Disclaimer: Mortal Shell is currently in beta. Elements in the game, such as mechanics or lore, are subject to change but are correct at the time of writing.
Mortal Shell is an action-RPG game being developed by Cold Symmetry, and being published by Playstack. The game has been likened to the Dark Souls series, something that is reiterated on the game’s official site. The site promises “strategic, deliberate and unforgiving” combat, and also offers “deep upgrade paths” for players to explore. There was a lot of hype surrounding Mortal Shell, so much so that the originally closed beta was opened to the public. You can join yourself by visiting the site and clicking “Play The Beta” on the far right of the menu. It is currently PC only and requires the Epic Games Launcher to play.
The game follows an individual known as The Foundling and opens in a tutorial area. Here the player is taught the basic controls, many of which will feel familiar to those of you who have played Dark Souls or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Dodging, rolling and managing stamina are all key aspects of Mortal Shell’s gameplay. However, there are some added mechanics.
The player has the ability to “harden”. This is exactly how it sounds; hardening Foundling’s skin making him able to withstand a certain amount of damage. Hardening before an enemy attacks also means that the enemy is stunned for a brief second after they attack. This opens them up for a follow-up attack and offers a strategic edge to the player. It is also possible to harden as you attack, allowing you to get close to an enemy and withstand their attack while still dealing damage. A very nice ability, but one that must recharge between uses. It was actually quite nice to see that such an ability wasn’t spammable. Harden is a great ability that adds a new layer of depth to the combat.
The player also has the ability to parry, something which is handy for stunning the enemy. As time passes a meter fills in the bottom left of the screen, next to your health bar. This meter, which shows your resolve, allows you to perform a Sekiro-style deathblow to an enemy who has been successfully parried.
The Foundling itself is actually very weak. With next to no health, you are quickly defeated as the Foundling. This is where the mortal shells come into play. These are the bodies of defeated warriors that the Foundling can possess, gaining their abilities and skills. There are four in the game, and in my hour with Mortal Shell I found the first two. It is worth noting that the two I found weren’t deep in the game, I spent most of my time with the game learning mechanics and dying. Initially, these shells are unknown vessels. However, using the tar dropped by defeated enemies you can learn the name of the vessel. Doing so unlocks that shell’s skill tree, and from there you can upgrade it how you see fit.
As you progress through the game and unlock these shells, you gain access to a catacomb. Here is where your shells are stored, and you can switch between them as you see fit. It is also possible to do this while exploring the world. Tokens can be found in the world, which allows you to swap shells wherever you are. The shell you are currently playing returns to the catacombs, ready to be called or swapped when needed. This mechanic is going to be interesting to properly test as I progress through the beta. Being able to switch shells, and essentially change my play-style, on the fly is something that really appeals to me. The tokens are consumable, so once you use it it is gone. I understand the reasoning for this, but would maybe prefer a system where the feature must recharge before use. I can’t imagine how tedious it would be having to travel back to change shells because I have no tokens.
Story, Or Seeming Lack Of?
As I said in the disclaimer, Mortal Shell is in beta so this may well change. However at the time of writing, the game doesn’t really seem to have a story. Maybe I just haven’t reached far enough into the game to come across it. But as the player you aren’t really sure why the Foundling travels to the mortal realm. Maybe this will be expanded on the game’s actual release. It’s highly possible that Cold Symmetry wanted to nail down the mechanics of the game before working on the story. Or maybe the game doesn’t have a story? I’m fine with either of these honestly, so long as the story is one that is fully explained. The lore of the Dark Souls games is extremely deep, and intertwined. It would be doing this game a great injustice to ruin it with a half-baked plot. The gameplay and mechanics of Mortal Shell are solid enough to support a game with no real plot, other than challenging bosses.
Overall, although I have only played an hour so far, I was really impressed with what I saw from Mortal Shell. The gameplay is very solid, and the new mechanics add a level of strategy to the game that I didn’t imagine it needed. The idea of having four customisable shells you can switch between depending on which boss you’re fighting is, quite honestly, genius. This first impressions piece does not do this game justice; it is one that you must experience for yourself. Fans of Dark Souls and Sekiro should not miss this game. Mortal Shell is set to release Q3 2020 on PS4, Xbox One and Epic Games with a Steam release planned for 2021.