Mortal Shell – Demo Impressions

In a sea of souls-like titles, it only took a few minutes into the Mortal Shell demo for it to pique my interest.   The demo itself is only 30 minutes to an hour long and this is dependent on how quickly you adapt to the mechanics, but what’s there is pretty great.  This is one of the most polished demo’s that I can remember in recent memory and it left a strong impression and will more than likely become one of the most anticipated titles for the second half of 2020.

The player wakes up in what appears to be a translucent husk in the middle of some dilapidated ruins.  From here, you are given a short tutorial to the gameplay mechanics of Mortal Shell.  Players will have the ability to dodge, roll, and chain light and heavy attacks to take down enemies.  You’re also introduced to the core mechanic of Mortal Shell which is the ability to harden for a certain period of time to deflect oncoming damage.

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While this mechanic seems strange at first, when it is utilized in conjunction with the parry ability, it grants the player flexibility in combat.  The parry ability however, only has a number of uses and it is restored as you defeat enemies.  As in other Souls-like titles, enemies work in tandem to surround and gank you.  Use the hardening ability to deflect and then dodge out of the situation to get your bearings.  It is incredibly satisfying to see the gameplay mechanics work in conjunction with one another.

Unlike Dark Souls and other similar titles that allow you to customize your character,  Mortal Shell has you choosing from four different shells, each with their own different backstory, stats and abilities.  The demo allows you to unlock two of them, one being a knight and the other being a rogue-like.  What’s interesting is that once you have access to a shell, if your HP gets knocked down to zero, you’ll be forcibly removed from your shell.  This doesn’t equate to a game over however, as you will have the opportunity to regain your shell and have your health fully restored.  You only get one chance though and you are incredibly vulnerable without your shell, so move quickly.

The level design in the demo is interesting.  Both areas are relatively small in size, but the first area is fairly open and has a number of hidden passages to find.   The second area is fairly linear, but it does introduce new enemies and culminates with a mini-boss fight.  While the second area was more than likely linear for the purpose of the demo, I hope that the final product includes a number of open areas for the players to explore.  A linear souls-like experience would more than likely be a short one, but the inclusion of open areas can lengthen the playtime and entice multiple playthroughs.

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Now while I believe that the demo overall was great.   There were a number of minor issues.  My first issue is that items must be used before you can know what they actually do.  As you use them, you gain familiarity.  While I have no issue with adding an air of mystery to the game world, in fact Mortal Shell looks to be a world you want to explore, these items should be marked because some can have negative effects on the player.   For example, there are two types of mushrooms in the demo, one can heal, the other poisons, but you wouldn’t know that unless you used them, which can be fairly frustrating.

Second is that the camera can be pretty bad, especially in confined spaces.  There were multiple times during the mini-boss fight and in the second are where I was unable to see attacks because I was cornered.  This led to some frustrating deaths and I do believe that if the camera issues were fixed, then I do think all other issues can be forgiven.   Lastly, there some technical  issues that led to framerate issues and game crashes.  This issue is more than likely going to be resolved as the game heads toward release, but the technical hiccups were noticeable.

Mortal Shell is shaping up to be a rather impressive title.  Cold Symmetry is a small developer studio and what they’ve showed off so far is something that should be applauded.   Minor gripes and issues aside, this could be one of the best souls-like titles in recent memory.  What’s most surprising and possible the best part is that Mortal Shell will retail for 30 dollars.  Even if this title is vastly shorter than your average souls-like game, if the quality is consistent, then that’s a steal.

Also, you can play the lute after you stunt on enemies.  Check out the demo now on the Epic Games Store.

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