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Mortal Shell is an action-RPG developed by Cold Symmetry and published by Playstack. It borrows heavily from From Software’s Soulsborne games, but definitely has a certain flair all it’s own.
The game follows “The Foundling,” a strange pale being from what appears to be a purgatory of sorts. The Foundling’s mission is…
Well, I’m still not sure. He just kind of appears and sets about murdering most anything that gets in his path. Then, in a very Zelda turn of events, a clearly evil guy asks The Foundling to bring him glands from nearby temples.
That’s about as clear as the story gets.
I, however, knew that the story would be somewhat obtuse because, as I stated earlier, this game based most of its content on the From Software games. So, I didn’t really pay that much mind, because if I really wanted to know what was going on in this game…
Mortal Shell also hit the nail on the head as far as gameplay mechanics and setting were concerned. So let’s not concern ourselves with its sameness with the games it chose to emulate, and instead focus on what made this game stand out, and if those things were good or bad.
Cling to Life
Mortal Shell’s claim to fame is its shell system. This allows you to switch between the bodies of different fallen warriors and take on their attributes. There are four in total, and each one easily fits a certain playstyle. They essentially boil down to:
- Tank: High Health, but low stamina and resolve (the stuff you need to use abilities)
- Rogue: High Stamina, but crazy low health and resolve
- Warrior: Middle of the road with all stats
- Wizard-ish: Moderate health and stamina, but massive amounts of resolve
There are a few things that make this shell system interesting. The first is that each shell’s stats are static. Their health stamina and resolve essentially stay the same throughout the game, meaning that mastering their resources is vital to survival. It’s also a neat system, because while you can’t change their base stats, you can unlock abilities for each shell that lets them become even more powerful.
The Tank gains a stacking damage buff the more people he kills. The Rogue gains the ability to poison enemies, and have that poison trigger other effects. The warrior focuses on defense and gaining the in game currency. And the Wizard/Scholar guy is good at using and regaining resolve.
The other thing the shell system does is give you multiple chances to defeat your enemies.
You see, if you run out of health while in a shell, The Foundling will be expelled and all enemies in the area will freeze for a short time.
While playing as The Foundling, you only have one hit point, but it opens up the opportunity for you to live again.
If you have a clear path to the shell you were just kicked out of, you can run back and re-enter it —which completely refills your health bar—and begin round two. If you don’t have a clear path back, you can attempt to finish the current fight as The Foundling, but with only one health, you have to be crazy careful not to get hit.
Red Light Green Light
Another of Mortal Shell’s key features is “Hardening.” This allows you to turn yourself into a statue in order to avoid damage. It’s a little like using a block…
For starters, you can harden at any time. Jumping into the air, you can harden. In the middle of a dodge roll, you can harden. Winding up your heavy attack, you can harden. Fighting a guy named Hadern, you can harden.
That last one is funny because it’s true… and because Hadern can also harden.
Harden does break once you’ve been hit, and it has a four to five second cooldown, but otherwise there are no limitations on its use. It even lasts for about a second after you’ve been struck (as long as you hold the button), making sure that any consecutive enemy attacks also do no damage.
Honestly once you master the harden feature, it makes the game far easier than previously indicated. You can basically beat any enemy as long as you back up and wait for your harden to reset. So, unless you’re fighting a ton of guys that are all attacking at wildly different intervals, you can block most incoming damage.
For each of Mortal Shell’s stand out features, there were glaring bugs or oversights that would crop up to annoy me.
For example, every once and a while, my weapon would just disappear. I’d be swinging my hammer one moment, and the next I’d be flailing my arms wildly like I’d entered some kind of medieval dance off, or become a…
This wasn’t terrible, but it was off-putting in a number of ways.
What was terrible was that sometimes my character would simply refuse to do something. That something was usually dodging or hardening, and not dodging or hardening often got me killed, or at least booted out of my shell. This led to some minor (read: major) frustration.
There were also a number of smaller things that I ran into from time to time. Such as:
- Items not showing up in my inventory when I picked them up
- My currency counters not updating in a timely fashion
- Getting stuck in the item use animation
- Enemies not noticing me when I’m standing in front of them (this one was ok)
None of these things stopped me from playing the game, but I would have had a much better time if everything had run smoothly.
Overall, Mortal Shell was an alright game. It managed to capture the feel of a From Software game while putting a refreshing spin on the genre. The gameplay, while slow, was intentional and fair (unless you glitched out). and the graphics were phenomenal for a game with such a small development team.
Unfortunately, the game was also really short and ended up feeling like exactly one fourth of a standard game, though the price-tag reflects that pretty well.
I’m giving Mortal Shell a brittle 6.5/10. It was fun at times, but it never really lived up to the standards it set for itself. It had some interesting ideas, and maybe one day we’ll see them again in something a little longer and more balanced.