Mortal Shell, the new dark action-RPG and debut title from developer Cold Symmetry, is the latest entry in the Souls-like genre. While other games that take inspiration from From Software’s influential series try to change up the formula by varying the setting, Mortal Shell sticks pretty close to the Souls aesthetic.
The sparse cryptic narrative, the medieval dark fantasy setting and even the way your character looks and sounds while moving instantly feels familiar. When it comes to actually playing the game though, Mortal Shell has a number of new tricks up its sleeve and that makes it worthy of your attention.
If you enjoy the Souls series and hardcore action-RPGs, here are five reasons why you shouldn’t sleep on Mortal Shell.
Combat feels just right
One of the main reasons the Souls series (and it’s other offshoots) have been so successful is the feel of the combat, and Mortal Shell is one of the few games that manages to capture that weighty, tactile feeling of Souls combat. Mortal Shell’s combat system feels responsive and hits have the oomph you’d expect from a game like this. Swinging a giant two-handed sword around feels appropriately hefty, with crunchy sounds and animations that convey a sense of weight. Other actions like dodging, rolling and parrying enemy attacks also feel great. There’s a certain rhythm to Mortal Shell’s combat with its new mechanics and weapons that encourage you to master their move sets, much like the Souls series.
Unlike a traditional action-RPG, Mortal Shell doesn’t have a gear system or even stat leveling. Instead, your character has the ability to inhabit “shells” that are found within the game’s world. Think of these as different character classes. There are four different shells to be found, each with its own base stats, unlockable skills and health/stamina values, as well as some background lore. Between the four shells, you’ll find almost every melee action archetype: the tank that can take loads of punishment, the agile rogue-ish one, the scholar with more Resolve (the resource for special attacks, and more), and the balanced jack-of-all-trades with equally distributed stats – which is the one you start with. Each of the four shells feels different to play and comes with skills that favour a certain play style Take too much damage and your true form gets knocked out of the current shell, at which point you have one chance to get back into it and regain full health, essentially giving you a second wind, much like Sekiro’s resurrection mechanic.
Get hard or die trying
Lewd puns aside, hardening is the biggest game-changer when it comes to Mortal Shell’s combat. Your character has the ability to harden to an impervious stone form, making you immune to a single enemy attack. Hardening not only replaces the block function found in most similar games, but it also gives you an edge in combat, as it can be used at almost any time, even in the middle of an attack animation. This leads to many different possibilities and is as much as an offensive tool as it is a defensive one. Knowing when to harden during intense fights is the key to managing most of Mortal Shell’s encounters. It became my go-to strategy for most fights throughout the game. Not to mention the sounds and visuals that accompany hardening are quite satisfying.
A brutal inter-connected world
Mortal Shell is a fairly open-ended game in terms of its structure and progression. Each of its main dungeons can be tackled in any order. But this also means that it’s completely possible for a player to wander into the hardest one first. The dungeons themselves are well designed, with different themes and the usual Souls-like shortcuts and secrets to find. A large forest/swamp area connects the different dungeons with the game’s hub area at its centre. The world at first seems daunting to navigate as there’s no map and is littered with enemies. But spend some time exploring and you’ll begin to notice cleverly placed landmarks and signs that point you towards your main destinations. I personally loved some of the gameplay segments that take place immediately after finishing a dungeon, which I don’t want to spoil.
Quality over quantity
With its four shells and four weapons (and an optional ranged one) your options may seem a bit limited, especially for those who are used to the endless build variety in similar games, but it’s quite deliberate and gives Mortal Shell its own identity. I found this aspect of the game quite refreshing as every shell and every weapon feels important. It also helps that, overall, Mortal Shell is a pretty focused experience; quality over quantity seems to be the devs’ mantra. My first playthrough took somewhere between 10 to 12 hours and it was a fairly balanced experience in terms of difficulty. This may seem less, especially since Souls-like games typically fall in the 20-40 hour range. But it’s clear that Code Symmetry wanted to create a tighter, more focused experience instead of a needlessly long one. Given its price point and quality, this is completely fair. There’s also a New Game+ mode, which gives you an opportunity to try different shells and weapons since you can only fully upgrade a few in a single playthrough.
I really enjoyed my time with Mortal Shell and I’m currently working through its New Game+ mode with a different shell and weapon. With its weighty combat, tense exploration and beautiful visuals, Mortal Shell feels like a condensed package of everything I love about the Souls games. I would definitely place it among the best Souls-like games (I’ve played almost all) and it’s an excellent debut for Cold Symmetry and a game absolutely worth checking out if you love the genre.