Mortal Shell from Cold Symmetry does not disappoint in offering one of the hardest challenges to date as well as some of the most unique gameplay elements in the action-RPG genre. This is not a Soulsborne you were hoping for, but rather, something better.
+Absolutely stunning graphics and audio elements
+Gameplay is challenging and will push you to your limits
+A story that will keep you going as each shell offers its own experience
+Gearing works quite differently than any other Soulsborne title
-Performance hiccups happen, but not frequently, which isn’t too bad
I’ve been on a bit of a binge lately. Between an internet outage and a want to play singleplayer titles, a bunch of Kandagawa Jet Girls, and Ys: Memories of Celceta, I’ve been getting absolutely demolished by Mortal Shell, a brutal re-imagining of the Soulsborne genre. I’m shameless about my love for brutally difficult games as I bit the bullet and snagged a copy of Hellpoint for review just the other day.
Unlike the other titles, my time in Mortal Shell has been challenging, soul-shattering, and at times, demoralizing. All the reasons why? I failed, failed, and failed some more. Mortal Shell was unabashed that my time trekking through the fantasy world of Fallgrim and dying was my very own fault.
Mortal Shell is brutal, challenging, and a lot less forgiving than From Software’s Dark Souls franchise
Lately, I’ve also spent quite a bit of time with Dark Souls: Remastered on my Nintendo Switch, a title I didn’t think would still be getting framerate fixes and some modest improvements to it long after its Switch release. The transition from Hellpoint and Dark Souls to Mortal Shell is drastically different.
I’m not given my own set of armor to choose from. I don’t have a weapon loadout to choose from either. This game tears that down, giving you four shells to choose from, but only one to unlock immediately at the start. The others have to be found, each hidden in their very own areas, and often defended by difficult foes.
To put it short: This is a game that screams, “I CHALLENGE YOU TO A DUEL,” and then kicks your face in before the duel even begins. For me, I openly admit, that Mortal Shell is easily one of my most beloved games in this genre just for the fact it has the balls to do what others haven’t. It has changed up the very mechanics we’ve come to know and love since the release of Demon’s Souls. It cranks that dial from a 10 to a 24, only to laugh as it gets even tougher.
Weapons must be found as well, the world around you also alters over time, making it tougher and loot harder to find unless you’re willing to brave the lethal wilds that await you. You might be wondering: How is it actually harder? Well, let’s actually talk about that in-depth here.
Fallgrim is deadly as it is beautiful, which is amazing, and it makes you work your way to every valuable commodity you will find
Fallgrim, whether you love it or hate it, is beautiful. It’s dark, it’s grim, and those who prowl the lands are just as lethal as the terrain itself. You’ll find yourself placed in the role of a nameless, skeletal, and otherworldly being. The story surrounding it is rather mysterious, leaving room for players to wonder what is exactly happening that caused you to come there.
Leaving the abyssal plain, you immediately take control of one of the four Shell’s, giving you the ability to traverse the lands about you, trekking through the swamps, caves, frigid underground caverns, and otherworldly temples. As you do explore each of these temples, you’ll find that they are entire “worlds” of their own. Each one serves as a haven for a boss’s shrine, which is where you’ll find most of your challenges at.
Each shrine, temple, or whatever you wish to call it, will come with their own challenges. Often they are in the shape of new and challenging enemies. Each one comes with their own skills, attack patterns, and methodology of being killed.
It’s a challenge you may not have been expecting, but it’s certainly one that is there, which requires attention to detail to be made as well as players taking on the task of watching their surroundings.
Bosses themselves are just as lethal as the rest. Some of them, if not all, come in two phases, making them quite the challenge when you begin to clear out their shrines. Bosses won’t always be the hardest thing you face. Some will come in as mini-bosses, which are still one-on-one affairs, making it so you won’t have to worry about any additional enemies during your encounters.
You’ll find some change entirely from their first phase, engulfing themselves in all-new powers, strengths they didn’t have previously, which will push you into re-learning their mechanics the second time around. Once defeated, you get to collect their sacred glands, which gives a special giant trapped in the tower, the ability to give you a brand-new power.
