Mortal Shell Review(PS4)
''Your SOUL is MINE''
Mortal Shell is a dark fantasy action game developed by Cold Symmetry and published by Playstack. In the vein of games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne,the devs at Cold Symmetry aim to make their own soul like experience while at the same time changing the formula just enough to set it apart from the games it will be compared so much to. Do they accomplish this feat or is it just another run off the mill soul-like copy and paste. Lets find out.
Enter the dark world of FallGrim as an empty vessel in order to do the bidding of the mysterious being known as the 'Dark Father'. Journey across the land to discover new allies and new shells to over take so that you may complete his tasks that he has asked of you.
As you've probably already guessed,Mortal Shell takes a lot of its inspiration from the souls series,both in regards to its game play and even down to its aesthetic. But just calling it a straight up souls clone would be an insult to the developers and their vision of taking a well established formula,tweaking it and making something that feels very familiar, but yet, completely different at the same time, and all of it is done by just 15 people over at Cold Symmetry. Not a small task at all.
You're set in the world/land known as Fallgrim and a mysterious being known as the Dark Father has his eyes set on you. He wishes for you to complete the tasks given to you,which include wanting you to journey across the world to find three sacred glands so that you may obtain the Nektar,in return you will receive ''power''. Simple enough right? hell no it isn't. This game doesn't hold back in its difficulty and only gets worse in that department as you go, but mastering the games own mechanics can make this frustration turn into a feeling of self accomplishment.
Once you start the game, you will notice you're in a dead humanoid like body,this will not do. Should you try to take on any enemies in this state, you will die in one to two hits minimum, you should not and cannot fight effectively in this form,but, this is where the game's title comes into play,Mortal Shell. The title is as self explanatory as it states, as you journey through the different sections of the game, you will come across dead soldiers that are sprawled throughout the maps,approaching them will give you an option to learn more about them,such as lore/backstory and their class. Choose to take over that body and you will gain access to their flesh, making them your new 'Shell'. Each shell has their own skill set and unique abilities to use at your disposal, pick and stay with the one that you like the most.
Each shell you take over as stated will have a different class to play as such as a Paladin like knight, or classes like a Scholar. There are others, but I'd like to keep the focus on these two just to give you the reader an idea of the type of abilities that comes with each class as you obtain your new shell. Paladin for example will offer you a boost in your overall health,higher defense and has a higher damage output, whereas on the flip side,scholar has much lower defense and health,however, it will give you more stamina and faster regeneration of Resolve. Resolve can be used to activate specific skills and abilities and restore health with Riposte,which is pivotal for parrying. Pick whichever class you feel best suits your play style.
As with the souls series, you have attacks that range from light attacks to heavy attacks, each one drains your stamina differently,some enemies are faster than others so use heavy attacks only in safe situations. The combat in this game can be absolutely brutal, so its a must to get used to the mechanics of hardening and parry. Hardening in this game turns your body into stone for at least two attacks from your enemies,a right timed harden use will send your enemies falling back and temporarily stunning them. You may harden while in mid attack as well for some much need strategy or just wait till you know their attack pattern and wait for the attack yourself. Your second biggest mechanic you have to learn to master is the use of your Parry, however,it does not work like you think it does.
In order to learn Parry, you must first make your way to the Fallgrim Tower second floor to look for ''Old Prisoner''. For freeing him, he will give you the ability to parry, but you can not use it whenever you wish because it drains your Resolve meter. The only way to get more resolve is by damaging your enemies and filling the meter yourself, only then will parry be usable. When timed correctly, you're parry will stun an enemy,giving you a chance at a one stab kill,which will in turn give you a boost of health. Otherwise, you're left with minimal health items such as Mushrooms,which are found sparingly throughout the stages and only offer a slow regeneration of health over a 30 second time period. So learn your parry's right now or you will have a very BAD time.
Between the harden mechanic and parrying, the game will take some getting adjusted to, but it shouldn't take too long to figure it out all out. But now its about time for you to set out and actually fight something and boy is there a lot to fight, although, not every enemy variety is a winner. In the early stages you will run into multiple enemy types,such as archers,8ft tall monsters with spears,generic zombie bandits that have swords or clubs, and each one of these enemies has their own separate moves, no one moves at the same speed,swings the same, so you have to adjust to each enemy individually as you push your way through the game, big case of trial and error. While the normal enemy variety in the game won't set the world on fire, the boss fights surely will,this is where the hype was for me as a player.
Of course, what would a dark fantasy monster slashing game like this be without some good ol boss fights. I won't get into the meat and potatoes of all of them as I feel that's a disservice to both the reader and the developers, but the main one I would like to talk about in this instance is Imrod,The Unrepentant. You encounter this mad lad a little bit into the game and he's a big boy. Standing around 8-9ft tall compared to your character,he's a mace wielding enemy that uses long slash and pounding attacks, as well as uses fire on his weapon. Making use of harden isn't effective here, so your main tactic should be stick and move and use your agility and speed to your advantage to pick and choose when to stay back or when to be aggressive. However, in true souls/borne fashion, just when you think you've beaten him, nope, he comes right back for a second phase of the fight,which is even harder than the first form! Ah ha ha....ha...ha ...ha -rips hair out-. Alrighty.
While this game is difficult and even seems very unbalanced at times in that category, they do try to help you a little bit by giving you a second chance at life. You see, once you take over a shell, think of it as getting a 1 up or an extra life. The first time you perish while in your shell, you will immediately be flung out of it,back into your naked dead body, and you will have a chance to go right back into your shell by interacting with it,which will give you all your health back and a chance to take the boss or enemy on once again. However, should you take a hit in your naked body form, you're done and will get your game over. So make sure you are in the clear to get back into your shell before attempting to do so.
This is perhaps the most impressive thing about the game overall. I'm not docking the game play or any other aspects of the game the developers bring to the table, but to me what the developers at Cold Symmetry pulled off with only 15 people,is incredible. This game has the quality just as good, if not better,then a lot of AAA games out today. If I didn't know what the game was and someone just told me ''Yo this is Dark Souls 4'', honestly it would be believable. Each environment you tread through such as dark swampy forests,ice caverns,temples and catacombs, they all have their own distinct feel and look and level of polish to them that makes them all stand out in their own way. We need to see who's shell these developers stole, I'm betting on a wizard,due to what they have done here.
After being interested in this game due to the soul-like game play, I went into it just wanting a decent soul-like experience bare minimum,but at the end of the day getting much more than that and not only meeting my expectations,but surpassing them entirely. This game is so much more than a souls clone and has its own unique identity to stand foot on. We hear so much talk about when is the next souls-like coming out all the time, but now in the future I feel it's going to be changing to,when is the next game like Mortal Shell going to come out. With so much sequel potential here, I look forward to the future of this franchise and games in general from Cold Symmetry, and so should you
Mortal Shell is out now on Playstation 4,Xbox One,Windows
*Review code provided by developer/publisher