Mortal Shell Review
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"Another take on the Souls formula that might come off as tasteless for some people..."
*This is an old review; much of what you will read here no longer fully represents my view, skills, and knowledge.*
Mortal Shell is an action-RPG that takes deep inspiration from the Souls games and incorporates the incredibly difficult combat and harsh environment as its main formula for difficult in a world that plays very similarly to what you’d expect from a souls-like, without standing out too much with any form of original idea.
The game concept is very simple: play your way slashing foes in a world with a story-telling as clear as cloudy skies. You start the game without knowing what the heck is going on, and you finish it with the exact same knowledge.
Developer: Cold Symmetry
Release Date: August 18, 2020
(I’m going to point out the most noticeable flaws of Mortal Shell right away, but please, don’t read it thinking I’m trying to cut the game short. The positive aspects of the game will come right after my delicate rant.)
The game is surprisingly short, and what started looking huge and incredibly expansive from the amount of possible paths you could take as soon as you start the game turned out to be just three or four areas that connect directly to the first area we are introduced. I finished the game in about 12 hours, and my only thought after beating the game was: “that was it ?”.
The game is short for sure, and as you play through it, you keep expecting to be surprised at some point, which to me, apart from some surprising grand-looking areas, never happened. Not a single enemy in the game made me feel surprised; not a single one of the very limited bosses felt memorable enough; not once I felt the sense of accomplishment after completing the game main objectives.
Despite the few somewhat creative ideas in the game, I couldn’t really help but feel that an attempt has been made to copy what is great about the Souls games — I truly am ashamed to say this for I really see a real value in Mortal Shell, but what you see in the game is just too similar to what anyone used to any Souls title has seen a million times, and the game doesn't even make an attempt to hide it.
That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the game simply because of some over-used pre-existing concepts. Don’t take me wrong, there were some original aspects of this game that I really enjoyed, and even the aforementioned aspects still had some glimpse of originality in them.
Positivity Amidst Darkness
Despite the few somewhat copy paste-looking ideas, the game had some strong impossible not to talk about concepts that it deserves absolute credit over. Combat in the game feels very fluid, movements are realistic and very grounded in reality, and it feels very balanced damage-wise. I still encountered some problems with it, some serious ones at that, but overall I can’t say it wasn’t fun.
The game also has a thing called ‘shells’, that are, in short, dead bodies of notorious fighters you encounter lying around in the world. These are characters you can interact with to possess them, and once in control of their movements you gain their stats — some have giant health bars, being more on the tanky side, while others have a huge stamina bar with a much faster stamina regen speed, but die in just a couple of hits, which can be incredibly great for those who enjoy a high-risk high-reward type of thing, especially knowing stamina recovery speed is a very precious stat in games like this.
While in possession of these shells, every time you die, once per death if you manage to reach the shell again you can take back control over the body, which allows you to continue fighting, basically acting as a second chance.
Still on the topic of shells, once you get to an NPC that essentially acts as a bonfire in the sense that you always spawn close to her every time you die, you can unlock some abilities unique to each character by talking to that NPC. Some abilities act passively, while others are active and you have to press a button or two in order for them to work. Nothing too fancy on that side, and it is a simply implemented progression system with not too much to it other than simply upgrade the character that suits your playstyle better.
Non-Playable Characters and World Building
The few NPCs we meet in our journey are strangely charismatic, odd characters in a seemingly bodyless world. Talking to them adds as much context to the world as the random signs with a few lines of text we find while exploring, which is none. Or, I don’t know, maybe I just missed something, but in that case, the details must be so subtle no one will ever catch it in a first playthrough unless they go searching for information – which I believe will rarely happen, given the fact the game needs a huge name for itself in order for people to even bother taking an extra step to learn about its lore.
The game starts with so much weird stuff going on the very first few minutes, with so much mystery and unanswered questions being raised, and to think nothing is ever clearly explained as to who we are, where we are, and the reason behind our actions just doesn’t sound too great.
Characters, in general, seemed very mysterious — oddly mysterious at that — topped with really great character voice-acting that was not the best, but was still super far from being the worst.