Being empowered in Mortal Shell is extremely useful and is the handicap you may need as the difficulty only increases from there-on-out
Each of these powers is extremely useful and help you move through the game with a bit more ease when you aren’t just smashing through enemies with a staff you can ignite into flames, burning them asunder before moving to a ballista-like bow or perhaps just giving them death by a thousand papercuts with your daggers.
Outside of that, combat is what you would expect. This is where the likenesses between Dark Souls and Mortal Shell become a bit more closely involved with one another. Each Shell is a different play style. Eredrim, my Shell of choice, was a Paladin-type crusader who specialized in combat itself, allowing him to take on enemies longer than the rest who can increase his damage with each enemy slain.
You also have Solomon The Scholar, one who balances his damage output by generating resolve, allowing you to perform special moves as well as parries a bit quicker than Eredrim. It’s an interesting aspect as each Shell comes with entirely different styles of gameplay. You’ll even find that death isn’t necessarily the last resort you have as you can get knocked out of your shell, giving you a chance to get it back or take on enemies in your semi-helpless state.
Trust me when I say this: There are players already aiming for speed runs in a Shell-less state and trust me, their death without a shell is final. You’ll be sent to the last place you decided to “Sip from the Tar”. Your way of leveling up, gaining new abilities for each Shell, and carrying on from there.
One of the key differences from Dark Souls also comes in the form of the ability “Harden’, which is your way of deflecting damage and moving into an attack soon as you are done. They are great for performing feint attacks, giving you time to prepare to swing for the fences and take your enemy out, especially if you only have a sliver of health remaining.
Even if that’s the case, it also allows you to take a second to try and parry, giving you a chance to knock an enemy’s attack back and hitting them for a tremendous amount of damage while healing yourself up a bit. Just remember: Parry requires Resolve, as do some of your combat capabilities depending on the Shell you have.
Mortal Shell’s overall design is dark, it’s beautiful and the story is stronger than you might expect
Most of this review, I’ve discussed the combat, which to be honest, is almost identical to Dark Souls in more way than one. It’s something I hate doing: Comparing games of a similar genre together, but it’s hard not to. You can see where the team absolutely loves these games and they wanted to make their own name for themselves in the genre.
One thing I’ve failed to discuss is the actual story, which honestly, is pretty damn good. Each character, without going into spoilers, comes with their own story, which builds up every time you visit Sester Genessa (this games Lady in Black) and her helping power you up for your adventure through Fallgrim’s insanely deadly lands.
The too long didn’t read explanation for her: She’s your guiding light through your dark fantasy nightmare. She will aid you through your entire story, helping you build each of your Shell’s up to the greatest of their capabilities and allowing you to go through the story as much as you can during each of your sessions.
I’ll admit: This is the first Soulsborne game I’ve actually cared about the story as much as I have. Eredrim’s story was harrowing and borderline heartbreaking by the time the final sentence ran. It was dark, but it was well designed, giving him a sense of depth I didn’t get with my own character in any of the Soulsborne titles I’ve played to date outside of Sekiro, which in many ways, doesn’t actually feel like a Soulsborne title, but rather, the long-awaited successor to Tenchu.
The story itself isn’t just embodied by Sester Genessa either, but the entire world around you. You will find documents, runestones, and lore pieces scattered around the world showing just how dark and gloomy Fallgrim actually is. It ushers in one of the best designs to date, giving us a solid design coupled with astonishing graphics, animations, and artistic design elements you can’t help but love.
While Mortal Shell is an astonishing game, I do warn, this isn’t a game for the faint of heart. It’s not easy, but rather, one of the most brutal games I have reviewed or even played since the days of Demon’s Souls. It’s a game that will challenge you, it will push you to your breaking point, but ultimately, it will also heavily reward you for your endeavors.
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Developer: Cold Symmetry
Release Date: Available Now
You will find each new Shell is just as good as the other, once you learn to utilize their capabilities, and adventure forth with a level head. That being said, this is single-handedly the best non-FromSoftware game within the genre and it sure as Hell has a lot of promise. To be quite honest: If there isn’t a sequel, this game is as good as it gets, which is just fine the way it is.
Our review is based upon a retail version of the game provided to us by the publisher for the review. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
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 today.