Come closer foundling, you have much to learn. In order to learn things you will need to die as if you were stuck on repeat with no off button. Mortal Shell by Independent developer Cold Symmetry thrusts you into a dark world filled with vile enemies and monstrous bosses. Do not fear death though as it creeps upon you like the eerie soft tunes of a lute playing in the distance. Whatever you think you know leave it behind you.
As you embark on your journey as a fleshy, pasty foundling, you soon realize this isn’t the adventure you booked. The learning curve is steep and even something as minuscule as blocking seems intentionally cruel. The blocking mechanic could have easily been on par with normal games by using your large sword. However, this isn’t that type of game. In order to block you must perfectly time your opponents attack and go into a “hardened” state. Crazy as it sounds your foundling will turn to stone for a split second repelling the attack. Of course, time it wrong and well…bad things happen.
The attacks in the beginning are fairly basic and this is a good thing. You don’t need to learn a trove of attacks right away. The main ingredient to survival is to learn your opponent and their moves. Your skill set will come in due time and when it does you will be a force to be reckoned with. Until that time though things will be very difficult. Learning is the key to Mortal Shell. All the items you gather must be used in order to learn their abilities. The more you use an item the more potent an item can become. Thus the wheel turns and you must find a way to battle your enemies across a desolate land filled with things that want to kill you.
You are not long for the world unless you can find a shell to inhabit. There are four shells spread through out the swamp filled area each giving you a chance at a different play style. One Shell could come with plenty of stamina while suffering from a shortage of health. Another might pack plenty of health while the downside being you becoming winded from getting out of the shower. Of course the biggest attribute is resolve and each shell will carry a different amount as well. How does one obtain resolve? Well it’s basically a meter that fills up with each enemy you defeat. Dispatch enough of them and you will be granted a special attack. Of course to use different attacks you will want to find more weapons. You begin the game with a big sword thrown over your shoulder. In order to get another weapon you must venture out and find new areas to occupy. At the beginning of each new area you will see a statue holding a new weapon. It will not be as easy as you think. In order to obtain said weapon you will need to defeat its owner. I would recommend upgrading first before tackling this one. I’m not saying it can’t be done but it will take some precision fighting on your part.
Upgrading will come in different forms. You can upgrade your shell by obtaining tar and glimpses from defeated enemies. After gaining enough you can take it to Sester Genessa (basically a checkpoint in the game) and ask for a sip. This will allow you to upgrade your shell but it comes with a warning. You can defeat all the enemies in an area and they will stay gone allowing you to venture around unchecked. Take a sip though and all the enemies will return. I thought this feature was incredibly bad ass and frustrating at the same time.
Upgrading your weapons will require you to find a work bench along with whatever items it needs. Quenching acid alone will give your weapon more damage so that’s a good one to find. By the last area my sword was fully upgraded and let’s just say it made all the difference. There is a merchant that you can purchase items from by using tar but he isn’t important as much as what I’m about to tell you. Cat lovers rejoice! You can pet the cat in Mortal Shell. Also, the merchant is important as he sells health items amongst other things.
A cool feature in the game is an Indie mode bringing the game back to a pixelated beautiful form.
Mortal Shell looks great and the areas are well designed to not only feel terrifying but confusing as well. In size I don’t think each area is rather large but not having any direction makes it difficult to traverse. That and the fact that enemies are all around you. These bloodthirsty foes will strike sometimes with out warning and it doesn’t take much for you to find yourself back with Sester Genessa. The biggest problem with enemies you will find is sometimes they don’t know what to do. They can easily get stuck on objects or try to attack you through the side of a cliff. I never found a way to take advantage as once you get closer they move and the fight is back on. It was just odd to see at times.
You will find other things such as lore and etchings that will have sayings in them almost like instructions. I didn’t pay them much attention because the game itself gives you little in the form of story. For the most part you will be confused but I didn’t care because I wasn’t there for story time anyways. You will also find chests in the game and even some that will be locked. Don’t get frustrated when you can’t unlock them right away. In due time you will discover how to unlock them.
THE biggest selling point for Mortal Shell is the combat and it’s difficulty. It’s brutal and you feel the weight of each blow. Your shell offers some protection and even a second chance when you fall. If your health goes to zero then the foundling will be thrown from its shell. Here you can decide to fight with the foundling or try and jump back in the shell. Be warned though fighting as the founding is death upon one hit. Each shell will allow you to play the game how you see fit. Two of the four shells I could use easily and loved their moves while the others just didn’t suit me. Same goes for the weapons. With different speeds of attacks and moves it depends on how the player wants to play. You might not enjoy the slower more methodical approach. Well there is a set that will speed up your attacks. Honestly in the end it’s all about timing and which one you can use the best. My favorite was Eredrim The Venerable. Plenty of health, very little stamina but just the right amount of resolve.
Mortal Shell is a fantastic game that I admittedly was scared to tackle. I’ve never been good at souls-like games and I didn’t know if I could even beat the game. I did though and that’s in part because of the grind you have to do in order to become a more well-rounded fighter. Learning the opponent never felt this satisfying. Each heavy blow with a sword is like reigning down the fury of justice on the enemy. On the other hand each blow you receive is like teetering on the edge of a cliff with a strong wind blowing at your back. The difficulty level lasts for quite some time but once you get things down the game becomes your playground. That is until the end. The boss battles were certainly a highlight. I will say I did deafest one boss on my first try. There are minor issues within the game but absolutely nothing that breaks it. I had zero issues with crashes or performance. There were a few times the game got a tad stale with repetitive gameplay but it doesn’t last. Mortal Shell will definitely not be for everyone but for a gamer who doesn’t normally embark on this type of journey, I am glad I did.
Mortal Shell releases August 18th, 2020 on PS4, Xbox One and PC for $29.99.
A review code was provided for the PS4.