Hard as Hell and Equally Unforgiving
It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game as initially difficult as Mortal Shell. This soulslike RPG features fast paced combat similar to Bloodbborne or Sekiro and offers difficulty that rivals both. Unlike the experiences of FromSoftware games, Mortal Shell requires you to battle hard and fast by adding limitations to your defensive capabilities. It’s a system that works well, but shifts the soulslike experience to something of its own. When you combine this with a truly interesting world, stunning visuals, and relentless action, Mortal Shell is a twist on classic gameplay that should please most fans.
In Mortal Shell, you are a being that can inhabit various shells of those who lived before. While possessing these shells, you gain access to shell-unique abilities and weaponry to brutalize enemies and bosses on your journey through a gray and devastating world. It’s a game that visually borrows heavily from Dark Souls, as your loading screens, menus, and character dialogue all reflect the same gothic feel. This is okay, however, as it bends the Souls experience into its own.
Gameplay in Mortal Shell is quite unlike others in its genre. It relies entirely on an offensive approach. There is no block (there is a hardening ability, where you can harden your shell to prevent much damage and deflect attacks, but it is set to a cooldown timer), so you’re pressed to evade and outmaneuver your enemies. It works well, but there is a huge adjustment period, especially if you’re freshly off a Souls game. This isn’t a negative, but the opening areas can be extraordinarily frustrating for newcomers.
Still, it is a system that feels good once you’ve got it down. My first few deaths taught me to be cautious but to strike quickly. As I continued to adjust my strategy after each defeat – which, honestly, happened often – I found the beauty in the game itself. I love strategizing, and Mortal Shell felt like an awesome experiment in on-the-fly strategy and post-death reflection.
Visually, Mortal Shell is a beauty. I played through this on my Xbox One X, and it was a real aesthetic treat. Granted, the world, particularly in the opening, is full of dark browns and grays, a swampy and gloomy affair. Even then, however, the game is still impressive to behold. Your shell shines and moves with fluid animations; the detail in the terrain is immaculate; the horizons are always stunning. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game that looks as good as this.
Lastly, sound in Mortal Shell will please most fans of the Soulslike genre. Dialogue is faded, reminiscent of Demon’s Souls, and its cryptic deliveries make you feel like this is an expansion of those worlds. Menu and combat sounds mirror those from the genre, too, and the direction is probably the most souls inspired aspect of this game. Fortunately, that’s the area – for me, anyway – where borrowed inspiration can elevate rather than hinder. There’s so much uniqueness to Mortal Shell that tying the game to the Soulslike genre with sound is actually rather clever.
In all, Mortal Shell is a sound experience that should please fans of the Soulslike genre while enticing a new crowd. For me, the difficulty – particularly the learning curve – was high. Once you settled in and understood the system, however, you could traverse the world with a touch of confidence. With strategy and time to consider your path, the journey is certainly a memorable one.