In the end, if I could point one thing that stood out to me in the characters in this game, it was the palpable effort of the developers in creating characters that sound mysterious in an attempt to cover the world with the mystery fog to possibly make someone go ‘oohh’, but in my case, it never happened, and my only reaction to all the mystery and craziness thrown at me was nothing but ‘okay’. Characters and world simply didn’t sound natural to me, but anyway, that might just be a personal thing, and it may not bother everyone.
Visually the game is actually really great — it is not the most impressive thing ever, but still it has quite a lot of charm to it. The level of detail in some scenarios is seriously just amazing, and in fact the game has a considerable amount of these mesmerizing views. I was honestly surprised to see the quality of some stuff in this game.
What I found to be the most impressive were the armor designs; really great looking yet very limited, knowing we can only possess a handful of characters. Apart from that, as previously stated, the game has some impressive grand-looking areas that are really eye-catching for their hypnotizing beauty that while not laid out in the best way possible, they are still charming to explore, spiced up by the visually rich scenarios.
Enemy design also doesn’t fall behind either, with lots scary-looking enemies that are very believable and really do feel like a part of the world they are meant to exist, but still felt lacking in a sense of direction. Bosses on the other hand are nowhere near anything spectacular — with okay visuals and not really any memorable actions or lore to back their existance, they simply didn't stand out too much, so the major fights in the game just felt straight up uninteresting or just uninspired, with close to no appeal to them, much to the point they could just be put as a side major enemy or mini-boss in other similar games. Fighting them felt rushed and too simplistic for my taste, and without any form of emotion to them, I just didn’t feel thrilled, or motivated enough to talk well about them.
Difficulty in Mortal Shell
Difficulty is probably one of the most, if not the most predominant aspect of a sous-like. When talking about difficult in a game like this, what usually comes to mind is a unforgiving combat or harsh environment and enemies in general. In Mortal Shell I think the most difficulty thing for me was traversing the terrain, probably — I seriously lost count of how many times I got stuck in a piece of terrain with the only two possible ways of getting unstuck being either through death or by using an active item to take me back to the last checkpoint.
In any case, dying more often to the terrain than to any enemy in the game serves to prove that Mortal Shell just isn’t too hard like you could expect, even though it is supposed to be a difficult game.
In my opinion, Mortal Shell actually felt way more frustrating than difficult at times. Bosses, usually the most unforgiving enemies in a Souls styled game were, as I said before, kind of simple, with predictable movements, and limited move-sets. They simply didn't make a great impact or appeared to be a huge treat they were meant to be. I remember quite a lot of times where my biggest and only problem fighting these major enemies was my poor stamina management, which often led me to take hits I was totally prepared to dodge in person, but my character just didn’t have the resources available to execute the action.
Mortal Shell was an okay game with a concept that sounds simple yet is extremely difficult to properly execute. The game didn’t fail to get to my expectations for I had none — apart from difficulty — so in my opinion, even though the game wasn’t bad, it still wasn’t nearly as great as what you can expect from an original Souls title, which is what it takes great inspiration from.
Although the game feels promising, and it holds some form of value, at its current state, I simply cannot wholeheartedly recommend it.
Whether or not you should play the game yourself weighs solely over how open you are to its downfalls, and how much fun you can have with something that clearly isn’t polished to perfection.
Dynamic combat, with some impressive, very realistic moves, alongside animations of surprinsing fluidity.
Impressive visuals and work done graphics-wise, with many great, visually stunning areas with breathtaking scenarios.
Original take on an already successful genre that looks very promising and definitely has a lot of potential.
Great attempt at recreating the difficulty from the games it looked up to, making great use of harsh environment and enemies.
More intimidating than difficult. Bosses and enemies are all very basic, with easy to read/answer attacks.
A few bosses and enemies sometimes feel out of place, and all probably due to lack of direction at their initial concept stages.
Lack of a good foundation, missing all the great aspects of world building that keep players hooked and engaged with the game.
Too short to deserve a better reception. The game ends way sooner than it should if it wanted to cause any form of impact.
A game that looks and feels promising on paper, but lacks in being innovative or too interesting. The game is far from a disaster, but at its current state it simply isn't good enough to satisfy everyone, yet due to its potential, could still turn out great in the future.
08/31/2020 - Caius, The Fifth Shell