By Tom "TomBsTone" Bronneberg on August 18, 2020
A great many "Souls-like" games have been released over the course of the last few years. Now, for the people who never heard of "Souls-like games", these are games heavily inspired by the legendary Demons/Dark Souls video games. And yes, I am a fan boy. So every time a video game is released with the statement, "we made a souls-like video game" I automatically cringe a little bit. This is mainly because nobody has come even close to replicating these games so far. And I think that's a good thing. Even though I miss playing them.
What I meant is, game designers should always try to be unique. Yes if you go with the mass demand and tell every one your making a Souls-like video game, you instantly have millions of people pre-ordering your game. But then, after they have played, the majority will inevitably come to the same conclusion, which is: "Hey!! this isn't nowhere as good as the original Souls series". It's at these times that I think that some of these developers are kind of missing the point. You should make a game that people want to play because it's a good game... not because its "Souls-like".
So, with that said, here we go with the review of this brand new video game called Mortal Shell.
"Mortal Shell, an action RPG heavily inspired by the Souls Series"... Damn, now what did I just say a minute ago? Hmm, another wannabe souls-like game? Okay, we'll just see where this goes.
Alright, lets get on with it! Mortal Shell is developed by Cold Symmetry... Okay, I actually never heard of these guys before. Wait, I'll have to use the almighty search engines to find them. After some digging I found out that Cold Symmetry was founded in 2017 and consists of a core team of only four people... FOUR PEOPLE?... and this is their DEBUT GAME?! Wait, what?? A core team of only four people made a "Souls-like" video game in only three years? And they expect it to be good? They must be joking...
Please don't run away, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, because these were only my initial thoughts when I first saw this Mortal Shell. Now, I know it's not fair of me, but that's just how it was. Maybe it was prejudice, maybe it was because of the lukewarm experiences I had with most other Souls-like games over the last few years; I really couldn't tell you. So, will Mortal Shell be any different? Let's find out together, shall we?
In Mortal Shell, you start out as a grey naked alien-looking man (I'm sorry, but that's what it is). As the game starts, there is no time wasted on pleasantries and you awaken in a pool of water-like substance. There is nothing for you to do but run towards the end, where you immediately have to face off against a big angry knight called the Martyr. Hold on a second here! I'm a strange naked dude, without any gear whatsoever and you want me to fight a big bad angry knight? Alright, now you've got my attention! After a few dodges, the knight disappears. Okay, this is the tutorial. Well, that's good to know. Next up we get a sword and after a few moments we can try to fight the Martyr again. And we DIE, of course. After being eaten by a Ginormous WormFish we awaken again, but now in a different location. Painfully crawling through a long tunnel the Title appears, small and at the bottom of the screen, "Mortal Shell". Okay, right to the point thus fare, I like it.
It is at that moment that the real game starts. Right off the bat, you find your first Mortal Shell; a knight. So, what is a Mortal Shell? These shells are fallen warriors who presumably died right there on the spot. With your mystic powers you can reclaim this vessel and make it your own. After doing so, you become the knight in question. Alright, I like where this is going. Normally you will have to choose your class at the start of the game and stick with it. Instead, Mortal Shell lets you swap an entire character during your playthrough. What I also like is that they let you choose whether or not to claim the Vessel. Now I don't know what kind of sadistic people would NOT claim a Vessel and run around butt naked throughout the rest of the game, but it seems to be possible. The Trophy you can earn for doing so the entire game proves it... (I'm probably not going to get it anywhere this century though).
After claiming your first vessel, you enter a mystic wooded area, which really looks intimidating and creepy. The setting is nicely done, the quality of the scenery is good, and there is a real scary vibe to it all. Combine that with pretty hefty sound effects that make my subwoofer work overtime, and you've got yourself a nice combination of various cool elements. My wife wasn't too happy about the sound effects though. Especially after falling out of bed because the house was shaking violently. But, back to the game at hand; the overall result of all these elements working together is really good, I must say. Call me impressed! The game runs on the Unreal 4 engine and playing it feels very smooth. Although, the camera sometimes does sometimes get stuck in kind of a weird way, mostly after clearing another tunnel. Yes, the developers of Mortal Shell sure do like their tunnels, let me assure you.
