Mortal Shell is a third-person action RPG soulslike, developed by newcomers Cold Symmetry, and published by Playstack. It was originally released in 2020 and re-released in 2021 for PS5 as Mortal Shell: Enhanced Edition, which includes DLC “The Virtuous Cycle.”
Now I love a good soulslike, since my initial outing in Bloodborne and then onto the Souls series, so I was ready for the pain.
On This Page
Mortal Shell is not just another Dark Souls clone. This game takes the Souls formula and adds its own bells and whistles, some of which are just pure genius.
The game takes place in Fallgrim, a gloomy yet beautiful, twisted, and intriguing place, and an unnamed aetherial water-filled plane. You play as “The Foundling,” a skeletal humanoid with whiteish-gray skin stretched over its frame. The Foundling is quite weak on its own. Still, it possesses the ability to inhabit the corpses of fallen heroes or “shells” located around the game world, each with its own strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities.
The Foundling awakens, lying in ruins filled with water a couple of inches deep. The entire world you find yourself in seems to sit in this depth of water. You trudge along the ruins, not knowing your purpose or what you are, picking up items (which you have no knowledge of their properties until you use them) and finally, you find a sword. At last, a means to defend your emaciated character. A warrior manifests from the water, instantly aggressive. You must defend yourself as best you can with your weapon and “Harden,” Mortal Shells’ genius mechanic where you encase your entire body in impenetrable stone. After the fight, you are swallowed by a large fish creature with similar white-gray skin to your own.
You awaken in Fallgrim, a dank and dismal woodland area, the persistent water depth now gone, replaced with aggressive humans, frogs, and other nightmare creatures. Here you find your first “Shell”, a fallen hero whose body you can inhabit, gaining their abilities and strengths. You must make your way through Fallgrim collecting Glands, a powerful organ within special beings that grants great strength to those that extract the Nektar from, and give them to a large chained creature atop Fallgrim Tower in order to receive its help.
Now, Mortal Shell already has more story than most Souls games but is equally confusing nonetheless.
This game is an action RPG played in the third-person perspective. You have a light and heavy attack, and no ability to block but you unlock parry, which can deflect most standard attacks, and repost for devastating damage and healing.
I need a Medic
Speaking of healing, your main source of healing in the open world, aside from reposting, is a Weltcap mushroom, which can be found in certain areas around the world, providing minimal health regain.
The Harden mechanic helps with this limited healing ability by allowing you to tank a hit, be it a light or heavy attack, and keep the fight going with minimal health loss. It has saved me in a number of dicey fights. One ingenious strategy is to use hardening mid-attack so your enemy is staggered from connecting their attack to you and, once you unharden, finish the attack animation to connect a haymaker.
Everybody Needs Some Body
The shells act as the classes in the game, each shell has its own health and stamina values, some more than others, and certain special abilities. These special abilities range from becoming a smoke cloud as you dodge, becoming more familiar with items quicker, releasing poison clouds when reposting, and many others.
The weapon variety is a letdown for me. You unlock your standard sword in the beginning and throughout the game, you can unlock a larger sword, a mace/staff, and a hammer and chisel. The DLC adds a fifth weapon, the Axatana, which takes direct inspiration from the trick weapons of Bloodborne. It can transform from fast dual katanas to a large, dual-handed war axe. Both forms have their own movesets and special attacks. I had a lot of fun with the Axatana.
Unlocking it, however, was excruciatingly frustrating as you must fight Hadern, the tutorial boss, for his ultimate weapon. His final form wields the Axatana and his move set for each weapon form leaves no opening for attack. I will admit I had to develop a dirty cheesing tactic in order to defeat him. I felt no sense of accomplishment in unlocking it.
The DLC “The Virtuous Cycle” adds a roguelike mode where you can attempt a run through the game world with replaced enemies. You need to activate columns for new buffs and abilities. All shells and weapons are available from the beginning, except for Hadern and Axatana, which need to be unlocked through certain challenges. I found this mode a refreshing detour from the main game. Unfortunately, as it is a separate mode, none of your progress or buffs carry back to the main game, only for future runs through the DLC.
As dark and dismal as the area of Fallgrim and its surrounding areas are, I can’t help but describe the game as stunning. From the damp swamps to catacombs, ice caves, and otherworldly obelisk structures, each area has its own enchanting look and feel.
Each shell has its own individuality with the tiniest details I found myself lost in finding. From the insignia on the plates and chainmail links in the armor, and the cloth flapping with every move, the graphics captured my attention.
The music of Mortal Shell consists of foreboding ambient sounds with deep choral chants. It fits very well with the theme and world. There is an option to add the music of Rotting Christ to the game. Wow, that changes the feel of everything. The punchy drums and chugging guitar definitely make the boss fights take on a whole new life. I almost wanted to fail on purpose just to experience the fight all over again with the new soundtracks.
There is such great attention to detail on the sounds. Armor clinks and feet thud with every step, grunts from each shell as you swing the weapons add weight, and the squelching and crunching as those swings connect just bring it all home perfectly. Fair dues to the sound team here, knocked it out of the park!
Completing the game unlocks new game plus, with harder enemies and other tweaks to sway the fairness to the enemies. This gives you more time to experiment with more shell and weapon combos. You could find your perfect mix or the chance to shake it all up and step out of your norm. It does have a short play time.
I’d love to see Cold Symmetry expand the game world size for any future games or sequels to Mortal Shell.
A great soulslike that builds on the foundations set up by Fromsoftware. Even though the game world is small, there is a lot to see here. The details, music, and sound are all massive plusses for me. You will have a great time with this game if you are a fan of the Souls games. Limited run time and lack of weapon variety make this game a great buy when it is on sale.
- Beautifully gloomy and varied world
- Shells are a fresh take on class selection
- Harden mechanic is a lot of fun
- Minute details and excellent sound
- Slightly confusing world layout
- Limited weapon variety
- DLC boss is an afterthought and not refined