Due to player demand, Mortal Shell went into full open beta and the team, has not disappointed, even with bugs aside. Here are our thoughts on the open beta that ends tomorrow.
Recently, I’ve not had the chance to game much. I’ve been caring for an elderly dog who has had a plethora of health issues arise after her battle with cancer, which, unfortunately, I learned is still there, but has moved elsewhere in her body. I also, however, while letting her rest – found time to play the Mortal Shell beta, which was originally intended to be for lucky fans who received some codes via email.
As a Soulsborne fan, I love a good challenge. I’m still admittedly getting my ass handed to me by Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, having only recently made extensive progress with my ongoing battle against Genichiro Ashina. It’s been an impressive experience and one that, in many ways, I’m glad I’m taking my time with, even if I’ve struggled in a multitude of different ways than before.
Now, with Mortal Shell, I’ve been curious to see what indie team Cold Symmetry has had to offer. Every game within the Soulsborne genre comes with its own unique challenges, each one trying to either copy, distance, or somehow embrace the very games that inspire them. Very few have succeeded where many others have been met with technical or gameplay challenges, which didn’t work out for the better.
“The first time I stepped into the game, I opted to use an Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller (Gen 1), in order to really get a feel for the game.”
At first glance, especially upon booting up the game, you’ll notice that Mortal Shell isn’t ashamed of its Dark Souls inspirations. It’s very clear that this game is a love poem to that of which it is inspired by and just how far the team is going to ensure that the Dark Souls vibe is there, but what isn’t clear: Just how different this game actually is in a lot of small, but well-designed ways.
The first time I stepped into the game, I opted to use an Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller (Gen 1), in order to really get a feel for the game. After all, I like my Soulsborne titles with a controller more than I do with a mouse and keyboard. Skipping through the menu’s is simple, I decided on our current PC build (listed below), that I would hit the game on max, turn on my GPU/CPU monitoring, and go to town in order to test the optimization of the game along the way.
Much like the first time I stepped into the Tower Knight Archstone in Demon’s Souls, I was greeted with a dark, gritty, and abysmal world, one where life is hopeless and your chances of survival are instantly measured by your ability to have both situational awareness and the will to explore. Instantly, in the tutorial, it felt astonishing to see a studio that isn’t FromSoftware that understood the key elements to a game like this, the very elements that have kept fans craving more of the genre altogether.
“Abilities, however, in this demo were locked, making it so we could only try out the more basic functions of the game and meeting this IPs variant of the “Maiden in Black”‘
Those key principles are engrained within the very experience that I was given, all the Soulsborne conventions would have worked, but many were tossed out, giving Mortal Shell an identity of its own. You won’t trek through a character creation editor, you won’t pick your stats, your gear is set-in-stone based on the Shell you have, and each one is a class of its own, which takes the need for itemization and brings it to an entirely different level.
Now, you only have to tip-toe around, watching for traps that are cleverly placed on the ground about you, each as foreboding as the last. You are a Foundling, one that inhabits bodies of four different, long-since-dead warriors who lay in slumber for one such as the character we control. To some, this sounds simplified, easier, but let me tell you: This, while a streamlined experience, is much harder than its predecessors.
The tutorial is quick, a baseline for the basics you need to know, allowing you to learn the stamina meter, the “resolve” meter, as well as your ability to use the “Hardening” of your shell to block a single oncoming attack. You’ll even be given a chance to go through each of the functions themselves. Abilities, however, in this demo were locked, making it so we could only try out the more basic functions of the game and meeting this IPs variant of the “Maiden in Black”.
“The combat system is completely unique allowing the experience to feel rather intricate in design and it leaves the game open for high-school players to have their head punched in a good time or three.”
As we only get to test out both the Knight and a weaker Rogue-like Shell, our experience, to say the least was basic, allowing us to forage around the first area or so of the game, taking on the mini-boss hidden within, some of the heavier-hitting mid-range difficulty enemies before turning the dial and blasting us with everything the game has to offer, including labyrinthine-like catacombs with enemies who call it home.
While it does seem that at any given moment you can coat yourself in stone, freezing in mid-motion to stop enemy attacks, Hardening does have a small cooldown period, requiring you to know when to use it, when to use your parries and when to dodge. The combat system is completely unique allowing the experience to feel rather intricate in design and it leaves the game open for high-school players to have their head punched in a good time or three.
