A few weeks after announcing specifics on their upcoming beta, developer Cold Symmetry’s Mortal Shell has officially landed. Running from July 3rd to July 10th, select players will have the opportunity to experience a slice of what the game has to offer in its closed beta on PC. NOTE: All of the images within this article are in-game captures.
Players start by awakening their empty vessel: a humanoid entity with no skin. A brief tutorial shows how to control the character, attack, block, etc., before transporting to the first of two areas that the beta has to offer.
Fallgrim Outskirts is reminiscent of Firelink Shrine in Dark Souls, but is much more ominous and dangerous. Immediately upon entering this area, you’ll gain access to the first of the beta’s two playable “shells”. Harros, the Vassal, functions like a typical knight with balanced stats and a longsword. This is a great way for a newcomer to start. But with bear traps scattered on the ground, groups of hard hitting enemies, and ranged enemies eager to take you out from a distance, players will have to get their bearings quickly.
For those seeking an extra challenge, there’s a semi-hidden miniboss that gives a glimpse of the second area’s challenges. With perseverance and a little extra exploration, players will find consumable items and a vendor which will help make the task at hand a little less daunting.
And yes, you can pet the vendor’s cat.
Then comes Abandoned Chamber, the second area. Upon entry, players will meet Sester Genessa, who functions like the Maiden in Black in Demon’s Souls and The Doll in Bloodborne. She will provide lore, level the character up, and restore the character to full health.
Just around the corner from that is an anvil which will allow players to level up their weapons.
And conveniently located nearby is a new weapon to try: the hammer and chisel. Also conveniently (so much convenience!), the second “shell” can be inhabited here. Tiel, the Acolyte, functions like a rogue class with lower health but much higher endurance. In turn, you can mix and match with builds and weapons more or less on the fly.
Once this slight reprieve from battling is over, players will come across enemies that are faster, stronger, and have more varied movesets than the first area. The main obstacle players need to overcome in the Abandoned Chamber are the poison attacks and clouds that enemies use. Combine that with narrow hallways and enemies hiding around corners, it’ll really test the player’s perseverance.
And the reward for that perseverance? The second and final miniboss of the beta: Enslaved Grisha.
Not only is Grisha a hard hitting juggernaut, but one of his attacks causes icicles to fall from the ceiling. This provides an additional challenge to the battle. Once Grisha is defeated, Sester Genessa provides more lore before a pop-up menu states it’s the end of the beta.
Even though the experience is fairly brief, it is impressive. And the obvious comparisons to Dark Souls are valid; the game looks and plays like Dark Souls. Yet Mortal Shell introduces players to some new mechanics and an art style that differentiates itself from the rest. A couple of standout mechanics are the familiarity system and the crawling system.
Familiarity is essentially the more you use an item, the clearer the description of the item is. For example, after a few uses of a consumable item, it will show in the inventory menu specifically what that item does, whereas it doesn’t initially. It didn’t show this in the beta per se, but it would be a great new mechanic if an item becomes more potent with familiarity. Such as this item heals 30 HP, but after using it 10 times, it heals 45 HP.
For exploring down side paths, Mortal Shell has small openings that the player can crawl through to find hidden enemies and items. This leads to transitions that aren’t seen in Dark Souls or Bloodborne and could provide unique opportunities for the developers.
As far as difficulty, the game seems very balanced. Initially, it felt overwhelming and there were numerous deaths before becoming familiar with the game’s mechanics. But like any other Soulslike, learning enemy attack patterns, knowing when to be aggressive and when to back off, you’ll make progress and it eventually starts to click. The combat system is somewhat unique as well with the game’s signature harden mechanic. This uniqueness is welcome and it will be interesting to see what the full game has to offer in its various approaches to combat.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with the beta. There are still lots of questions (understandably) which lead up to the game and the official launch will surely answer. But for now, we have a taste of what Mortal Shell has to offer, and the taste is pretty sweet!
If you missed out on the beta and want to be kept in the loop going forward, join the Mortal Shell Discord and see what the developers and community of players have to offer. Mortal Shell is gearing to launch on the Epic Games Store, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One during Q3 2020. A Steam release will follow sometime in 2021.