The term “Souls-like” is tossed out entirely too much. Almost any review of a remotely punishing game will get the addition of “Souls-like” and this review is no different. It’s nigh impossible to capture the exact tone and feel of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s vision, but Mortal Shell comes damn close. Mortal Shell encapsulates what it means and feels like to play the Souls series, in a bite-sized fashion. The game doesn’t just rehash the difficulty and style, but keeps it alive and new by adding fresh concepts.
Mortal Shell is set in the distraught world of Falgrim. Players are put in control of a wraith-like creature known as the Foundling. Its reason for being and existence are unknown. Just like most “Souls-like” titles, Mortal Shell drops players into the world of Falgrim with nothing.
After being thrust through a fast tutorial, players are put in a swamp with no clear direction on where to go. It’s clear that meaning and memories have become a form of currency among the ruins of Falgrim.
The only sense of purpose that players are given comes from within a toppled tower and from a chained being who begs players to find and bring him three “sacred glands” from various temples across the land. Each sacred gland contains a substance known as Nektar, and in exchange for the Nektar, the being will give the player power.
And players will need that power. As the Foundling starts his journey, he is very weak. One blow and he’s done. Luckily, close to where players enter Falgrim, they will see a fallen suit of armor that the Foundling can inhabit and use as his own. This is one of the central parts of Mortal Shell.
Upon inhabiting a shell, the Foundling’s health, stamina, and resolve will change. Resolve is how players activate their abilities. One resolve bar is used for parry abilities. Two resolve bars are used for most weapon abilities. There are four shells in total and each offer a completely different play style.
The first shell players find, Harros, is the typical middle-of-the-road guy. Medium health, stamina, and decent amount of resolve bars. The other three shells hidden throughout Falgrim offer different experiences. Players will find a tank, a rogue, and a resolve-focused shell. I used that last shell, Solomon the Scholar.
Each shell has its own progression system that can be unlocked by talking to Sester Genessa. Think of her like the Firekeeper in Dark Souls. Sester Genessa will show up throughout Falgrim in key places. She allows players to improve their shell, refill their life, and she offers tidbits of lore at each point in the player’s journey.
And unlike the Souls series, Mortal Shell does not make healing easy. If players want to heal themselves, they must scrounge for mushrooms or grind currency, known as tar, to buy healing items from the merchant, who has a cat that everyone should absolutely pet.
At first, the lack of a dependable healing item destroyed me. I was playing Mortal Shell as I would Dark Souls. Mortal Shell has a “harden” feature that turns the players into stone, which negates damage for one attack and has the chance to stagger bosses. Once I got the hang of the harden system, I laughed in the face of bosses. There is something so rewarding being able to tank through a combo and just smack the boss around.
The combat of Mortal Shell feels incredible. Each swing of the weapon feels deliberate and combat becomes a little dance. Players have access to a light attack, heavy attack, and if their weapon is upgraded, players have access to a special weapon ability that requires resolve to perform.
There are four weapons available: Hollow Sword, Martyr’s long blade, Molten Hammer, and Hammer and Chisel. Each of the weapons offer a unique move set and feel vastly different. Players will most likely end up finding one weapon that they like and use that as their main throughout their journey.
And what good “Souls-like” game would be complete without a parry system? Mortal Shell‘s combat revolves around hardening, small dodges, and parries. Every boss can be parried. If players have a bar of resolve and the proper upgrade, parries will also reward the players with some health.
Honestly, Mortal Shell kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I played. I always felt anxious that death was right around the corner. I haven’t felt that way in a game since the first time I played Dark Souls.
Each of the boss fights are an absolute blast and such a great experience. Each time I died against one of these behemoths, I never got upset; I was more determined to figure out what makes them tick and how to defeat them. Personally, my favorite fight is the final one. I kept muttering “what is that?” or “he’s doing what?” while fighting him.
Mortal Shell is a relatively short gaming experience. There are three temples with four main bosses to tackle. There are also a string of mini-bosses here and there. Honestly, I appreciate that. My first play through took only eight hours, but it felt just the right amount of length to get invested in the story and to have a good time.
One issue I had with the game was the load times. It takes too long to load back in after a death, and you will die often. In the early hours of the adventure, I spent more time waiting on the game to load than actually playing. Later, when going up against the bosses, I used the downtime to analyze the fight, but I was chomping at the bit to get back into the action.
Annoyances aside, Mortal Shell is a great bite-sized gaming experience, at a very nice price. It harkened back to why I love the Souls series. It felt almost like a love letter to those games. Dark Souls walked so that Mortal Shell could run. When I finished the game, I wanted more. I want more of this world. I want to experience more fights.
What Mortal Shell offers felt more like a appetizer, and I want the full course. This game is definitely something Souls veterans should play, and players new to the genre should try for its forgiving combat and short length. You won’t be disappointed.
Mortal Shell is out now for the PS4 and Xbox One and for PC. This review was played on PlayStation 4 Pro. A copy of the game was provided by Playstack for this review. Images within the review were taken in-game.