Updated: Feb 19
Prepare to die (differently)
Available on: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows.
Genre: Action - RPG.
Developer: Cold Symmetry.
Released: Q3 2020.
I know I am starting to sound like a broken record in my short time here with CGC but I really love the soulslike genre of games. Sometimes I feel like that's all people think I play and talk about. Yes I do talk about them alot but hey, people who love football talk about that alot and I don't complain. So, you can probably guess that I am here yet again to talk about another soulslike game. More on that in a minute.
First I want to tell you why I am writing this article. A lot of what we do here at CGC is reactionary. We play games, we review and talk about them. That's not to say we are always reacting post game launch, take this article on Baldur's Gate III for example but most of the time we talk about games after we play them. This time I am aiming to talk about a game before its release. Hopefully it will turn your attention to a game you may know nothing about or a game you have seen a trailer for and what to know more.
Now that you have a better understanding of what I am here to talk about. Here is why I am excited for Mortal Shell.
Dark atmospheric world.
While many games over the years have copied the Dark Souls formula one thing they never seem to nail is the dark atmosphere of a world at the end of its life. Mortal Shell seems to have this in spades. Recently there was a closed beta for the game which I have yet to play but have seen a lot of videos about. My impression is that much like a Dark Souls game this is a fully realised world that the player is thrown into and left to figure through cryptic dialogue, item descriptions and environmental storytelling. It feels like there is a dark fog of dread hanging over everyone and everything and while that might seem depressing to some, for me it can make a dark fantasy game truly great.
The physical game world looks like one that will encourage exploration at every turn, rewarding the player for being brave enough to push further down a path even if they are afraid of what they might meet. While I wouldn't put soulslike games in the horror genre they do scare in their own way and Mortal Shell seems no different. When I say they scare I of course refer to that element of the unknown. Not knowing what awaits around the next corner to kill you and cause the loss of all your hard earned XP. This of course is not new to the soulslike genre but whereas in some games it's fun to see what challenge awaits around the corner Mortal Shell has definitely captured that tip toe feeling of slowly approaching your next unknown encounter.
If it ain't broke, tweak it.
Like we come to expect from souls like games Mortal Shell has all the usual combat elements of reading your opponents attack patterns, dodging, parrying and attacking. Repeat until victorious. Where Mortal Shell mixes things up is the lack of a block option. Instead a player can harden their body to an almost concrete like substance to absorb all the damage and stagger the enemy. This sounds great but it comes with a caveat, this skill has a hefty cool down meaning you can just spam it at will. If it's cooling down your only other choices are to dodge or parry the latter of which looks to have tricky timing.
Another way in which Mortal Shell is changing up the formula is by removing a dedicated healing item. Instead you can gain back health by picking up items of food scattered throughout the world. This might seem crazy in a game that's championing souls level difficulty but there is another way to regain health although it's a little more risky. You can do a special parry that when landed gives heals a large portion of your life bar but like blocking mentioned above it comes at a cost. Performing this parry costs resolve a resource that is gained from attacking enemies. To gain resolve you need to be aggressive as if you stop attacking the meter will start to drain. All these systems layered on each other introduce a nice element of risk reward, making every piece of health lost feel devastating.
Class based souls.
Yet another way Mortal Shell is trying to change up this well established formula is add a class based system for characters which are your shells. This is something that has never been done much in the soulslike genre. So far the devs have shown off two shells. The first, Harros is your standard tanky knight you would come to expect from any soulslike, a pretty standard entry level class. The second, Tiel is more akin to a dexterity build in dark souls. High stamina for fast attacking but low health. Tiel does come with a shadow doge mechanic allowing him to teleport a short distance instead of the standard dash and roll. Shells can be swapped out at checkpoints meaning you can swap them out depending on the scenario you're facing. Also they can be swapped on the fly using a special item but I have a feeling that will be a very rare resource.
Just like you would expect from a soulslike, enemies drop a currency known as Tar, used for purchasing items from vendors and upgrading your shells skills. However, when it comes to upgrading Tar on it's own is not enough. There is another resource dropped by enemies called aptly named Glimpses because they allow you a glimpse at new abilities. Once again trying to shake up the formula Glimpses are only dropped by enemies the first time you defeat. My guess is to discourage farming of low level grunts to get a leg up on the game's difficulty.
Scratching that itch.
Mortal Shell looks to me to be a game that is taking a look at its popular predecessors and using what has been proven to work. However, they are not just content with what works. They are trying to carve out their own piece of the pie by adding new elements that will make them stand out from the crowd. One thing I haven't mentioned is that this game is being made by a team of 12 or so people. Which would make it easy for them to say let's just do what works. I commend developer Cold Symmetry for pushing themselves to be different.
With the game being developed by such a small team it's shaping up to be a more compact souls experience. I for one welcome this. With the game releasing sometime in Q3 it will have to contend with the usual sea of game releases we have grown accustomed to in the Autumn period. I have no doubt that my attention will be hotly contested. So, if Mortal Shell can deliver that souls feeling in a game that is between 10 & 20 hours I will be very happy. This means I can get my soulslike fix and not miss out on all the other titles competing for my time.
Mortal Shell has caught my attention for more than just being a soulslike but for taking new risks with a formula that has started to saturate the gaming space. It looks like a game I will be playing day one and no doubt you will hear more thoughts from me right here on Casual Game Critic.
Watch out for this game if...
You like soulslike games.
You are looking for a fresh take on the genre.
You enjoy dark fantasy worlds.
You love punishing precise combat.
All images taken from the Mortal Shell press kit here
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