FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series and Bloodborne have already become a genre of their own. While they’re technically action role-playing games, they’ve become known as ‘SoulsBorne’ genre that combine stamina-based combats, a steep learning curve, and higher than average difficulty.
This kind of gameplay quickly formed a following so naturally, more similar titles came out. You have Nioh, Ashen, and Code Vein to name a few, with the recent one being Mortal Shell that was just released in mid-August of 2020.
It’s a SoulsBorne-inspired game at its core but promises some unique aspects in its gameplay. Join us in our review.
Story, Character Design, and Weapons
The swampy forest of Fallgrim serves as your main hub and connects three core dungeons of the game where you battle bosses and progress the story.
The game starts you off with an undead-like form that can barely take damage — basically, a single strike from an enemy will end your existence. Your survival depends on taking possession of the corpse of four dead warriors which you find scattered across Fallgrim.
Those bodies you possess will become your “shell” and these shells have different builds that you can explore and level up. Each of them has different attributes as well. For example, the first shell you possess in the game has very balanced attributes while other shells have higher stamina or higher health.
Early on in the game, you will arrive in Fallgrim Tower. This tower houses many of the game’s NPCs (non-player character) and you can interact, buy items, and unlock new abilities for your shell. In addition to that, this is a place to swap shells or weapons and even upgrade your weapons through a workbench.
The game’s environment is designed well. Various locations of the game have their own look and style and I was amazed at the size of the game’s world especially knowing that the game comes from Cold Symmetry — a small group with limited budget and manpower.
Character design for the game looks familiar to the Dark Souls series, but at the same time, have unique elements in them. Additionally, the game looks fantastic on Unreal Engine 4.
However, I was disappointed with the selection of weapons in the game as it only has four weapons to choose from. Although I usually stick to only one weapon when I play Dark Souls and Bloodborne, it’s still nice to have the option of choosing from an array of weapons to know which of these suits your play style.
Item familiarity and exploration
This game introduces a new but welcome mechanic for items. Whenever you loot, you initially wouldn’t know right away what its effects are and you first have to use it in order to discover its purpose. Plus, there’s a familiarity aspect that changes the item’s effects.
One example would be eating a poisonous mushroom. Consuming it for the first time damages your character because, well, it’s poison. But as you max out your familiarity on that item, you gain poison protection from it instead. It is an interesting and fresh mechanic that forces you to explore different areas of the game in order to find items and their effects. This also eliminates the tendency to hoard items throughout the gameplay.
In addition to that, you can collect other shells and switch up your play style by exploring Fallgrim. This game really encourages exploration and gives you great satisfaction every time you discover or familiarize your character with a fresh item. By curiously trying items for the first time and eventually learning all about its effects, you get a sense of accomplishment and it makes you want to do it more.
There were times when I spent hours just exploring Fallgrim’s tombs, shrines, and crypts looking for secret areas and items. I lost track of time admiring its mysterious and spooky environment and just completely forgetting about the story or combats altogether. There are simply so many things to discover that it was somewhat overwhelming in the beginning until you find your bearings.
This kind of game exploration is great, but not without faults. I personally find it frustrating that the swampy forest of Fallgrim looks the same everywhere I go. It doesn’t have any distinct markings or rock formations of any kind to familiarize yourself with. This results in me usually going around in circles just to find a new area. It could also well be intentional to add to the game’s difficulty but I’d say it could’ve been executed better.
Similarities and differences to Darks Souls and Bloodborne
It’s true that putting this game side-by-side the Dark Souls series or Bloodborne game has a lot of similarities when it comes to the game interface, art style, character, and design.
It has the same set of moves — a quick light attack, a slow heavy attack, and dodge that similar games have. And when you die, you’ll drop your experience points and will be left for you to pick it up in the spot where you last died.
Yes, it carries the SoulsBorne DNA, but to be fair to Cold Symmetry, they did add new interesting mechanics for the game to have a flavor of its own.
For one, your character does not have a Block command in its combat system. Instead, it has a Harden function that lets your body become invincible for one enemy strike. However, this has a cooldown before you can use it again to keep you from spamming it. It’s an interesting feature since it allows you to perform cinematic moves and combos like using Harden in between swings to deflect your enemy’s attack and then continue on with your combo flawlessly.
This ability is pretty useful during boss battles. But at the same time, it does make combat easier than what I am accustomed to from playing SoulsBorne games.
You also have the ability to deflect your enemies’ attack by timing it. Each successful deflect and counter-attack adds health to your life bar but, at the same time, each successful deflect decreases your Resolve meter. So it’s basically a balance of deflecting and using your weapon’s abilities.
I noticed that the enemy movement is slow and easy to predict. Again, making enemy encounters easier than Dark Souls or Bloodborne. Additionally, when you die, your undead form will be knocked out of your shell but if you can make it back without being hit by an enemy, you regain full health and serves as your second chance. But of course, you can’t exploit it as it’s available to use only once until you reach the next checkpoint or your character respawns from death.
But the game balances this out by making other aspects more challenging. It doesn’t have fixed health restoration items like Dark Souls’ Estus Flask. Instead, you can find healing items throughout Fallgrim but it only heals a small amount of your health.
Sester, the game’s checkpoint similar to Dark Souls’ bonfire, are placed far apart. If you die before reaching another Sester you’ll have to start over from your last Sester’s location. Furthermore, this game doesn’t give you the option to manual save and it forces you to only save your progress through autosaves — thus making it more difficult for the players.
Mortal Shell shares a handful of similarities to the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne game. Although, at the same time, adds its unique touch of gameplay. Despite its flaws, I can say the exploration aspect of this game is one of the best in its genre.
As the game only has four shells, four weapons, four main areas, four minor bosses, and four main bosses, my one big disappointment when I finished this game is the feeling of just wanting more — more shells, more weapons, more areas to discover, and more bosses to fight.
I couldn’t fault the small team of developers, though. Rather, I want to congratulate them since I’m impressed with how much quality content the game has and I’m actually excited to see more games from Cold Symmetry in the future.
If you’re looking for a solid action RPG with a reasonable price, I recommend checking this game out. It’s not the greatest SoulsBorne game out there, but with just a price of US$ 29.99, its hard to ask for more.
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