It is clear from the recent footage released from Mortal Shell that games like FromSoftware’s Dark Souls and Bloodborne have made their mark on the gaming industry and are here to stay.
Developed by the studio Cold Symmetry, Mortal Shell’s influences are more than palpable in the footage seen thus far.
A Soulless Husk Traverses a Dark World
As seen in the trailer and described by Cold Symmetry, the player begins the game as what is quite literally a soulless husk. Little is known about the empty vessel, although its lot in life is quite clear.
The husk must do the bidding of The Dark Father, an omnipresent dark force presiding over this world. Without knowing the aim or objective of this Dark Father, the player is sent forth into this world with only one initiative.
This new world is dark and decrepit. Post-humanity and post-civilization, the world is overrun by dead and dark creatures at every turn. The player must work to harvest the resources offered by these husks, taking the energy of these lost warriors and turning it into something useful for the player.
The More, The Merrier
The player is apparently sent off to track down the remaining and hidden sanctuaries in this dark world in order to find the remaining followers of The Dark Father. As though that was not ominous enough, the player, at least in the beginning stages of the game, must do this all without knowing the purposes of The Dark Father.
Regardless, one could probably infer that one with such a name, and one with such dark arts at their disposal, is far from being a good guy. The player must harvest and reap the creatures that remain in this dark world without quite knowing just how dark their aims are.
As a soulless and empty vessel, the main character is perfectly ready to absorb the gifts littering their path. As the player defeats enemies along the way, they gain the ability to “take on their shape”. The extent of this is unclear, although it is said that the main character will be able to absorb their abilities as well as learn from their enemy’s knowledge of weapons.
It is clear that the more enemies the player defeats, the more diverse abilities and knowledge they will be rewarded with. It is unclear if this increased knowledge also serves to produce an increase in sentience for the main character, although it will be interesting to see if morality has any place in this dark new world.
Souls-like to the Core
FromSoftware hit the big time with games such as Demons’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne, spawning an entirely new genre of game that has now been immortalized. These games have stood the test of time and lived on as infinitely replayable games, and for good reason – they’re extremely difficult.
It would seem that some gamers are simply gluttons for punishment, or rather they simply refuse to back down from a challenge. These games certainly do provide players with a challenge, as even experienced Soulsborne fans can spend hours fighting bosses they’ve already tackled in previous games. That is, to say, not even big bosses, necessarily.
Non-Linear and Truly Challenging
These games worked hard to develop non-linear gameplay that simply plops players into a dark and mysterious world. Players may figure out the lore of the game as they go on, or they may not. How invested players get in the actual world of the game depends on their playstyle and whether or not they want to read through the hints placed around the world for them.
This is designed with many different play styles in mind, as some players just want to get down to the nitty-gritty of boss fights rather than sit through cut scenes or read through journals, while others find themselves fascinated by these things.
Judging by the trailer, it would seem Mortal Shell takes a page out of FromSoftware’s book here, dropping the player in the middle of this world and letting them figure out the rest along the way.
Any Area, Any Time
The challenge in these non-linear games is the likelihood of enemies becoming more and more difficult the further you get into the game. Because the world is open and players will likely choose the direction in which they travel arbitrarily, players have an increased chance of running into enemies they are ill-equipped to fight early on in the game.
This means that players must either backtrack entirely and try another route or attempt to power through a boss they’re underpowered for.
Strength vs. Strategy
While these games value increased stats, strength, and weapons, they are loved by players for one reason; their fights are hard, but not impossible. In fact, if a fight is especially hard, it may not even necessarily be because the player is underpowered.
The boss may simply be overpowered, and players may be left without hope of leveling up adequately enough in any amount of reasonable time. Instead, players are asked to utilize strategy in order to defeat these enemies. After playing (read: dying) against an enemy over and over again, players are left with ample opportunity to begin to memorize their opponent’s attack patterns and moves.
Often, the player’s counterattack must be timed just right in order to defeat these enemies strategically, rather than by using brute force. Timing is truly everything with these moves, as one missed button has historically cost players the fight throughout the history of Soulsbourne games.
Posture System in Mortal Shell
Mortal Shell also seems to have taken inspiration from the FromSoftware title Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. This game introduced a posture system in which players world hard to break the posture of their enemies. Functioning like armor, when an enemy’s posture is broken in Sekiro, they become extremely vulnerable.
