Mortal Shell is a hardcore third person action game we were excited for (and impressed with) when it first came out in August of last year. With the recent release of Mortal Shell: Enhanced Edition, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to revisit the bite-sized soulslike. If you’re not familiar, in Mortal Shell, you play as the Foundling, a creature who looks like they were designed by H.R. Giger, who awakens in a strange, mist-covered place. Here you’re taught the basics of combat, including the game’s unique “Harden” mechanic, which makes your character invulnerable at the cost of being able to move. Before long, you’re attacked by a giant fish, eventually finding yourself in a huge, grim swamp full of people things and that want you dead. You’re naked, weak, and you’ve only got a sword. Thankfully, you’ll soon enough find your Shell, which will give you the edge you need to survive this cruel world.
Mortal Shell eschews the RPG elements of Dark Souls for four unique Shells, each acting as a different class with differing amounts of health, stamina, and resolve, which can be used for weapon attacks and empowered ripostes. Using tar and glimpses – the currencies of Mortal Shell – you can unlock new abilities for each Shell. Soon enough, you’ll also unlock the ability to parry attacks. If you have enough resolve, which is gained by landing attacks, you can then follow up a parry with an empowered riposte, which can have a number of different effects depending on what you have equipped. My favorite is definitely the ability to heal on a successful parry – I love games that allow me to heal through combat.
In a similar vein to the four shells, there are four melee weapons you can unlock throughout the world, along with a shoulder-mounted cross. You can’t just run up a snag a weapon though– instead you must defeat Hadern to earn that right. You obtain the Hallowed Sword by default, with the other three weapons–a heavy mace, a swift hammer and chisel, and an almost comically large long sword earned through combat with this substantial foe. Each weapon can also be upgraded to deal more damage and gain unique weapon attacks.
Mortal Shell’s combat feels incredibly solid. Swinging weapons feels powerful and weighty without being too slow, while parrying and the Harden mechanic allow you to get a little ballsier with your attacks. Harden, in particular, is something that you must get good at, as it opens up entirely new ways to come at enemies. You can harden at any time, even during an attack animation– so you can swing, Harden, wait for an enemy to attack you, then exit Harden to complete your attack as your enemy recoils. It’s definitely something to get used to, but you’ll be rewarded greatly for mastering it. The Enhanced Edition also boosts the frame rate to 60 fps on PS5 and Xbox Series X, meaning combat feels even smoother.
Mortal Shell has four main regions, with the swamp acting as sort of hub leading to the other three, and this is where one of my few complaints comes in: the swamp is my least favorite of the four–it’s easy to get lost in and looks sort of same throughout, and since it’s where you start the game proper, this can be be a bit a of hurdle. The other environs feel far more easy navigate, although that could be more a case of their more linear design. Regardless, they all look great, and with the increased resolution on next-gen hardware, they look even better.
One of my favorite parts of Mortal Shell is how it handles items, because the first time you pick one up, you aren’t given any clues as to how it functions. The only way to learn is to use it, like when I used a Tarspoor for the first time, assuming it might give me some tar, only to realize it actually deals 40 damage over 16 seconds. The more you use an item, the more familiar you become with it, which eventually leads to bonus effects with items you’ve used enough. I love when a game lets you figure stuff out on your own, even if it means poisoning yourself, and the familiarity system lets you focus on items you prefer in order to make them even more useful.
Mortal Shell may be stripped down when it comes to variety, but its shorter length allows for a more focused experience. The combat is excellent, the atmosphere and setting are breathtaking, and once you get out of the swamp you’ve got an excellent game on your hands.
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