Now that it’s back on Game Pass, you really need to give this underrated Souls-like a go

Now that it’s back on Game Pass, you really need to give this underrated Souls-like a go

Technically, this isn’t Mortal Shell’s Game Pass debut. It’s actually the second time it joins the service, having left last November. It’s a little unusual for a game to leave and return a few weeks later, but we’re not complaining.

Mortal Shell also joined the PlayStation Plus Premium and Extra line-ups just before the end of the year, meaning you can play the indie Souls-like on virtually every major platform right now. The even better news is that you’re getting the Enhanced Edition of the game, which shines on new consoles thanks to higher-quality visuals and a smoother 60fps framerate.

Maybe you could play Mortal Shell on this gen’s most under-rated bit of hardware…

Mortal Shell is not only a good Game Pass get for Souls-like fans who never played it, it also serves as an entry point into the genre. I know of more than one person who got hooked after playing it, which is quite rare given the quality of Souls-likes not made by FromSoftware.

There are a couple of reasons why Mortal Shell managed to achieve this. First, it takes after the first Dark Souls’ heavier, more methodical combat. Someone new to the genre may feel intimidated by the frenetic pace of Bloodborne (unless cum dungeons are involved), or the sheer scale and difficulty of Elden Ring.

You’d usually tell that person to start with Dark Souls, but even the remaster is not that good-looking, and you’d have to put up with plenty of design quirks smoothed over in later games.

Mortal Shell is a fresh version of Dark Souls, with modern (and often stunning) visuals, weightier combat compared to something like Elden Ring, and more intentional level design that won’t overwhelm new players.

Can you tell it’s inspired by Dark Souls?

Mortal Shell’s, well, gimmick is one you won’t see in any other indie Souls-like out there, and it’s a major part of what makes it unique – and can help with difficulty, if you play it right.

Your true form in the game is a frail, pale ghostly figure who won’t stand a single hit. Your goal is to embody a Shell, left behind by dead warriors. There are four to be found (five if you count the DLC), and they’re effectively the game’s different classes.

Assuming you’ve found more than one, you’re given the opportunity to switch between varying playstyles to tackle different challenges, something that would usually require a re-spec and re-build of your entire character in Dark Souls.

Hulking enemies? Check. Brutal combat? Check.

This clever design means that you also get to die and come back. Because you’re controlling a Shell, dying for the first time simply knocks you out of it. If you make it back, you’re rewarded with a health refill. Think of it as Sekiro’s revive mechanic – though not quite as generous.

Each Shell can be further upgraded to improve its inherent qualities, but you won’t be able to compensate for their weaknesses. This is by design, almost like downloading a friend’s save, playing with their character and seeing the different choices they made in their build and how they all play out.

Though you traditionally need to return to a sort-of bonfire to switch Shells, you’ll later find items that let you do it on the fly. I don’t have to explain how game-changing that is in tough fights.

Even without that, you can still tactically “plant” your old Shell in a boss’ arena, die and come back as a different one. Doing that lets you warp into your earlier body, so you can better deal with an aggressive second phase, for instance.

It’s moody; are you surprised?

Hardening is another notable mechanic in Mortal Shell. None of the five classes have shields, so you can’t perform blocks. But what you can do instead is harden your body like stone to absorb a hit.

Hardening is much more interesting than a simple block, adding a welcome twist to what would otherwise be a standard defensive tool. If you time it right, you can interrupt an enemy combo and stagger them. Doing it in the middle of your own attack animation, however, lets you tank their hit, and ensure that yours lands.

Mortal Shell is full of smart design ideas like that, which is the other reason why anyone who enjoys FromSoft’s vast array of work should definitely play it, too. This is a game that (mostly) doesn’t bite off more than it can chew. It focuses on the tiny details and does them justice.

Just look at all that lovely lighting.

The world recreates the grim vibes of Dark Souls; the autumnal lighting carries the mood, and the NPCs you run into speak in a tone you’ll immediately recognise. Sure, the level design isn’t of the same quality, but I found every environment to be interesting to explore, wrap around to unlock shortcuts, and generally see what terrible monster is waiting to surprise me around this or that corner.

Mortal Shell lands more often than it misses, and its ten-ish hour main story doesn’t overstay its welcome. Download it.

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