There’s a lot of emotional baggage involved in revealing a game that doesn’t just look like a Soulsborne, but specifically like a Dark Souls game. I don’t just mean that it looks hard and that you’ll die a lot, I mean a game that will have you asking, “Is this actually Dark Souls?”
Not only does this kind of flattery set a very specific tone for the game, it also comes with heaps of expectations, and forces the hand of those who are writing about it to try to avoid saying it’s like Dark Souls. Well, I’m not a coward, and you’re not stupid; Mortal Shell looks a lot like Dark Souls.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the game itself, which I’ve had the pleasure of playing a little bit. By playing, I obviously mean dying a lot.
Mortal Shell is set in a predictably grim fantasy world. Everything is horrific, monsters roam all around, and you can’t even pick up a lute and play it without being assaulted for merely existing. I did actually spend some time playing a lute, but we’ll get back to that.
You play as this creepy husk of a humanoid, but despite this perceived frailty, you’ve actually got some interesting powers. The most interesting of these by far is the unique ability to jump into defeated warriors. This grants you better stats, as well as access to their varying skillset as you do battle.
The first body you jump into is a fairly standard one. It’s got a lot of health, can move at a reasonable pace, and is quite strong. You’ll get accustomed to their movements as you go, but you’ll have to fight your way through a horde of foes to be able to get to your second body,
The second shell is that of a skull-faced assassin. Instead of the normal dodge, you basically teleport a short distance. They’ve got less health, but more stamina, and more speed. This was my preference, but honestly, both bodies felt incredibly viable.
Each body has its own stats, but as you play with these mortal shells (geddit?) you’ll become more and more acquainted with them and unlock glimpses into who they once were. You can then use these glimpses to unlock things like their name and then the abilities they had in life. This is the core of the progression system, with each shell coming with its own unlocks.
The combat is what you’d expect – you hit things, they hit you, you die – but there are a few really cool innovations through this. The harden system is one particularly nice one, letting you harden your skin to be like rock. It’s a great way of being able to stop a lethal attack if you’re already committed to another action, but it also just serves as a way of keeping the pressure on an NPC by just laughing off their counter-attack.
There are also plenty of traps dotted around the world. The first proper area I came to was just covered in bear traps, which caught me out a few times until i learned where they were. After that, I could turn them in my favour, using them to control larger enemies.
There are also things hidden by breakable logs. I almost immediately found a little tunnel and eagerly crawled down it in search of cool treasures. Imagine my (mild) surprise when a mini-boss was waiting for me at the other end, and not some super cool sword.
It’s all exactly what you want from this kind of experience. The world seems incredibly interesting, and the boss design is great. There also seems to be a nice amount of depth and strategy to the gameplay, depending on which shell you want to use at any given moment, alongside your weapons and items.
It’s the items that might actually be my favourite thing from the demo. Each item you pick up is a mystery to you, you know the name of it, but rarely what it does. The more you use an item, the more familiar you become with it, and, seemingly, the better results you get when you use it. This was most apparent when I picked up a lute. See? I told you we’d be back for it!
The first time I used the lute, I made some very string-adjacent sounds with it, but as I continued to use it, my ability with it grew and grew. The melody went from basic, to complex, to shredding on the lute and making a genuinely enjoyable sound. It’s a system that feels completely at home in a Soulslike, reflecting how playing one actually feels.
You start off terrible, but then the more you play, the better you get, until you’re skilled and powerful enough to shred your enemies like they’re nothing. Mortal Shell already seems to have that feeling perfected, and I’m really excited to jump into the full game when it arrives.