The Souls-like genre has exploded in recent years, with FromSoftware’s Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls games spawning numerous imitators of widely varying quality. Now, Mortal Shell enters the ring from developer Cold Symmetry, a small studio of triple-A veterans. And while Mortal Shell has its fair share of problems, it successfully captures what makes Soul-like games so appealing to so many people.
Mortal Shell stays true to the core of the genre, offering a challenging narrative experience that is often relegated to text blurbs and lore scattered throughout the world. Despite its strict adherence to the likeness of Souls, the game still brings enough new concepts to the table to separate it from the plethora of other options available, such as The Surge 2 or Remnant: From the Ashes.
In recent years, Souls-like games have gotten faster, with FromSoftware speeding things up starting with Bloodborne, and ending with Sekiro’s super-fast combat. Mortal Shell is what happens when developers go in the opposite direction, slowing down combat with stinging animations and slower movement speeds. This can make Mortal Shell’s boss battles feel very slow at times, especially early in the game, where battles feel like an awkward dance of moving, taking a swipe or two, and then moving out of range. of an opponent so endurance. can recharge.
Mortal Shell’s enemies share a dark fantasy look similar to other games in the genre, though there are a few standouts, such as a bipedal bear with blade hands that players encounter in the first place . Boss fights are integral to the experience, and duels with Mortal Shell sword-wielding foes like Hadern are particularly fun, if a little dull aesthetically. The faster the enemy, the slower the player is forced to play, however, and in the early hours, that can be nerve-wracking.
Fortunately, Mortal Shell gameplay can be sped up or slowed down depending on which weapon and Shell players are using. Shells essentially work like a class, offering players different abilities and stats, such as increased health, stamina, or resolve. There are four in total scattered around the world, each with a unique appearance. Finding them is one of the more interesting aspects of Mortal Shell, as the game highlights their location in a sort of perspective, showing key landmarks that players can use to find their way to them.
Each Shell has its own perks, but they are not all on equal footing. Tiel, for example, has high stamina but low resolve, a stat used to perform certain actions. Since stamina is important for both dodging and striking, Tiel feels like he should be the pick for most situations, but it depends on how players want to approach encounters. Plus, players can switch between shells, so it’s fine to experiment with each one.
Class diversity is further accentuated by skills unique to each Shell, which grant new abilities and benefits, such as poison damage that heals the player, in Tiel’s case. These abilities are purchased with Tar, the Mortal Shell equivalent of souls, and Glimpses, which are obtained from consumable items and enemies. Whenever a player dies, the Tar has to be recovered from the location where the player took their last hit. A full Shell upgrade is quite an investment, so recovering a large amount of Tar is nerve-wracking.
There are also abilities shared between each class, such as parry, which requires a slightly frustrating level of accuracy to get right but can lead to powerful riposte attacks, and the ability to harden. Harden is the most satisfying mechanic offered in Mortal Shell, allowing players to drastically change the outcome of a match if used properly. It can be activated at almost any time and blocks damage from an incoming attack, but has a cooldown timer attached to it.
The cooldown only lasts a few seconds, though those seconds feel like a lifetime when swords and fists are hitting around the player, especially when on low health. But Harden can keep players alive throughout a boss fight with just a sliver of health, and when that happens, Mortal Shell provides heartbreaking moments that are more dramatic than Dark Souls can offer. It’s a simple mechanic, but it makes a world of difference in how the game is played.
Mortal Shells’ environments are well detailed and open for exploration, but some areas can be tricky to navigate. The game makes up for this in a few different ways, however, as stumbling through the world often leads to chests containing rewards, pieces of lore, or interesting scenes that create a sense of environmental storytelling.
There are several small tunnels scattered throughout the world that connect different areas together and lead to secrets. Undeniably, players can sometimes be attacked while emerging from tunnels, unable to defend themselves due to being locked into an animation. This is a relatively rare occurrence, but is also a major flaw at some level of design. There’s also no jump button, so backtracking to certain areas with ledges can be annoying.
Mortal Shell is generous with buffing and healing items, a valuable factor since it doesn’t feature an alternative to the Estus Flask found in the Souls games. Consuming items increases the player’s familiarity with it, revealing its properties and granting bonuses when familiarity is reached. It’s a new idea that encourages players to experiment with items they find in and out of battle. Not all effects are useful, and depending on a player’s build, the bonuses provided by maxing familiarity may not help either, but it adds to the complexity of the system in an interesting way.
Mortal Shell offers an experience that will likely stick with longtime Dark Souls fans. Its early hours can be painfully slow, and there are a few issues with the world design, but it’s not enough to ruin the experience. Once players find their groove with the right loadout, Mortal Shell’s biggest problems evaporate, and its offering of new additions to the Souls-like formula makes it stand out in an increasingly crowded field. genres.
Mortal Shell releases August 18 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Today Technology was given an Xbox One code for this review.