dark Souls game, don’t expect that complexity. As I mentioned, there are predefined shells and stats, no RPG system in terms of raising your levels and adding level up points, just 4 weapons and only few boss fights.
Still, as a package, this fits better than Code Vein and The Surge for example. After Nioh and From Software games, this is very close on the list of what I find to be good and fun. Shell mechanics are a big plus and made my both runs so much different and interesting. For sure there is space for improvements, but I would highly recommend this game to everyone who loves this genre.