“Mortal Shell is a deep action-RPG that tests your sanity and resilience in a shattered world. Combat is strategic, deliberate, and unforgiving.” Let’s test that description, shall we? Drop in for today’s game gush where I discuss my experience with Mortal Shell on the Xbox Series X!
I am determined to make 2022 another successful year in my gaming journey. Surprisingly, Mortal Shell is the 1st game I have beaten in the brand new year. I will hopefully continue to slice and dice my way through the harrowing and ever-expansive backlog of video games.
What is Mortal Shell?
Mortal Shell is an action RPG game developed by Cold Symmetry and published by Playstack. On August 18, 2020, Mortal Shell released worldwide for PS4, Xbox One, and the Epic Games Store. In March 2021, the developers released a remastered edition for the PS5 and Xbox Series X which included:
- 4k resolution
- upgraded textures
- faster loading times
- dualsense support
- free upgrade for existing customers.
The developers were directly inspired by Dark Souls. If you know about Bloodborne or Dark Souls, then you are most likely familiar with Mortal Shell. The story is vague. Combat is simple yet difficult to master. Landscapes are damp and depressing. Most importantly, death results in backtracking where you died before in order to collect your oodles of experience points.
Blind Playthrough – Waking Up as The Foundling – Minor Spoilers
At the start of the game, I am embodied as a humanoid husk of pasty white flesh. This character is later referred to as The Foundling. As I traversed the tutorial, I learned the basic combat system. Combat consists of light attack, heavy attack, dodge, and the defensive technique of hardening. Hardening acts like a shield by transforming the Foundling’s body into stone. Any enemy attack will bounce right off and become momentarily staggered. Another nice effect is that the Foundling is immune to flame damage when hardened. There is a cooldown on this technique but it’s still short enough to where experienced players can easily abuse this method.
Shamefully, I died on the tutorial boss. To be fair, dying on the first go is kind of the point. But it is quite possible to defeat Hadern on the first try. Right after the tutorial, there is a side path that is extremely hard to miss. Adventuring down this path causes a gameplay cutscene to play. The camera zooms in on a body slouched against a pile of rocks. The man is motionless and dead.
The game begs a question: should we possess this shell of a man? I mean, I am a thin piece of meat as the Foundling, susceptible to many dangers and one-hit deaths. In the mortal shell, I would be protected and able to explore the world with my new abilities. Of course, the choice is obvious here as a brand new player. And thus, the name of the game was born!
So with that, here’s a short summary: Mortal Shell is an action RPG similar to Dark Souls but with a twist—possessing mortal shells (corpses of dead warriors) to enhance specific combat and exploration playstyles.
Types of Shells
There are 4 shells in the base game. Each one acts like a separate character class. Spending experience on a shell will unlock innate abilities. Combat remains the same but there may be talents you enjoy more in another shell that fit your exploration style. Please give a round of applause to our titular shells: Harros the Vassal, Tiel the Acolyte, Solomon the Scholar, and Eredrim the Venerable.
Harros, the Vassal — A balanced shell with uniform health, stamina, and resolve. Jack-of-all-trades class. Innate abilities that target experience growth and defensive techniques.
Tiel, the Acolyte — A light shell class with high stamina but lower health/defense and resolve. A fallen rogue character. Innate abilities that produce poisonous clouds and provide buffs to stamina usage.
Solomon, the Scholar — Focused primarily on Resolve. Decent health and stamina too. He’s a scholar, not a fighter though. Many innate abilities are focused on parrying attacks and boosting skill points.
Eredrím, the Venerable — Most durable shell with reduction in stamina and resolve. Increased defense and stagger potential. Innate abilities to withstand attacks and boost health/damage.
My Main Class
My favorite shell turned out to be Eredrím, the Venerable. Maximum HP and damage resilience at the cost of stamina and resolve (ability points)? Sign me up. He also had an amazing passive ability I learned. Eredrím gains an execution stack upon killing an enemy, each stack increases base attack damage, up to 100 stacks. Stacks are lost when separating from Eredrím. I played as Eredrím for probably 75% of my playthrough.
A Slow Burn
Mortal Shell is what you would call a slow burn. The beginning is a tough pill to swallow and then a few hours later, that same pill tastes like a piece of sweet candy. That very first pill is difficult because we know absolutely nothing about the world or the rules that ordain us there. What does this consumable do? Who is Hadern? Where do we go from here? We don’t know why we’re a zombified husk. Obviously no idea what we are actually trying to accomplish other than just surviving. And you know what? That’s great! Here’s why.