While many of the old high-risk-high-reward strategies do work, you don’t have the ability to do so all the time and it will come back to do more harm than good. Cold Symmetry has made sure that Mortal Shell works on both fronts, forcing players to learn the game inside and out, making sure you know how to use each and every ability to the best of your capabilities and Hardening/Parry systems are a boon for those who struggle with being good at dodging or maneuvering of any kind.
“While the early demo was warm-up encounters, the rest was just as unforgiving, you’ll work hard in order to gain what you lost in order to proceed without feeling all is lost.”
Second chances, while available, are not emphasized for the faint of heart. You will die, you will die a lot, and it’s almost impossible not to expect it. Combat, as stated, is unforgiving, unlike Dark Souls, you will find very few safe havens of any kind. They are few and far between, making your dangerous treks ones that need to be well thought out, as the world design itself, is almost as lethal as those that call it home.
If you get knocked out of your shell by a trap and have to reacquire it through the use of an idol or through simply running to it, you’ll find your second chance is gone, you can’t get knocked out again. That’s when the true Souls-like fashion kicks in, making you reacquire everything you lost, including your Tar (Souls/Blood Echoes, etc).
The world has been crafted so that even veterans will have a chance, making the world design absolutely one of the best there is, almost surpassing that of what Dark Souls had when it first released all those years ago. While the early demo was warm-up encounters, the rest was just as unforgiving, you’ll work hard in order to gain what you lost in order to proceed without feeling all is lost.
“Mortal Shell isn’t shy about what it wants to do, which is to put it simply: Kill you.”
Poisons, bear traps, a greater emphasis on dodging, deflecting/parrying attacks and hardening all occur within the games very first area, making it only known that it will grow with time. When you first get the Warrior/Knight shell, you’ll find you have six charges of the ability to parry once you build up each of the resolve gauges. You’ll even find that the warrior has significantly more than the rogue who has two but has an insanely higher stamina meter and smaller health bar, making it so players will have to dodge, harden, and parry when they can.
As you work your way into the second area, something that resembles the Stonefang Tunnels in Demon’s Souls combined with the Poison Village from Dark Souls, you’ll find that Mortal Shell isn’t shy about what it wants to do, which is to put it simply: Kill you. The areas are tough, each gnarled and Clive Barker-esque monstrosity wants to kill you, some using their body parts as weapons as they die, giving you only a hair of a second to react before you are infected with poison or others begin to dance about, swirling in a frenzied amount of attacks, forcing you to use your resolve and hardening as much as you can.
“Mortal Shell is a game about discovery, challenge, and putting your skills to the test.”
It’s a game about patience, knowledge, resourcefulness, and the ability to learn as you go, using multiple tactics to overcome the obstacles you will face. Rarely, however, will you ever find yourself ambushed if you take your time. This is where Mortal Shell differs from its spiritual precessors. If you take your time, pull a single enemy at a time, you’ll find yourself working through the game quickly without being overwhelmed and taken out.
However, if you rush, that’s where things will spiral out of control. You will find that you will get a helping hand from time to time, each of the pieces falling into place in forms of small aids, discovered items, etc. Just don’t expect items to pay off immediately or their effects to be known. Mortal Shell is a game about discovery, challenge, and putting your skills to the test. You will need to use items to become familiar with them, learning what they do, why they do it, and the benefits of using them are.
Bosses follow suit in many ways. You won’t find that you are shoved into tight little areas where enemies will begin to flood in if you aren’t cautious enough. Much like the other games, arenas are you and the enemy, no obstacles between you or them, no special little areas that will kill you – as far as we know – if you don’t pay attention. Each boss is different in what they do, each one requiring a different approach in order to overcome their challenge.
“Mortal Shell is still a little way out from launch, which gives Cold Symmetry plenty of time for some final bug squashing to be had.”
Careful experimentation is suggested, allowing you to take your time to learn what each of the shells actually does, learning what their capabilities are and how to excel with them in and out of combat. Each Shell, however, is a puzzle to the greater story, each one adding to the depth that Cold Symmetry has already let us experience through their ongoing open beta that’s available until July 10th, 2020, exclusively through the Epic Games Store.
Don’t expect it to be perfect though. We were hit with multiple crashes, errors, and other little hitches while playing the game. While this is simply a technical test of sorts, Mortal Shell is still a little way out from launch, which gives Cold Symmetry plenty of time for some final bug squashing to be had.
We still suggest you give it a chance as the game is absolutely gorgeous, it is hard, and it is rather punishing, but fun for those looking for a challenge.
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native video game reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook where he interacts with his followers quite a bit!