Now for my first problem, not so much an issue with the game I think , but just something you need to know. The areas are scripted but open, with lots of different paths leading in different directions, and no clear goal where to go first. At least, that's what I thought my first playthrough. So, after running around for a few hours and having a hard time with a lot of enemies, I got stuck and decided to start over.
I noticed that there should be a parry ability, but somehow I didn't get the item needed to parry in my first three hours of playing. After I started anew, I paid even more close attention to the first small cinematic and quickly realised I needed to go somewhere right after the start of the game. After doing so, it still wasn't really obvious where I needed to look, but ultimately I found the Parry item. Yay! Finding that item made quite the difference. Now, the game not telling you what to do, can be really frustrating at times, but it's also a real selling point for die hard gamers. You really need to discover everything for yourself. Every single item you find, you will have to use a few times in order to discover what the hell it does in the first place. Also, you'll need to read every bit of info scattered throughout the world to understand the lore, and why things are the way they are now.
The first boss in Mortal Shell is reachable within about two minutes of the start of the game, although I highly recommend running the other way if you accidentally take this path on your first playthrough. How do you get to your first boss in under two minutes, you ask? Well, it is possible to run past a lot of enemies, because they will need to see or hear you before they stand up or turn around, which gives you plenty of time to skirt around them. For me, Mortal Shell feels more like Lords of the Fallen which is, incidentally, also a Souls-like game but, as far as I'm concerned, in a league of its own. Lords of the Fallen felt way more heavy then the souls games, and so does Mortal Shell. Some enemies are big and heavy, some are small and nimble. But when you swing your sword you feel like wielding a heavy claymore. When you get attacked you feel the weight of the hit. Mortal Shell has some weight to it and I think that's a good thing. The areas seem to be almost open world in structure, but with great level design, featuring complex pathways and tunnels for you to explore with seemingly no restrictions.
If I might offer another piece of advice here; be sure to really take your time to explore your surroundings, as well as try and understand the enemies you face, the items you receive, and always be on the lookout for a really small twinkling thingy on the ground, which is the item indicator. These little twinkles of light are really, really small, so they are easy to miss, especially when running around. After studying your enemies' movements and attack patterns, you can form a strategy of your own and put this to work. Trust me when I say that this will help you a lot. Defeating a boss will probably take a few attempts, and after you die, you can reclaim your "glimpse" on the spot where you died, just like in the "Souls Series". Many fights are truly unforgiving but, as we all know, practice makes perfect! Even when you finally manage to kill a really difficult boss, after which it turns out that the damn thing has a second phase, and resurrects with a full life bar while you are down to your last 5 % of health... Stay calm, take notes, die and repeat until you succeed.
After a few hours into the game, it has become apparent that Mortal Shell is a truly complex game. I, for one, can't wait for the main public to play this game and read all about the things players discovered, all the different tactics used to overcome boss fights, secrets found in hard to reach places and the complete lore surrounding the characters in Mortal Shell.
On paper, this is not a AAA game, and is priced accordingly. Mortal Shell is not made by a AAA developer but an independent one. Yes, the member of the team have worked for AAA studios in the past, but are independent now. Yes, this is actually an INDIE game! There's even a "INDIE GAME" video mode available in the video settings menu to prove it. Try it , its good fun... although you will probably die a lot more...
The great thing about Mortal Shell is the fact that it actually doesn't feel like a INDIE game at all. It feels like a great game, meticulously put together with a lot of care and love. Grim and scary love maybe, but love nevertheless! And yes, it does have a lot of similarities with the Souls Series, but none of the developers are claiming they weren't inspired by playing these games themselves. But, and here's the kicker; even though Mortal Shell is described as being a Souls-like game, it actually isn't. This game is hard, scary, tactical and unforgiving, which actually puts it in a league of its very own!
Finally, it's time for my very last piece of advice for today; If you like a really decent challenge and cool action games, you really need to play Mortal Shell!