In Mortal Shell, you play as an alien-looking muscle man who looks like he crawled out of the music video for Tool’s Schism. You’re fairly weak in this form, though you do have the ability to use a move called Harden to toughen yourself up.
By Hardening your body, you can defend yourself and avoid damage from an incoming hit. We couldn’t help but think of the times we used Harden with a Pokemon like Metapod as we familiarized ourselves with the way Harden works in Mortal Shell.
Unlike Pokemon, using Harden is super effective in Mortal Shell. This is because Harden isn’t for defense alone, there are a number of offensive perks to it as well.
For example, you can wind up an attack, Harden, and then immediately strike your foe when they attack you.
You’ll learn how to Harden and ways to use it both defensively and offensively in the game’s opening tutorial. It’s not something you have to mess around with and discover on your own.
At the end of the tutorial, you’ll put your hardening skills to the ultimate test in a boss fight against a guy named Hadern.
Hadern, Harden… we don’t mean to laugh, but using Harden against Hadern who can also Harden is funny as hell.
If you’re unhappy being a vulnerable alien-looking muscle man you’re in luck as you won’t stay this way for long.
In addition to the Harden skill, your character has the ability to inhabit abandoned bodies known as “Shells” with each Shell offering its own set of useful perks.
Basically, Shells are the game’s take on character classes. While they have subtle differences that we’ll explore in a moment, they’re all based around the same three stats: Durability, Stamina, and Resolve.
The first Shell you stumble across is Harros who looks like a knight and offers balanced stats (5 out of 10 points for each stat).
The balance that Harros offers works well in helping you learn the ropes in Mortal Shell, especially in comparison to other Shells like Tiel.
Tiel is one of our favorite Shells as his maxed-out Stamina allows him to hit and keep on hitting to his heart’s content, but this comes at the cost of reduced Durability and Resolve.
It would be harder to start the game with Tiel even though he’s able to dodge attacks faster than Harros and with a bit more finesse.
Harros is able to withstand more hits and deal more damage, giving you more leeway in learning enemy patterns and identifying the best ways to take them out without dying and having to start over.
For example, Fallgrim has a number of Brigands that can be defeated with three light attacks in rapid succession. Brigands are easy to beat, but can be a pain when they cluster together and box you in on all sides.
Likewise, there’s an enemy called the Sturdyman who takes way more hits to bring down. He’s quite sturdy, pun intended.
What’s helpful is that each Sturdyman utilizes the same attack pattern which, when memorized, makes it easy to avoid taking damage.
You can also learn to avoid damage by baiting this enemy into a bear trap, or taking advantage of his slow nature to get a few hits in before dodging away.
Avoiding damage is crucially important here as the Sturdyman is one the first enemies you encounter in Mortal Shell that hits like a truck. Well, if you exclude Hadern in the game’s opening tutorial.
Knowing how to handle enemies like this will save you from dying and having to restart from your last auto-save point.
The longer you play, the more Shells you’ll have access to. In total, there are four Shells in Mortal Shell which include:
Harros, The Vassal
- Durability: 5
- Stamina: 5
- Resolve: 5
Tiel, The Acolyte
- Durability: 3
- Stamina: 10
- Resolve: 2
Solomon, The Scholar
- Durability: 7
- Stamina: 5
- Resolve: 10
Eredrim, The Venerable
- Durability: 10
- Stamina: 3
- Resolve: 3
Shells are more than their base stats. As mentioned above, Tiel’s unique shadow dodge is quick and effective. It pairs well with his 10/10 Stamina as you’ll be able to dodge more often.
Eredrim works like a tank, not only having the highest Durability, but also the chance to stagger enemies, and avoid being knocked down by enemies.
In Mortal Shell, you can improve your favorite Shell(s) by interacting with an NPC named Sester Genessa. Each Shell has 10 unique unlockable abilities, further separating them from their base stats and unique attributes.
By exchanging Tar (currency) and Glimpses (skill points) with Sester Genessa, you’ll gradually be able to unlock some or all of these abilities for the Shells that you use.
A few abilities we found to be worth the purchase include one that increases the duration of your Harden, and another that gives you the ability to regain your Last Chance.
That last one makes it less of a “Last Chance” and more of a reliable “Mulligan” once you’ve unlocked and mastered the ability to get it back.
The “Last Chance” system is another one of those fun quirks in Mortal Shell that makes combat feel spicy and interesting. When your health bar is depleted, your alien-like muscle man form gets knocked out of your Shell.
If you’re able to re-enter your Shell in time, you’ll find that your health and stamina has been fully restored. As the name of this skill suggests, you can only use your Last Chance once (before it’s upgraded).
After it’s used once, you’ll be forced to start over again from the last auto-save point the next time your health bar is depleted.
No, you won’t get an Estus Flask in Mortal Shell, but you are given that Last Chance ability which is helpful. You also have the ability to regenerate health by parrying attacks with the Tarnished Seal in your possession.
A number of healing items exist in the game if you need a boost. For example, you can buy a Roasted Rat from Vlas the Merchant for 100 Tar.
Consuming the Roasted Rat, you’re able to regenerate 30hp over 40 seconds at the cost of Resolve. If you’re Familiar with the item you’ll heal for 10hp more, bringing the total up to 40hp over 40 seconds.
