Dark Light

By creating Demon’s Souls, Hidetaka Miyazaki went against the conventional tropes of modern game design by making something original and pathbreaking. Thus, it’s ironic to see ‘Soulslike’ being pushed as a genre of its own while the whole point of Demon’s/Dark Souls was to be a unique one-off experience (Thanks Bandai Namco). Regardless, this is not an ideal world and as long as the game in question is fun and does enough to make it stand out, I’m happy. Mortal Shell, developed and published by Cold Symmetry, is the latest game in-line to take a stab at the Soulslike ‘genre’. As usual, I’m here to tell you the good and bad aspects of the game so that you can decide for yourself whether to play it or not. Here is our Mortal Shell review.

Abstract Storytelling

Mortal Shell wears its inspirations on its bare chest and isn’t afraid to reveal it every chance it gets. This applies to the story as well. Similar to the Souls games, Mortal Shell opts for an abstract storytelling method, where you’re only told the bare minimum upfront while the rest of the story is told through the environment and item descriptions. You awaken in a strange land as an ’empty vessel’ and do the bidding of the Dark Father, an ominous monstrosity, by tracking down sacred glands to…save humanity, I guess? Does it sound too familiar? That’s because it is. The game basically retells every Souls series storyline – albeit in its own dark fashion.

mortal shell review

While I didn’t take much time to sit through and read all the item descriptions, I did like what they did with the origin stories of your ‘shell’s, aka the 4 playable characters. As you reveal the names of these long-dead heroes and unlock more abilities, you learn more and more about their past – what kind of people they were and how exactly they died. While you don’t form any true attachment to these characters, I like the fact that they are not just blank slate suits of armors.

Heavily Inspired

At first glance, Mortal Shell looks and feels like a 1:1 recreation of Dark Souls in UE4. But, the more you play, it’s evident that Mortal Shell does enough to distinguish itself from its peers. While the core gameplay loop of kill-gather experience-die-recollect experience-repeat is untouched, it feels more similar to Remnant: From The Ashes than Dark Souls in both scope and design. Credit where credit is due- Mortal Shell is surprisingly polished and refined for a game made by just 15 people.

mortal shell review

The biggest change introduced in Mortal Shell is the shell system itself. Instead of a traditional class system, the game opts to let you play as a handful of pre-made character classes that can be interchanged at any point in the game. The usual archetypes- Warrior, Knight, Assassin are all present with the exception of Mage. But instead of letting you choose which character to play as from the menu, Mortal Shell requires you to find these shells lying around in the levels- the same goes for the weapons as well. Thus, you get this really small but refined class and weapon roster with their own upgradable skills and attributes. While this system lacks the build flexibility of Souls games, there is less chance of messing builds up. Since you can interchange the shells at any time, it adds a lot of on-the-fly versatility and hassle-free experimentation to the game.

Accompanying the shells are a bunch of smaller mechanical systems. When you’re dealt the final blow, instead of killing you outright, it knocks you out of your shell and you’re able to enter the shell again with full HP once in each run- a welcome mechanic that alleviates some of the frustration. To make up for it, enemies hit harder and you have fewer moves in your arsenal. There are only 5 weapons in the game but these are upgradable with their own special attacks and require you beat a recurring boss to get them. There is a parry and a riposte system but it requires resources to use. The payout is that they deal great damage and have specific skills related to them, like planting a lava bomb on your enemy while pulling off a riposte.

Instead of using a shield to block, Mortal Shell introduces a new mechanic called hardening (not what you think). At any time, you can opt to turn your shell into a stone statue which negates all damage taken and staggers enemies for 1-2 hits. Hardening can be used in combination with attacking, dodging, and even while using items, which gives you an edge in combat as you can safely escape from killing blows. The harden meter recharges fast and is an essential tool in combat.

Another new system in play is how you familiarize yourself with items. In Mortal Shell, each item has to be used once to know their effects and you have to use each a set amount of times to get their complete benefits. This is not something I enjoyed as it barely adds anything to the game. You can basically stand still and spam each item until you ‘familiarize’ yourself with it. There’s no satisfactory payout for this and it comes off as just a gimmick. There’s also an option to enable a ‘loot-run’- this opens up all the chests in the areas at the cost of visibility and more powerful enemies. It adds a more risk vs reward aspect to the game, similar to the ascetic bonfire mechanic from Dark Souls 2.

Other than these new systems, Mortal Shell is your standard fare that comes across as a more focused experience. The enemy design looks like something out of a fantasy version of Clive Barker’s works and there are a couple of really cool multi-staged boss battles. The swordplay, while on the simple side, is decent and satisfying with smooth-flowing combos and good hit detection.

However, the game drops the ball hard when it comes to the setting and level design. One of the gravest flaws an RPG can have is being unmemorable. Mortal Shell has a lot of those. Souls games are known for their intricate, often puzzling but memorable level design, but the levels in Mortal Shell, for the most part, are as generic as ever. This is more prevalent during the first half of the campaign. You got the half-empty swamps, the boring caves, and the standard dungeons with no memorable landmarks or locations that make you go ‘wow’. The only exception being one of the latter areas which is a huge, sprawling castle with non-linear pathways and interconnected areas.

mortal shell review

A Dark, Brooding World

Mortal Shell, as a whole, looks pretty damn good. The texture work is decent, the models are well-detailed, the animations are really good and all the locations have this lived-in feeling to them. It’s dark, brooding and unsettling. It’s a shame that the locations themselves are not anything memorable or unique, like, let’s say The Surge. But, for a budget title, Mortal Shell is really impressive. I would have liked a sharper anti-aliasing option but that’s just me.

mortal shell review

Speaking of performance, the game ran at a locked 60 FPS most of the time maxed out at 1080p, with an exception being one specific boss fight where the frame rate kept tanking even on the medium settings. No crashes or bugs were encountered. There are lots of UI/QoL/visual settings to fiddle around with and I love how the game supports the DualShock 4 controller out-of-the-box and even has the button layouts mapped.

The game has the standard brooding soundtrack befitting a dark fantasy. Sadly, like the level design, nothing here is noteworthy enough to be memorable- even when fighting bosses. Sound design, on the other hand, is pretty solid, and audio feedback from enemies when they’re about to telegraph their attacks is pretty good. I do, however, dislike the fact that no matter what you hit, the weapon attacks sound as if you’re cleaving through metal shavings.


For a game made by a small team of 15 people, Mortal Shell is a focused and polished experience. The core gameplay loop is satisfying and it does enough to distinguish itself from the cesspool that is ‘Soulslikes’. The first half of the game has some of generic and boring sections and some of the new mechanics don’t translate well into gameplay. But, all things considered, Mortal Shell is a solid 15-20 hour experience that’s worth the regional price of $16.70.


  1. Every game builds on other games and while mortal shell evokes dark souls it doesn’t feel like dark souls at all but is its own unique thing. I disagree with this review. Its a superb game and probably the best of the souls-like.

    1. “At first glance, Mortal Shell looks and feels like a 1:1 recreation of Dark Souls in UE4. But, the more you play, it’s evident that Mortal Shell does enough to distinguish itself from its peers”
      That’s what we said. As for the title of the best Soulslike, The Surge still holds that spot.

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