Ever since Dark Souls released in 2011, there has been a legion of copycat games. In fact, the popularity of this genre has led to the creation of a new name for them. Similar titles are now known as Soulslike and feature several consistent elements. These include incredibly difficult gameplay, a mysterious story that players discover themselves, along with slow and careful gameplay. Mortal Shell is the latest such example of this trend.
Developer Cold Symmetry has not even tried to hide the fact that Mortal Shell is heavily inspired by Dark Souls. But that means that the title has a lot to live up to. You cannot make such remarks without inviting comparisons from critics and players. Fortunately, Mortal Shell gets more right than it does wrong. But that doesn’t mean that it is quite up to the standard of FromSoftware’s own games.
What players will immediately discover when playing Mortal Shell is that there is not much of a story. At least, there isn’t a story in the traditional sense. You simply crawl out from what looks like a swamp and emerge into the world. From the opening moments, you’ll get no real idea of who you are and what your purpose is. Instead, Mortal Shell simply throws you into the action straight away and doesn’t waste time explaining these types of details. The few clues that are revealed come from remarks by NPCs or item descriptions.
The general idea, though, is that you are a phantom-like being known as a Foundling. In order to interact with the word, this Foundling has to possess the bodies of fallen warriors. These corpses become the shells for your spirit, allowing you to advance. But the narrative really doesn’t go anywhere exciting. The lore is largely left unexplored with just a few tidbits for you to discover. While Dark Souls and other Soulslike games take a similar approach, Mortal Shell takes it a bit too far. There is simply not enough in the story to keep you interested in the plot.
However, it is not the story that Mortal Shells is trying to impress with. Rather it is the gameplay that takes the center stage. If you have ever played a Dark Souls game then the gameplay in this title will seem awfully familiar. You have just two forms of attack, heavy and light offensive moves. These can be strung together to create rudimentary combos. Yet, the focus is never on how you can attack your enemies but rather on how to avoid damage. Unlike Dark Souls, you don’t do this by dodging or blocking. Instead, you can harden at any time, becoming invulnerable to all damage. It’s a nice mechanic and works well.
Outside of the main combat, Mortal Shell does have some unique features. The main one is the distinctive class system. Players can find a total of four different shells to use throughout the game. Each shell has unique characteristics that change the amount of health, stamina, and resolve available. These are traits that cannot be upgraded like others using collected tar. This effectively forces you to choose a shell that fits your playstyle. The only downside is that you have to find the shells first before switching to them, meaning any upgrades you’ve made are lost. It puts you off switching up, even if the shell is a better fit for your playstyle.
On the other hand, the boss fights work fantastically. Despite the fact that there are only a few spread throughout the campaign, each is a joy to get through. You should find plenty of fun in tackling these tough enemies. Yet, none of them are impossible to beat as long as you take your time. The same can be said of the weapons, which offer great variety even though there are only four varieties.
In terms of presentation, Mortal Shell pulls off its aesthetic pretty well. While not exceptional, it does exactly what it intends to in a relatively great manner. Considering how small the download is, at just a few gigabytes, it has a surprising amount of quality. It obviously doesn’t quite match what AAA titles can attain but it still looks great throughout. The art style that the developers have gone for suits the action perfectly, giving off an otherworldly feeling. This works well when combined with the mysterious narrative.
Meanwhile, the sound design is also pretty good. Mortal Shell is definitely worth playing with a decent sound system or headphones. That’s because you’ll otherwise miss out on a lot of audio detail. The game is constantly making the world seem like a living environment. The wind blows through trees and creaks can be heard echoing in the distance. The sound can even help with gameplay, giving you an indication of where enemies are hiding in the darkness.
There are some technical issues and visual glitches in Mortal Shell but nothing that ruins the overall experience. For the most part, it remains stable with very few bugs or stutters. That’s a big plus because this type of game is notorious for having these types of issues. Mortal Shell effectively manages to avoid them throughout the entire 10 or so hours of the campaign.
Mortal Shell certainly has its shortcomings. It is short of polish in some areas and doesn’t feature all of the features you’d expect from a Soulslike experience. But that is to be expected from a title created by a team of 15 people.
What Mortal Shell does well is separating itself from other games in the genre. Although it takes plenty of inspiration from Dark Souls, Mortal Shell contains plenty of distinct elements. By not just replicating what has come before, Mortal Shell sets itself apart from the crowd. Thanks to the slightly easier difficulty, it is also a great introduction to the genre for new players. It is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows through the Epic Games Store.