With every ‘Souls-like’ comes the unavoidable comparison to Dark Souls and Mortal Shell uses many of the mechanics found within FromSoftware’s legendary series. The way in which it uses these mechanics but also carves a little space to use them in it’s own way is very reminiscent of the first time I ever played a Souls game. At first I didn’t really know what I was doing, or where I was going, or if I was even making any kind of meaningful progress. But I knew what I was playing was captivating and so I forged on into oblivion.
One interesting idea Mortal Shell has introduced is that of changable classes. In the game world you can find and inhabit the ‘shells’ of dead bodies which each have a skill tree and you can also find and use different weapons with each. Some have more stamina, some have more health and they all have different upgrades on the skill tree. It’s simple but effective and allows you to take a different approach if you find a particular area or boss too difficult with your current shell.
On the topic of difficulty, Mortal Shell is punnishingly hard and during your first trip through any area of the world you haven’t been to before, you should expect to die a good few times before you learn where everything is and how all the various enemies operate mechanically. Unfortunately it can become tediously repetetive at times especially when faced with the bosses who are often extemely punnishing themselves. I feel a lot of this difficulty comes beasue of the way that the development team have decided to implement healing.
You can’t easily find, buy or replenish healing items as you might do in other souls-like games, instead you can rarely find a small amount of heal over time items which have a long use timer leaving you very vulnerable or you can parry and use a special ability that heals you and does extra damage. As the healing items are quite rare you will often run out, especially during repeat boss attempts. The parry abilty is fine for small enemies but quite often the bosses are immune to parry during most attacks meaning that option is often not viable. This can mean taking a couple hits from a boss ends your attempt without any real way to heal yourself at all. While some people may enjoy this level of difficulty I found it made the learning experience, of bosses especially more of a chore than an enjoyable discovery of mechanics.
Considering that only a small team of fifteen people worked on this game the level design, both visually and thematically is top notch. In fact they seem to have come closer to the armour and shield design of Dark Souls than any other souls-like that I’ve seen before. While the world is not as intricate and the lore not as deep, the similarities are definitely there and this sits well with the game as a whole.
Two steps forwards and one step back is not quite how the saying goes but is an adequate descrption of how Mortal Shell has felt for me as far as souls-like games fair when comparing to the legendary series. They have crafted their own space in many regards whilst also leaning heavily on what we already know and love. Challenging enemies and bosses, swords and medieval feeling buildings, great level design and a bunch of items that don’t really get used because you’re too busy dying again and again… and again!
I would have loved for Mortal Shell to have be just that little bit bigger, that little bit more intricate and connected, that little bit more varied mechanically and the lore just that little bit deeper. But as it is, it serves well as a shorter venture into a very well crafted souls-like game.
The Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available – PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4
Platform Reviewed – PC
Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.