Mortal Shell Review
Developer: Cold Symmetry
Genre(s): Action RPG/Soulslike
Platform: Nintendo Switch (also available on Steam, GOG, Xbox, and PlayStation)
Age Rating: PEGI 17
Release Date: 19.12.2022
A code was provided for review purposes
The Soulslike genre has become particularly popular in the West, thanks to games like Bloodborne and the critically acclaimed Elden Ring. As a fan of the genre, Mortal Shell’s arrival to the hybrid console was a pleasant surprise, especially after learning that it was developed by an indie studio.
You play as the grotesque-looking empty vessel, known as a Foundling, tasked by the mysterious Imprisoned One to venture into the three sanctums and retrieve the three glands.
Imitate and Innovate
At first glance, this game is very similar to the titles that inspired it; the obscure, murky green daubed world, full of horrifying hooded hillbillies, that will try and end you where you stand. The world here is bleak and offers little or no guidance. This is one of the appealing factors of games of this genre, as they invite the player to discover things for themselves. This can be a deterrent to some who want to play a Soulslike game for the first time, but the team at Cold Symmetry has got them covered.
The Foundling has a stamina gauge that is consumed whenever it swings a weapon or carries out an evade roll. There is also the Harden mechanic, which will cause the player to petrify itself, deflecting one attack. This also has a cooldown of a few seconds, but it can be the difference between life and death. Later in the game, you’ll find an item that will allow you to parry an incoming attack if timed right. On a successful parry, a riposte will leech health from the enemy.
Another interesting and welcoming mechanic to the game is the ability to take over the fallen bodies of four different warriors. These have to be found within the game, and they act much like different classes, each with its own unique stats and skills. When your life gauge is depleted whilst donning a shell, the Foundling will be knocked out and will need to return to it as soon as possible. If you die before returning to the shell, you’ll respawn in a safe area and can return to the same spot. You’ll find your last shell, as well as retrieve all the tar collected.
Hero with a Hard Shell
The Shell system is a clever mechanic, as it can be upgraded to become extremely powerful. The only downside is that they cannot be swapped on the fly once obtained but can be summoned via effigies that represent them. This means that you’ll have to save them for emergencies. They are randomly dropped items that can change the tide of any ugly situation. You could be using the Vassal Shell, which is an allrounder but need something with more stamina, so you use Tiel’s Effigy to gain a thief/assassin build.
What is Tar? It’s one of the two main currencies in this world. Tar is mainly obtained from felled enemies and is used to upgrade your shells’ specific skills. They can also be spent at the shop in the derelict citadel, in the hub centre of Fallgrim. The other currency is harder to obtain. It is called Glimpses that are dropped by the stronger enemies and bosses. These are vital to improving your gear. There are four weapons, with each being able to be upgraded twice over the course of your playthrough. These can help with the crowd that can swiftly outnumber the player.
For the most part, the combat is satisfying, and the ability to harden and get knocked out of your shell is the kind of mechanics that a Soulslike game needed in order to appeal to a wider audience. These did not make the gameplay any easier, though. All enemies can end you quickly if you are not careful. They just complimented a delicate system that encourages exploration and steel nerves during battles.
The game lacks a map, which makes the experience all the more challenging. The hub area ended up looking the same after a while, and it became hard to find my fallen shell after death, which was a tad frustrating. In terms of performance, the game has some imaginative assets and scenery, with my favourite being the Sanctum of Flame, with its molten red hues.
One problem I did encounter often was the constant pop-in of enemies in close proximity. This was especially significant if I reached enemy spawning areas at high speeds. Although not a game-breaking issue, it did hamper the speed at which I traversed new areas. Luckily it was not a common occurrence, but it had to be mentioned.
Seeds of Evil
This edition of Mortal Shell comes with some great new additions, which were originally released as DLC. These are the Virtuous Cycle, which gives the player the chance to carry out the main quest in a rogue-like fashion, with each run having random boons and penalties.
I played this mode a lot, as I found it to be a great way to get to grips with the gameplay without suffering too many penalties. This mode can be accessed within the tower in the hub area and can reward the player with the fifth Shell, Hadern the Deliverer, and a new weapon too. There are many forums online with different seeds that are great to farm tar and glimpses, as well as testing your might.
The Sound of Silence
The audio is composed of atmospheric sounds and effects, with some decent voice acting here and there. What little music found here is fitting to the genre and the sombre and macabre feel of this damned world. Although a few more songs played in the background may have changed the experience, I understand that in order to get the right tone, sometimes less is more.
Cold Symmetry has managed to work on a tried and tested formula and added its own magic to near perfection. Mortal Shell is not too long, with only three main areas to explore if you focus on the main quest. It will take you around 20 hours or so. This, in my opinion, is a good length for a game that has a lot to uncover and find. If that is not enough, try your skills at the Virtuous Cycle and see how far you can get.
As someone who loves games that require the best out of players, I was pleasantly surprised with Mortal Shell. I can recommend this indie gem to fans and newcomers to the genre. There are still a lot of discoveries to be made here. The addition of mechanics, such as the Shell system or the Harden defence can help the most Soul-curious of players out there.
There are some tweaks to be made here and there, such as the enemies materialising out of thin air, as mentioned earlier, and it’s not the most pretty version either, but what’s on offer is sublime. If it’s too easy, there’s always playing the whole game as the Foundling, with no Shells.
Rapid Reviews Rating
4 out of 5
You can get your copy of Mortal Shell from the Nintendo eShop today.