Players then have the opportunity to perform execute movements which deal massive damage to their weakened enemies. As shown in some of the early Mortal Shell gameplay footage that has been released, it seems a similar system is present in this game. The player is seen dealing large amounts of damage to their enemies, indicating that this strategical maneuver has been implemented in Mortal Shell as well.
Not FromSoftware, But Following a Legacy
While Mortal Shell has been compared to a FromSoftware game across the board, it isn’t the first in recent years, nor will it likely be the last. Just as Metroid and Castlevania set the precedent for the platformers that would become globally known as the Metroidvania, Souls-like is an emerging description for strategy-focused, difficult, and dark games that have emerged over the last few years.
Even newer games such as Code Vein and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order have fallen into this category, with a slew of new games slated for 2020 being described by games journalists worldwide as Souls-like.
As all media seems to fall into trends, zombies one year, and vampires the next, game developers worldwide have seemed to take notice of the Soulsborne momentum over the past few years.
In 2020 alone, multiple Souls-like games have been announced:
- Nioh 2
- Hollow Knight: Silksong
These are just a few of the other Souls-like games expected to release along with Mortal Shell within the year, and it clear that game developers are not going to stop there. FromSofware is even working to develop Elden Ring, enlisting the help of big-name creative, Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, to help craft an entirely new epic fantasy world.
Similar Elements to Dark Souls, but Not a Copy
While the game definitely takes inspiration from Dark Souls for combat, it does appear to put its own spin on what Dark Souls created. The gameplay released thus far has shown players will be engaging in unique combat moves unlike anything seen in a Souls game.
Truthfully, most game developers must take inspiration for their game from somewhere, and there aren’t very many gameplay styles out there that are not variations on a theme. Mortal Shell avoids falling into being a carbon copy of a Dark Souls game by taking inspiration and then innovating their own gameplay, as studios should.
Players Expect to “Test Their Sanity”
From what is known about games that embrace the Souls-like moniker, players can expect an extremely dark and unforgiving game from Mortal Shell. This seems to have been confirmed by the game developers themselves, claiming players must test their “sanity and resilience in a shattered world.”
By that same token, the gameplay in Mortal Shell is described as “strategic, deliberate, and unforgiving,” and if that doesn’t sound like a Souls game, nothing does.
Devastating arcane powers are there for learning as the player discovers, defeats, and possess more and more mortal shells. The deeper the player’s connection to a mortal shell, the more a player will be able to glean from their former knowledge.
While gameplay seems difficult and strategic, this is likely not going to be a deterrent for players who are up for this sort of challenge, thanks to the bonuses afforded to them by advancing through the game.
Cold Symmetry, A New Yet Familiar Studio
While the game is being developed by an entirely new studio, the studio’s core members are video game development veterans who have worked on a variety of titles over the years.
Because of this, the team remains small yet effective. Having started with just four members, the studio now claims to have roughly 15 people working on the game at any given time. While is a comparatively large increase in employees for the studio, it is a small number of people to be working on such a fascinatingly large game.
In fact, the trailers and gameplay shown so far give Mortal Shell the feel of a big triple-A game release, making this small number doubly impressive. To put the studio’s size into perspective, a large studio such as FromSoftware was reported to have roughly 288 employees in the year 2019.
Games in this genre are typically massive, with impressive graphics and detailed combat systems in place. For such a small studio to produce such a detailed game is truly impressive.
Shell Seem to Operate as Different Classes
While absorbing the abilities of the enemies a player has defeated in a video game is nothing new, Mortal Shell takes this process to an entirely new level. Because players will essentially be trading one shell’s abilities for another, players are able to effectively hop between the classes available in this world.
This is a huge breakthrough in gameplay, as even some of the games with the most advanced class systems typically do not allow players to hop between classes. It would seem Mortal Shell has found a clever and unique way to introduce this mechanic into the game, allowing for interestingly dynamic combat and customization.
As players inhabit a shell, they begin to form a bond with it. Over time, players can become extraordinarily attached to their shells and gain more of their abilities. This, in effect, serves to act as the game’s leveling up or skill progression system. Because of this, hopping from one shell to another seems to work at a player’s detriment.
A Unique RPG
It is clear that Mortal Shell works to incorporate classic RPG elements in a new and interesting way. Thanks to the interesting shell mechanic the game has designed, each of these elements seems to fit into the gameplay seamlessly.
Players will be crafting upgrades, sharpening and maintaining their blades, and studying arcane abilities over the course of the game simply because they are quite literally a shell that must learn everything there is to know.