After an impressive beta, we've returned to the new souls-like from Cold Symmetry.
Mortal Shell, the debut project from indie studio Cold Symmetry, is a souls-like that tinkers with the DNA of the acclaimed genre-inspiring series in many interesting new ways. Souls fans will find a lot familiar here, but there's also plenty of alluring new mechanics that prevent it from being a simple by-the-numbers copycat. It does have a lot of competition for the spotlight with titles such as Nioh 2, The Surge 2, and Code Vein all providing their own successful spins in the last 12 months, but fortunately, Mortal Shell is competent in executing its bold new ideas.
Combat feels like a hybrid between Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, as blocking isn't an option and there's the possibility of reviving your character upon death. A unique mechanic is when mid-battle you can temporarily transform yourself into a human statue. This can be implemented to stagger enemies if timed right and can be used to save your skin if you find yourself caught in the path of an enemy's combo. This new move in your arsenal can enable you to take a much more aggressive approach if you perfect when to use it.
As mentioned earlier, there is the opportunity to revive yourself after falling in battle. Once your HP is slashed to pieces, you are thrust backwards from your shell and must make a frantic dash to jump back into your cocoon-like body. Here, you are completely vulnerable, and it can be game over if you sustain even one blow. I liked this mechanic, as there is a great sense of danger and it felt like I had to earn the revive offered to me.
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Mortal Shell also distances itself from other souls-likes as it features four playable characters that you can possess that have their own skill trees and stat profiles. Instead of having to meticulously plan where to allocate stat points, here, you can simply switch between the four different builds and experiment with what best complements your playstyle. Each of these shells can be found right from the get-go within the main hub area, and each feels like they could be viable options for conquering the title's many challenging boss encounters.
Tiel, The Acolyte, for example, has just a shred of HP, but boatloads of stamina to compensate - a perfect build for those seeking an agile character that can quickly sneak out the way of danger. Edrim, The Venerable, however, has a healthy amount of HP, but can't string together too many dodge rolls along with his attacks, due to his low stamina. These differences are layered upon further within the skill trees, as each shell has its own series of abilities that it can unlock and learn. This includes Edrim's unique ability, which let him inflict additional damage on enemies that are on their own.
No souls-like would be complete without some seriously imposing bosses to put your skills to the test, and fortunately, Mortal Shell delivers on this front. One memorable boss tossed flaming corpses at me after lighting them on fire and another attempted to entrap me in a block of ice after summoning ice crystals across the battle arena. One thing that I did dislike, however, is that you are forced to fight the tutorial boss, Harden, each time you enter a new area to unlock new weapons. These encounters do provide a glimpse at how the weapon you're set to unlock can be used in combat, but it's just a little tedious and repetitive to do again once you pin down Harden's move-set.
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During my playthrough, I did encounter a handful of hiccups that went beyond just the occasional graphical bug. Along with the hordes of creatures trying to slash me down, the environment also proved to be one of my biggest enemies, as I'd occasionally find myself stuck within parts of the terrain when trying to dodge roll my way to safety. I also found that when backed into a corner the camera would sometimes get stuck in place, which prevented me from getting a clear view of what was going on. These issues often led me to be unfairly clobbered to death, which was frustrating in a game already brimming with challenges.
I also wasn't fond of just how cryptic Mortal Shell is, as it's never clearly explained where you should head next, or what particular consumable items do. When you pick up a new item, you'll have to use it blindly for the first time just to find out what impact it actually has. I found this frustrating, as it caused me to waste rarer items that I would have held onto until later had I known of their effects. Souls games are usually light on the details, but aspects such as this felt a little unnecessary and a bit cruel at times.
Mortal Shell is a knockout first release for Cold Symmetry, as it is able to embrace what made the Souls series so special, whilst successfully bringing in its own original ideas. I like how it presented several character builds to suit different play-styles and its harden mechanic helped to spice up the familiar combat style. Things do feel a little too cryptic at times, however, and I encountered issues with the terrain and the camera that led to plenty of frustration. Still, this is a solid new take on the beloved formula, and hopefully, we will get a chance to explore its shadowy world once more with the inclusion of some post-launch DLC.
8 / 10
The harden mechanic added a new layer to combat, it introduces a new class-like system to the general with the different shells, and the bosses are well designed.
Can feel unnecessarily cryptic, the camera and terrain would often cheat us out of victory, and battles against Harden felt repetitive.