Many readers and gamers love to understand the world we are immersed in. A lot of video games take every moment to really shove lore into our faces (which we love). Mortal Shell does almost the opposite, doing their best to keep us left out of the loop for a long time. This approach connects simultaneously with their familiarity system for items. You see, any interactive item you pickup in Mortal Shell will not automatically tell you what it does. You have to use it at least once to even figure out the effect it will cause. Each item also has a max familiarity, so you may need to use the item at least 10 times to gain an additional benefit.
However, the game also uses the advantage of unknown effects to scare the player. For example, tarspore is a mushroom consumable picked off the ground. Sounds menacing, right? Using the item will actually deal poison damage to yourself (oh no, we were right). This obnoxiousness influences us to never want to use tarspore again. The familiarity system is like, “Use 9 more times to reveal further detail about this item.” And you’re thinking, “Hell no, I’m not dying from poison again for the sake of knowledge.” BUT… If you manage to use tarspore 10 times, you unlock the benefit of being immune to poison damage for 2 minutes. And this immunity does come in handy later on when fighting against the necrophage things and poison dart frogs lol
Fun Alternate Ending
A fun alternate ending is also available if you manage to find a character sitting on a random plateau. This guy was surprisingly difficult to find even when exploring every crevice. His name… Baghead. He’s a friendly marauder… with a bag on his head. After giving him a roasted rat and superior moonshine, he will ask if you’d like to enjoy an easy and peaceful life with him for eternity. Say yes, and a nice cinematic will show the Foundling sit down next to Baghead and play the lute. The credits will roll and then, plop, you’re back at the last checkpoint.
Mortal Shell Story Plot – Major Spoilers in Paragraph Below
The main plot is to defeat a total of 3 bosses: one at each end of the map (western, northern, and eastern). Defeating each boss allows the player to rip out a key item called a Gland. Give these key items to The Old Prisoner back at Fallgrim Tower (middle of the map). The Old Prisoner will release himself from captivity after you deliver him all three Glands. Unfortunately, he discovers the soul destined to Ascend is none other than the Foundling. With the knowledge at hand, he now becomes The Unchained, commencing the 4th and final boss battle!
There are 4 main environments in Mortal Shell. The middle of the map takes root as a forest. Shallow rivers stream across the landscape leading to new areas or poison dart frogs. A tower with a ringing bell resides near the northern edge of the forest. The tower becomes the main hub that you always travel by after defeating a boss.
The western side of the map is the frozen region. What I like about this region is a unique enemy who has many weapons speared through his body. Upon seeing the player, he will rip out a sword and hurl it. Fail to kill him fast enough, then he will literally rip his head off and chunk it at you like a meat pie. Is that it? Oh no, there’s more! The head explodes and deals poison damage too! I loved it.
Through the Fire and the Flames
The northern region is a mountain pass that leads to a temple of flames. Many variety of enemies are here. Men, wraiths, Jabba the Hutts bathing in hot cauldrons and throwing fireballs. A harder enemy with duel flame swords is here. Yeah, this place has it all. Really fun, really infuriating lol
Metallic Sky Temple
What could the eastern part of the map possibly be? Well, huge stones start appearing near the edge of the forest. Further in the ruins, shards of metallic crystal stretch to the sky. Next thing you know, there is an ancient temple which is 50 miles above the ground. Oh yes, it’s time to avoid rolling to your death while also defending against enemy threats.
I have not rage quit on a video game in a long, long, long time. My wife laughed so hard when I disgustingly rage quit after falling to my death about 4 times in a row at the sky temple right before the Shifting Archives. The angry part is that the game did not even do anything wrong. There is honestly no major reason to fall off the ledges. All of my failures were me and my stupid thumbs. I was so mad at myself. It was just a terrible experience haha
Mortal Shell Total Playtime
Beating the story mode on my blind playthrough with absolutely no resources off the internet was completed at 10 hours 47 minutes. Average length to beat the game is 10-15 hours. And yes, the image is me petting the merchant’s cat. YOU CAN PET THE CAT! Purrfect!
Mortal Shell Rating – 85 Gingerbread Cookies
Cold Symmetry used a unique concept and harnessed that energy in crafting a full-fledged video game. Similar enough to the inspirational, Dark Souls. Different enough to be something else entirely. The longer I played, the deeper I crawled into the matrix. I had an absolute blast. Just don’t get me started on the lore of that one mango haha