Familiarity is another element of Mortal Shell that helps set the game apart. By using items you gradually become more Familiar with them.
Using the Roasted Rat example, if you’ve consumed a Roasted Rat a total of 8 times, you’ll get that 10hp boost.
Familiarity encourages you to use the items in your inventory rather than save them. It can be both helpful and harmful.
It’s helpful in that you’re able to increase the efficacy of the items in the game, but harmful in that you don’t know what items do before you use them a set number of times.
If you pluck up a Tarspore and use it for the first time, you get an unpleasant surprise in the form of 40 poison damage over the course of 16 seconds.
It’s something that may discourage you from consuming another Tarspore and realizing that it gives you immunity to poison damage for 120 seconds. The first time is the only time it damages you, after that, the item benefits you.
Likewise, you may think the Simple Lute is useless outside of adding a little fun and charm to the game. While it certainly does this, the Simple Lute can also bait enemies to your location at Familiarity 10.
It’s not as dramatic of an improvement as the Tarspore, but baiting enemies and having them come to you can be useful in certain scenarios.
Like Shells, you can change weapons as needed at the cost of 2 Resolve bars. Mortal Shell has four melee weapons and one ranged weapon, the Ballistazooka.
The first weapon you’re given in Mortal Shell is the Hallowed Sword during the game’s tutorial. Later on, you'll be able to pick up other melee weapons like the Hammer and Chisel.
Where the Hallowed Sword is slow and cumbersome, it has more reach than the Hammer and Chisel and deals more damage.
You can upgrade and improve your weapons in Mortal Shell with each weapon featuring 2 unique abilities. You’ll need items for these upgrades with each weapon requiring different items.
The unifying item across the board is Quenching Acid which can be used to increase the weapon’s damage output and can be used on all of the weapons in Mortal Shell.
Like your Shells, you can strategize your weapons in Mortal Shell. If you’re dealing with a boss like Ven Noctivagu who’s quick and jumpy, you may want to equip the Hammer and Chisel and stagger him with a barrage of light attacks.
During our time in Mortal Shell, it was much easier beating Ven Noctivagu as Tiel with the Hammer and Chisel equipped than with Harros and the Hallowed Sword.
We also had an easier time dealing with clusters of enemies after we found the Smoldering Mace.
It makes more sense to fight off several enemies with the sweeping range of the Smoldering Mace as opposed to the Hammer and Chisel which is better for quick one-on-one confrontations like the fight against Ven Noctivagu.
The weapons are well-designed and they all feel distinctly different and we’d love to see more weapons added in the future. In contrast to the weapons, the Shells look somewhat less unique in their design.
Of the four Shells, three of them are styled around a “knight” wearing heavy armor, while Tiel is the unique standout as a skeleton wrapped in light armor.
Eredrim’s design is arguably the best in our opinion, while Harros is the plainest of the bunch.
It won’t take you too long to acquire all four Shells as the game can be completed in around 10 to 15 hours on average. It sounds short, but it’s logical in its execution.
Mortal Shell clearly wasn’t meant to be a 40-hour grind, and we’re thankful for that.
The 10 to 15 hours you spend working your way through the campaign are full and enjoyable. You never feel bored, you never feel like what you’re doing is a chore.
You’re constantly learning and improving and evolving throughout the Mortal Shell experience.
Furthermore, Mortal Shell has a New Game Plus mode available for those who find it hard to stop playing.
If you ever find Mortal Shell to be too easy, there’s an achievement that challenges you to beat the game without using a Shell.
That’s right, the developers have dared you to work your way through Mortal Shell as the weak, grey muscle man.
Can you do it? We know we’ll certainly give it a try, and we’re looking forward to seeing videos of these no-Shell runs on YouTube.
As often as people will call Mortal Shell a “Soulslike” game, it feels very different from modern variations of this like Dark Souls 3 and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. In a good way.
You can’t rely on the same tricks and tactics used in those games to get through Mortal Shell.
Instead, you’ll have to play by the rules of Mortal Shell. The rules may seem harsh at times, but there’s plenty of fairness to be found in the game as well.
You get that Last Chance, you can find and purchase healing items, you can restore health through parrying. You have options, you’re not left on your own.
Mortal Shell is impressive in that the developers managed to balance the game’s brutal difficulty with its unique concepts.
The Familiarity system works, the usage of Shells rather than traditional character classes works, keeping it fairly short works… it’s all cohesive.
The game’s polish and style is made all the more impressive when you realize it wasn’t made by a big studio like FromSoftware.
Mortal Shell was made by an indie developer, Cold Symmetry, with a team of just 15 people.
Knowing that Mortal Shell was developed by 15 people is, as Keanu Reeves would say, breathtaking.
Would we love to see more Shells, weapons, and bosses added to the game in the future? Absolutely. Would we love to see the designs of new Shells, weapons, and bosses have a little more variation? Absolutely.
Based on what we’re given and the knowledge that it’s been given to us by 15 people, we remain thoroughly impressed by Mortal Shell.
It’s a game that shines a bright light on the indie game scene, showing the incredible feats that small teams are capable of.
Mortal Shell is a loving, honorable, honest entry that holds its own alongside all of the “Soulslike” games that came before it. If you’re thinking about checking it out, we highly recommend it!