Mortal Shell Review – This One’s for the Masochists

    Title: Mortal Shell
    Developer: Cold Symmetry
    Release Date: August 18, 2020
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Playstack
    Genre: Action

We’ve seen Souls clones time and time again. Typically, those who love the genre find something they like about most of them, but nothing ever really comes close to the punishingly dark and skill-based gameplay that the series provides. However, the Cold Symmetry-developed Mortal Shell takes what we love about the Souls series and adds so much more in terms of compelling gameplay, systems, and lore.

Mortal Shell doesn’t really let you know what’s going on with the narrative. You find yourself as a wandering inhabitant of a nightmarish world, but you have the ability to possess fallen warriors and take advantage of their skills. The game seems to want you to hold onto doubt about your actions because you never really know if you’re doing the right thing. Pieces of the knowledge are slowly provided the further you get, and your actions directly affect the world around you.

From the opening scenes of Mortal Shell, I don’t think I have ever felt more lost in a video game. There are hints provided, but don’t expect any handouts to get accustomed to the combat and navigating the world. This will be a running theme throughout the game because I never really knew where I was going, and yet, I always got to where I needed to be.

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It wasn’t always easy, but after a few hours within this world, you begin to understand it more and more. No, I was never comfortable, and I think that’s what the developers wanted, but I did feel like I had a place in the setting. There’s an uneasiness that you have during each moment of this game, and then you find your heart racing as you hear the rumblings of a giant beast coming from the end of the hall.

You can do your best to prepare, but the excitement and adrenaline rush that this game causes is nearly constant. Aside from the frustration of suffering many deaths, I was always at the edge of my seat. My fingers began to glide across the controller as I dodged and parried deadly attacks as if were muscle memory. This is what Mortal Shell truly does best.

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To get through the challenge of surviving Mortal Shell, the developers are pretty gracious at the tools they provide players. In battles, players will need to pay attention to their stamina meter as they dodge and attack. However, it’s also possible to parry attacks, which results in a satisfying blow to your opponent.

This all may seem like standard fare when it comes to these types of games, but Mortal Shell also has an Ace up its sleeve with the ability to harden. This defensive maneuver allows players to pretty much block an incoming attack almost instantly. It is going to be your best friend throughout the game and something that should be taken into any strategy.

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Aside from that, the shells that players can access are each unique and provide a different way to approach encounters. Not only does their stamina vary, but their passive abilities and movesets also change. It honestly comes down to how you wish to play, the game won’t force you to chose a specific shell, but this makes each experience different.

The Shell’s abilities are purchased using Tar and Glimpses. Tar is received from fallen enemies, while Glimpses are a little harder to come by. The passive abilities are different for each Shell and complement the things they specialize in. I appreciated the thought that went into some of these abilities as it made choosing what to upgrade tough.

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Customization goes a bit further when trying to decide which weapons to use. However, Mortal Shell just doesn’t give you weapons, no, you have to fight a challenging enemy who then gives you their weapon. These fights are pretty tough, but taking your time with them is key to surviving their deadly blows.

Weapons can also be enhanced using materials and other items gained. You can even learn new attacks alongside making your weapon stronger. You’re free to focus on upgrading individual weapons at your own discretion, which made the entire playthrough feel unique to me. Similar to some campaigns of Dungeons & Dragons, I was carving out my own quest here and every action I made provided new knowledge for the task at hand.

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Now, similar to Souls games, you can expect to die a lot. So when it comes to Mortal Shell, this idea isn’t any different. However, you have a few helpful systems here. For one, dying only knocks you out of your Shell, but you are allowed to reenter and gain a full health bar. Also, if you died somewhere before, touching your last death will also regain your health. This will enable you to make some boss battles easier since you can view this system as extra lives.

The boss battles are exciting as you encounter them in various parts of the game’s world. They will frustrate you, and they will most likely kill you, but they are not unbeatable. It seems like Mortal Shell offers a lot in the form of giving you time to understand enemy attack patterns, and that appears in the boss encounters as well. This ended up making me wish that the bosses weren’t as repetitive and easy to read. Still, every skill earned comes into play during these fights making for some genuinely great moments of gaming.

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Like the world itself, the items of Mortal Shell play their own role in your discovery of the world. It’s not told to you what some items do before you use them, which forces you to roll the dice in hopes that the outcome is something you want. However, after the first use, you gain familiarity with the items to get the most out of it. This ultimately adds to the immersion of the game, and I ended up really liking it.

Mortal Shell is truly a beautiful game with some great environments to explore and get lost in. The character animations in battle have weight to them as you make your way through the deadly paths. While I liked most of the enemies I encountered, I did feel like they were reused a bit too much. There were times where I would just walk into a room, and five of the same enemy would appear to fight.

What I think I liked more about the entire experience overall is how, when it was over, I didn’t want it to be over. I thought back to all the deaths and rage quits that I went through, but I was also reminded of things that I missed, which had me eager to jump back in.

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Mortal Shell takes what you’d expect from Souls-clones and adds heaps of creativity along with unique systems and features that make it a whole new experience. Each moment of gameplay is an adrenaline rush as you progress further in the nightmare. There may be a few moments of confusion, but this one’s for the masochists out there who are looking for something to really immerse themselves in and discover for themselves.

Score:
/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Azario Lopez

Hanging out max, relaxing all cool.