Mortal Shell is a game that wears its influences on its sleeve while also offering new ideas and concepts to the Soulslike genre. With the recent release of the Enhanced Edition, it now runs smoother and faster than ever before. While the title’s opening hours brought me flashbacks to my recent playthrough of Demon’s Souls, Mortal Shell offers fans a shorter but often fulfilling journey into darkness. The developers at Cold Symmetry have created a bold adventure that utilizes the best and worst that this genre has to offer.
You can also read our review for the original game.
Story – A Ghost Without a Shell
Mortal Shell is not the kind of game that opens with a ten-minute cutscene explaining who or where you are. Instead, you wake up in a wet and foggy purgatory as The Foundling. Without direction, the skeleton-shaped hero moves forward, learning mostly everything he will need to know to succeed in his quest. Before long, you are captured and taken to the sadistic land of Fallgrim. The Foundling learns quickly that he will not last long here in his current form and must seek the tools to survive.
Like many of its predecessors, this title likes to hide almost all its exposition and backstory within item descriptions and hidden lore. Unfortunately, the narrative is not very original and felt a bit too similar to the games that influenced it. This initially caused an abundance of confusion for the first hour or so in my playthrough as I stumbled through Fallgrim, looking for a hint of where to go. Many will strive to learn everything they can about this world, but it quickly felt like a chore to me. Eventually, I discovered Fallgrim Tower, a safe place that introduced many of the game’s helpful NPC’s while also providing enough information to start the expedition truly.
Within the Tower, you will meet Sester Genessa, the most important and helpful NPC in the game. She reveals to you that hidden throughout the land are the bodies of four legendary warriors, that if found, can be used as a shell to keep you safe. You also learn from a giant bird named The Old Prisoner that you may have a chance to escape this land if you can collect the three Sacred Glands. At this point, you have clear objectives, and it is now up to you to decide which order to tackle them in.
Gameplay – New Dog, Old Tricks
Any player with previous experience with the Soulslike genre should understand Mortal Shell‘s fundamental mechanics shortly after booting it up. The game’s opening tutorial informs you that you have a light and heavy attack, as well as a dedicated roll button. Certain actions like running and rolling will quickly deplete your character’s stamina bar, so learning when to use them becomes a fun challenge of timing and strategy.
The Enhanced Edition now utilizes one of the best features of the DualSense controller: adaptive triggers. As your stamina depletes, the triggers get harder to press, allowing the player to gauge their stamina without drifting their eyes away from the battle. I found this extremely helpful as I would often run towards a boss to deliver a powerful blow, only to realize I couldn’t squeeze the triggers and quickly have to re-strategize.
One of my biggest complaints about playing the game was dealing with the AI. Often they would get stuck walking into trees or not being able to leave the rooms they were in. This allowed me to lead them into areas I knew they would get stuck in, then immediately slash them down. This broke the immersion of the game for me multiple times. When enemies worked properly, each one was a threat that could annihilate you. When a game looks this good, it’s a shame to discover its polish is only hiding flaws.
Characters and Abilities
While Mortal Shell uses many of the basic gameplay elements from its predecessors, it also brings many new ideas to the table. The first and possibly most unique is the game’s “Hardening” mechanic. The Foundling can use this power at any moment to prevent all incoming damage for a short amount of time. Whether you are swinging your sword a second too late or notice an upcoming enemy attack, you can use this power to freeze your character on the spot. Hardening does require a cooldown, so players must use it strategically to succeed. Mastering the skill was one of my favorite learning curves in the game. This is a make-or-break move that will dictate your success or failure in combat.
The game’s second unique feature is the use of shells. The Foundling is incredibly weak and can easily be taken down by a couple of hits. The game gives you the first shell early on in your adventure, but finding the other three won’t be easy. Fortunately, within Fallgrim Tower are clues that reveal where the bodies are hidden. Each shell represents a different warrior and provides unique combat styles, allowing each player to find the right shell for them. I personally played a majority of my run as Soloman, the Scholar. Soloman is a character with great health and stamina stats but can also use more special abilities than the others.
Once I felt comfortable playing Soloman, I didn’t feel much incentive to go back to or play as other characters. I was comfortable with his abilities, and other characters have different stamina bars that could throw off my entire “hit and run” strategy. Perhaps if the player was forced to play in a certain shell for each dungeon I would have spent more time as the other characters.
Each Shell also has its own unique skill tree and backstory to uncover. As the player hunts enemies and scavenges the area, you will stumble across two different currency types. Tar is the more common of the two and is typically exchanged for healing items or other consumables. Glimpses are rare drops the player will need to unlock new character abilities. Sester Genessa appears in multiple locations and will accept your glimpses for new passive or active traits. Upon purchasing a new skill, the game will slowly fill you in on your shell’s personality and history.
Fallgrim is an incredibly bleak and often confusing area to navigate. As a giant hub that leads to three different dungeons, I was hoping the paths to each Sacred Gland would feel different from each other. While I tried to keep my eyes open for landmarks, I still found myself wasting too much time looking for where I needed to go. I stumbled upon a man in a tree who required some fairly simple items to complete a quest. I quickly bought some food and drink for him but then spent an extra 30 minutes finding the specific path to get to him again. At a certain point, I felt discouraged to explore as I feared getting lost and wasting time.
After a while, I felt like I knew which paths I would need to travel to acquire the Sacred Glands. Upon defeating a boss and claiming my first Gland, I was shocked and afraid to discover that Fallgrim shifts states. While carrying a Sacred Gland back to the Old Prisoner in Fallgrim Tower, thick fog and new enemies arise. While it’s a cool idea that changes the world you thought you knew, the number of enemies and inability to see in front of you became more of a nuisance than a fun twist. Exploring the foggier Fallgrim does allow the player to access unique upgrades and fight certain bosses, but I preferred to keep the area fog-free at all times.
Graphics and Audio – Almost Perfect
Mortal Shell: Enhanced Edition comes with most of the bells and whistles one would expect from a current-generation title. It takes about 15 seconds to get into the game from the main menu, and Fallgrim looks pretty good when it’s not killing you. The title runs smoothly without any framerate issues, but I did notice some texture problems here and there. While everything looks good in the game, many locations seemed too similar to ever really stand out. My favorite dungeon was the Crypt of Martyrs in the snowy mountains because it finally felt like a change of scenery.
Mortal Shell is an incredibly ambient game. While the overworld and dungeons do not provide anything melodic, there are actually very clever uses of the built-in speaker on the DualSense. Early into Fallgrim, you will stumble upon a lute that you can add to your inventory. At any given moment, you can pull out the instrument and begin playing a rather catchy tune that mixes the audio between your TV speakers and the controller speaker. There is also a cat in the game that purrs through your controller when you pet it and is guaranteed to melt hearts instantly.
Mortal Shell: Enhanced Edition was reviewed on PS5. A key was provided by Evolve PR.