Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Mortal Shell: Enhanced Edition is an updated version of the popular Souls-like game that came out last year. While those who already played the game are not getting any new content, the PS5 iteration paints a darkly beautiful picture with 4k resolution and 60 frames-per-second gameplay. If you missed out on this title the first time around and are a fan of challenging action-RPGs, Mortal Shell: Enhanced Edition is absolutely worth a look.
I touched on the updated visuals, but the outstanding PS5 controller gets put to good use here as well. The feedback through the triggers and feel of the controller’s subtle shakes and hums add a sort of physical tension to the experience, similar to how Dark Souls put the controller to such good use in its release as well. And let me tell you – Mortal Shell: Enhanced Edition is a very attractive title. Granted, the aesthetic is a personal favorite of mine. Any time you can mix a little horror with dark fantasy, you have my attention (this is likely why Ravenloft was always my favorite Dungeons & Dragons setting). Granted, this is still a smaller studio game and it’s not quite as polished and pretty as the Souls series, but overall – I enjoyed the presentation.
Now, I hate to feel like an entire review relies on a comparison, so I will try to get most of those familiar items out of the way right off of the bat here. Combat is handled in third-person, behind your character. You dodge out of the way, you rely heavily on learning enemy patterns and try to counter in attacks when there is a window. Damage accrues fast and you will die a lot, with a lightweight roguelike element to get back to where you died in order to pick up your currency / experience that you had not yet had the opportunity to spend.
If all of this sounds really familiar to you, that’s because Moral Shell’s inspirations are generally obvious to fans of the genre. That being said, Mortal Shell: Enhanced Edition does a better job than most in balancing its gameplay elements while still sprinkling in a few new ideas. There are two notable gameplay hooks here that differentiate this title from its peers. The first is the hardening mechanic, which serves as your ‘block’ here. Instead of raising a shield up in front of yourself, your body essentially turns stone-like for a short moment. However, there is a cooldown until you can do it again and it does not last indefinitely, so you can’t just turtle up and hope to outlast your opponent.
What makes the hardening mechanic so interest is how you can not only just use it to deflect an attack, but you slowly solidify over a split-second. That means if you are in the middle of an attack, the attack gains some addition “Umph!” that can deal more damage / stagger your opponent, while effectively making you unable to be countered against during your own window of opportunity. So, that is why it gets a cooldown – it’s potentially quite powerful (though it takes a bit of time to master as it is not quite as intuitive as a straight blocking mechanic), so it needs to be somewhat restricted.
The other big gameplay addition is the title’s namesake – your shells. Your character is this strangely vague, empty / hollowed ‘thing’ that can occupy any one of four different slain bodies or ‘shells’. Sure, you have to find them first, but the game’s primary shells and weapons are all in relatively close proximity to where you start. That really lends an interesting urgency towards early exploration in this title, as the four different shells serve as the game’s four base classes. There is upgrading to them you can do, unlocking new skills and perks, but they build off of that particular shell’s foundation. This combined with the different weapons give you the chance to tailor your character to your preferred style of play.
That being said, I missed the granular control of all the little stats found in similar games. I suppose there is give and take here, since in a Souls game you commit your experience to stats that you can’t roll back either, and your equipment becomes the only thing you can adjust if you decide a particular build is not suited to a specific zone or boss. I guess this makes Mortal Shell simultaneously less and more flexible in that sense.
There are a few other interesting touches here that give Mortal Shell: Enhanced Edition a distinct feeling. When you die the first time, you are thrown out of your shell and it auto-hardens, freezing the nearby opponents. This gives you a moment to either try and fight with your weaker, true form (think one hit and dead) or to jump back into your shell with a renewed life bar. However, the next time you die in that shell, you are done for. Items are handled a bit differently, with healing being less useful (like the mushrooms which restore life over time like a reverse DOT, instead of giving you a large chunk back at once), and how many of the items you can find in nature (like the aforementioned mushrooms) respawn over time (letting you farm them).
There is also an interesting system baked into items where you learn more about, or even slightly change how you use an item (there is little to no information about a new item, so you need to learn more about it so you understand what it’s for), the more often you use it. I found myself eating things or using items just to level of my lore about them, versus hording them for a rainy day, for better and for worse.
Level design is a bit hit or miss for me, without some of the more clever short-cutting I have grown used to from the genre, and I felt as though the introductory stage was a bit wide-open and very vague. In general stages, while creepy and interesting to look at, did not always feel particularly alive either. I can be a bit directionally challenged at times, and I was dying quite a bit early on as I just tried to figure out where I was going and had been previously. This made early progress feel negligible. However, once you find the game’s hub, so to speak, I felt a bit more confident about venturing out. The first boss was quite simple really, while later ones got more interesting and involved. This is not a long game by any means – probably about half to a third of the content of a typical Souls game.
That being said, Mortal Shell: Enhanced Edition is every bit as hard – maybe harder in some ways. Some of the cheesier ranged tactics (I’m looking at you arcane magic) from this genre are lacking, with a higher emphasis on life / stamina / melee weapon. Also, the aforementioned nature of healing items make it very hard to recover from a badly timed mistake. I also found parrying more difficult here than in some of the Souls games, where I have been quite good at it. Lastly, some of the skills you just sort of expect – such as parrying or kicking an enemy – have to be purchased later. You don’t quite have the full tool kit at your disposal right off of the bat. Obviously difficulty is somewhat subjective, but for me Mortal Shell: Enhanced Edition was a bit more challenging than the Souls games.
Mortal Shell: Enhanced Edition was put together by a relatively small studio, and that makes what they were able to do here even more impressive. It sprinkles in enough unique mechanics to make it more than a simple Souls clone, but should still scratch that itch for fans of the genre. There are some rough edges here and there, with a few design choices that I was not in love with, but the overall presentation and gameplay are satisfyingly well done.Score: 7.75 / 10