Developer Cold Symmetry has opened the Mortal Shell beta to the public. Their souls-like action RPG isn’t afraid of leaning on it’s inspirations while pushing the genre with inventive ideas aimed at furthering the depth and strategy these experiences can offer. Thoughtful and welcome changes to the well worn- formula reinvigorate it, showing a well studied developer dedicated to leaving a mark in a genre marred by middling titles.
Beginning their journey as a husk, players unlock and inhabit Shells that serve as different class archetypes, each with unique stats. The first Shell available is a knight named Harros, the Vassal with extra health and reduced stamina. The second Shell is a thief named Tiel, the Acolyte. They have less health with increased stamina and are more nimble than Harros. Tiel is familiar with poison and has a range of abilities that turn it in his favor, such as recovering health while under the status effect or inflicting poison damage overtime with each successful parry. These are the currently available Shells, being followed up by two additional Shells depicted on the Mortal Shell website. Instead of leveling up stats, players acquire two types of currencies to unlock skills that drastically change the gameplay. The first currency Tar, will be familiar to anyone that has collected souls in FromSoftware games as they’re used to trade for items. The second currency are Glimpses,when combined with Tar can be used to unlock skills also uncovering lore concerning the Shell gamers are inhabiting.
As players defeat enemies, they fill the Resolve bars. The bar drains if not filled, encouraging gamers to stay aggressive if they want to store this valuable resource. Resolve allows an opportunity to perform two critical moves, the first of which is a special attack with increased damage and providing the Shell invulnerability for a short time at the cost of two bars. That same price can be paid to perform an empowered parry to heal oneself. The absence of an Estus Flask replacement makes this the only option for quickly returning health in combat. Various foods such as wild mushrooms restore health, but do so slower than Dark Souls 2’s life gems, creating incredible tension during combat. Resolve affects gameplay in that different Shell’s have different capacities for Resolve, lending to distinct playstyles. Harros is slow and methodical allowing him to hold four bars, resulting in two special attacks. The faster and nimbler Tiel only holds 3 meaning he can only perform one special attack before jumping back into the fray.
Alongside Resolve, the Harden mechanic is invaluable to survival. As there’s no block of any kind in Mortal Shell, gamers have to rely on the ability to Harden their Shell for a brief moment to absorb incoming attacks. This can be performed during attack animations, but is on a severe cooldown emphasizing the timing of the ability’s use. Most enemies’ attack’s bounce off, leaving them vulnerable to be countered in addition to stamina recovery, ensuring optimal combos to be discovered.
While some may be skeptical based on how hard it leans on its inspiration, this first look establishes Mortal Shell has a unique vision and style of the genre. Standout features and iterations of an old formula cement it as its own title rather than another copy.