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Another of our writers covered their thoughts over in our Mortal Shell Review – the following is a second opinion of sorts.
I am constantly on the scent for a new Souls experience, like a bloodhound on the scent of a duck. Over the years, some games have been able to fulfill my need; others have fallen short. When reviews surfaced of Mortal Shell, I became very disappointed in myself; how did I not know about this game? My strength buoyed further at the solid reviews coming out for the Souls-like title. After experiencing what the game has to offer, I can say that Mortal Shell does a lot of things right, but the ledger is a bit more filled on the dislike side of things. For the purposes of something a little different, I will list this review with what I like, what I am neutral about, and what I dislike.
What I Like
First and foremost, the combat shines in Mortal Shell. Every decision requires thought, patience, and skill. Where some games encourage rapid smashing of the action button, Mortal Shell provides the exact opposite experience. Your weapon hits with a distinct thud, enemies stagger after attempting to block, and your stamina drains appropriately. In some ways, Mortal Shell does combat better than Dark Souls, which is a strong thing to consider. As a veteran of the latter, I was taken aback by the effort needed to re-learn combat. The only flaw in the hand-to-hand duels are the hit boxes — they seem a bit off.
On the tails of the combat, Mortal Shell introduces a cool concept with ‘harden’, a way for your character to turn to stone until getting hit or the timer runs out. You can execute an action with your sword, enter into the harden state, wait for your opponent to hit your stone body, and then let go of the trigger to finish the entire sequence. This ability alone is almost worth the price of admission if you are a Souls veteran.
The worlds of Mortal Shell remind me a lot of Demon’s Souls, a PS3 experience that I treasure to this day. While you can only see the same types of landscapes so many times before getting bored, Mortal Shell adds the “floaty” nature of Demon’s Souls to their inventory. The caverns are oppressive, the snow world gives me chills, and the giant temple provides a strong cult-like feeling. Mortal Shell does not reinvent the wheel at all; it simply adds a nice touch to bring the worlds to life.
What I am Neutral About
Overall, the regular enemies in Mortal Shell are pretty standard fare. Ranging from knights to demons, you have likely seen these all before. There was one enemy in the temple dungeon that made me smile from how well it was designed; however, it made me realize that the studio could do better. The bosses are nothing special; I really enjoyed Tarsus, but no one else has stood out.
The enemy tracking is weird. I was surprised at how long the enemies follow you. I remember speed running through one part of the temple dungeon, only to turn around and see every single enemy following me. Some may like this concept, others may not. In reality, it does make sense that a threat (the player) should be followed until eliminated.
Much like the Souls series, you are fed information in very small, hard-to-understand chunks. If you are a person who likes this presentation of lore, you may enjoy what the game has to offer. Unfortunately, because the experience is so short, the lore likely does not have enough content to be fleshed out. It does the job.
I have yet to be “wowed” by any of the tracks in Mortal Shell; however, I do enjoy the rest of the ambiance in the world. The voice acting in the short audio clips is great, and I wish there was more of it.
What I Dislike
The way you “customize” your hero is frustrating to say the least. Mortal Shell has you enter the “body” of another warrior in which you can inherit their style and abilities. With my experience, I ended up taking a wrong turn and wound up in the second dungeon. After completing the second dungeon, I back-tracked and found one of the missing Shells that I should have grabbed early. At that point, I had already become so proficient in the basic soldier that I did not feel the need to grab the other Shells that I have yet to obtain.
Other games have handled their systems in a similar manner; you do not get all of the choices upfront. This truly restricts the player in picking the style they want to pursue and the skills they want to upgrade. When you do not know about everything upfront, there is no way to know (other than looking at a wiki) what is available to you. If I want to play as a thief character with high stamina but low health, I should have that choice right from the beginning. The Souls games have the perfect formula, and there is no reason to try and recreate the wheel to the player’s detriment.
While I enjoy the overall aesthetics of the worlds in Mortal Shell, the levels are designed very poorly. In my last paragraph, I outlined that I took a wrong turn and ended up way out of the correct location. At one point in the second dungeon, you cannot backtrack to a previous world, thus forcing me into completing an area I was under-leveled for. I appreciate complexity in a game, but this reminded me of old school 2D dungeon crawlers that provide a frustrating amount of options. Every path that split into four directions then split into another two and more after that — much too overwhelming. The level design caused me to make a wrong turn in the first hour and forever altered my experience with this game. The Souls games provided options but not at the cost of driving players crazy.
As Scott mentioned in his review, the healing system is awful. You are forced to use consumables to heal yourself; these rarely get you a third of your health back and are very hard to find in the world. If you do end up finding a spot where healing items respawn, there is a long timer for their return. Also, consumables themselves have a weird gimmick in which you have to use one before you understand what it does; causing players to waste valuable resources early on to understand what something does. There is no need for this system.
Finally, the game is much too short for the asking price. At the point of entering the final dungeon, I had logged about five or so hours playtime, and finished Mortal Shell in 8-10 hours total. If the development team included a few more bosses or areas, the $30 would be a bit more justified. I feel this game would be more appropriately priced around $20-25.
Should you buy?
That all depends. If you are missing that Souls experience in your life, Mortal Shell is worth a purchase. The combat alone is worth playing through the game for, and the worlds are engrossing. On the other hand, there are a lot of poor design decisions that take away from a truly masterful game, most notably the lack of customization and a bad level structure.
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