FromSoftware's much-celebrated Souls franchise has left such a permanent mark on gaming that developers can't seem to stop trying to emulate its magic. With that in mind; here's my review of the intriguing Mortal Shell.
Although many games are oddly and incorrectly labelled as "Souls-like", Mortal Shell is an undeniable Souls clone through-and-through. When I started playing it, I thought "Wow, this takes me back." From the item descriptions in the loading screens to the way your character controls and the hidden bits of lore to the fact that you retrieve your souls (or tar, in this case) upon death; Mortal Shell truly feels like a Souls game. However, it's missing many elements that make FromSoftware's games enjoyable but I'll discuss those later.
For now, allow me to describe the premise. You basically run around the game world as a naked skinless dude who can inhabit corpses of fallen knights. Right off the bat, you can discover all 4 of these shells within the first few hours and each of them possesses their own characteristics. For example, one is a typical tank-type character and another is quick and has a lengthy stamina gauge. You don't really have to change between them depending on the situation that you're in as it all comes down to personal preference and play style.
Aside from the traditional gameplay of slowly attacking while dodging incoming blows, Mortal Shell features some interesting mechanics that set its gameplay apart from similar games. For starters, you can temporarily harden in order to nullify all incoming damage as well as use a Tarnished Seal to parry blows and perform follow-up attacks. Although all of this sounds novel and may pique your interest, hardening isn't far removed from merely blocking and parrying is nothing new. So, it's all quite simple despite its promising features.
Thankfully, the game world within Mortal Shell is detailed and memorable complete with a handful of distinct environments. I particularly enjoyed the castle-like settings as they're elaborately designed and feature some impressively tough enemies. No matter which environment you're in, there's a general sense of tension and mystery which creates a consistent eerie feeling that will likely put you on the edge of your seat. In fact, that's what I enjoyed most about Mortal Shell. Even though it's small, its world is very well-crafted.
Of course, it must be said that there's a certain level of unoriginality on display in Mortal Shell. Keep in mind; Demon's Souls released over a decade ago back in 2009 and it's vastly superior in every conceivable way so the fact that Mortal Shell tries so hard to mimic the Souls series' gameplay and world makes it feel like a dated retread. This is especially true when you consider the fact that Demon's Souls was packed with thrilling scenarios that made you consistently adapt to your current situation while Mortal Shell doesn't seem to want to provide the player with any sense of excitement. Each area feels the same and enemies are mostly generic and don't require much strategy. It's a shame because its mechanics are solid and promising yet they could have been utilized in much cleverer ways.
Finally, the biggest disappointment about Mortal Shell is just how little variety there is. You'd think that with 4 shells to inhabit, you'll have plenty to tinker around with but that's just not the case. You don't really level up, there are only 4 melee weapons and 1 ranged weapon, and each shell doesn't quite feature any striking differences. All of the character progression is essentially done through simple upgrades that provide new traits and abilities whether it's via enhancing your shell or weapon which is rather disappointing because I was looking forward to playing around with different builds but your options are severely and needlessly limited.
Mortal Shell may offer a solid experience but as I played it, I couldn't help but want to dive into the Souls series again as the amount of variety and excitement in FromSoftware's games makes this feel like a hollow shell in comparison.
- + Solid Souls-inspired gameplay and world
- + Genuinely creepy atmosphere
- + Interesting additional mechanics help give the gameplay some sense of identity
- - Tries too hard to emulate Souls games
- - Not enough gameplay variety
- - Small campaign that somehow manages to remain tedious throughout