Mortal Shell was released last year as the inaugural game from developer Cold Symmetry, and some players are wondering how similar the game is to Dark Souls. The popularity of the Dark Souls franchise has spawned a sub-genre of games called “Soulslikes,” with many developers attempting to pay homage to FromSoftware’s games by replicating the challenge of the series in new trappings. Both Nioh and The Surge stand out as popular Soulslike titles released in recent years, and even this year’s Kena: Bridge of Spirits hides some Soulslike difficulty under its Pixar-animated aesthetic.

Outside of FromSoftware’s stand-alone titles Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, no game has come as close to replicating the Dark Souls experience like Mortal Shell. When Mortal Shell was first announced in April 2020, many were quick to point out the similarities between the title and the Dark Souls series. Cold Symmetry itself admitted that the core team of 4 developers working on Mortal Shell drew heavy inspiration from FromSoftware’s popular series, and reviews following the game’s release confirmed that the title was a trimmed-down Dark Souls-esque experience.

Related: Dark Souls & Mortal Shell: All Similarities (& Differences) Explained

Many Xbox Game Pass subscribers are likely to be trying out Mortal Shell in the coming days, as the Enhanced Edition of the game was added to the service on November 23. It’s also heavily rumored that Mortal Shell will be one of the PlayStation Plus games for December, meaning that even more players will be getting their hands on the Soulslike and playing it for themselves. With all of the newfound attention on the title, it might be helpful for some to know just how alike Mortal Shell is to the Dark Souls franchise.

Mortal Shell adheres fairly close to the Dark Souls formula with slight deviations to keep things fresh, starting with the general difficulty of the title. A game isn’t truly considered a Soulslike if the difficulty isn’t ramped up, and Mortal Shell checks that box easily when it comes to all types of enemies. Standard foes can destroy the Foundling’s health bar within a couple hits, meaning players have to tactically assess every combat situation carefully or risk restarting at the nearest checkpoint. Boss fights in particular maintain the high levels of toughness Dark Souls is known for, asking players to put all of their skills to the test to defeat the imposing enemy before them.

Combat encounters are made even more difficult because of the rarity of health items scattered around Mortal Shell’s world. While Dark Souls’ Estus Flasks can be refilled at any bonfire, Mortal Shell players have to collect mushrooms and different food items like baguettes and roasted rats to be consumed that don’t refill at save points. Dwindling health supplies combined with the game’s sparse save points creates another level of difficulty to Mortal Shell all too familiar to Dark Souls fans.

To help players deal with Mortal Shell’s difficulty, Cold Symmetry has included a number of different “shells” that the Foundling can inhabit with different stats that fit specific playstyles and can be leveled up using the Tar dropped from defeated enemies in Dark Souls fashion. There’s a shell with an increased health pool (Eredrim, the Venerable) to tank through enemy attacks, one with increased stamina and lower base health (Tiel, the Acolyte) for those confident in their dodges and fast strikes, and more balanced options (Solomon, the Scholar) that find a good middle ground for combat encounters. These different shells in Mortal Shell don’t make any of the enemies in the game any less difficult in terms of threat, but they do equip players with their desired character build to take on the challenges ahead.

The combat in Mortal Shell should be very familiar to Dark Souls aficionados, balancing a mixture of attacks, blocks, parries and dodges to defeat the enemies found throughout the game. Weapons in Mortal Shell have that distinct Dark Souls feel to them, with each having their own unique attack animations and heft that make each feel unique to use in combat. Mortal Shell starts to differ a bit from Dark Souls with the blocking system by allowing the Foundling to Harden their current shell , effectively turning into stone and causing enemy attacks to bounce right off of them unharmed. Hardening can be used as crowd control when facing down multiple enemies at once, as well as buy players some precious stamina recovery time after issuing multiple attacks upon foes.

Related: Mortal Shell Review – Hard Souls

The Parry/Riposte system is tied to a particular item called a Tarnished Seal that requires Resolve to use, making the action more limited than it is in a Dark Souls game. This Tarnished Seal has interchangeable Seal Infusions to provide different combat-beneficial effects like self-healing upon a successful Riposte, leaning into a risk/reward system not seen with Dark Souls parries. Mortal Shell also takes a more similar approach to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice when it comes to dying by offering a second chance at life, as players are knocked out of their shell upon defeat and have an opportunity to recover their immobile corpse if they can avoid being hit before reaching it. All of these different additions to combat help Mortal Shell deviate itself a decent bit from the combat found in the Souls franchise while still maintaining the core values of the games to please fans.

Mortal Shell takes a similar approach to storytelling as the Dark Souls games, with Cold Symmetry choosing to dish out lore of the in-game universe through interactions with NPCs and documents scattered around the environments. Players are going to have to put in some work in trying to deduce the reasoning behind the Foundling’s existence in Mortal Shell’s world and what has caused things to become so bad in Fallgrim. The game takes things even further than the Souls games with an Item Familiarity system, asking players to use specific items found throughout Fallgrim and it’s adjoining locations a certain number of times before their official descriptions are revealed within the game’s menu.

Mortal Shell also places an emphasis on exploration not unlike the Dark Souls series, letting players go off in whatever direction they please to find different shells and weapons like the Martyr Blade to help customize their experience. The three main levels of the game – Shrine of Ash, Crypt of Martyrs, and Seat of Infinity – are all linked to the main hub area of Fallgrim from the start, and can be accessed in any order the player chooses to tackle them. Each level has its own unique visual aesthetic similar to the different areas found in a Dark Souls game, with players visiting areas like an obsidian fortress laden with portals and a snow-covered fortress. The only slight difference between Mortal Shell and Dark Souls in regards to exploration is that the individual levels don’t interconnect with each other like the areas in Dark Souls, only tying back to Fallgrim through the singular temple entrances players find that gives each area an individualistic quality.

Ultimately, Mortal Shell contains a lot of similarities to the Dark Souls franchise that should satisfy longtime fans of the series. While the game proudly wears that Souls influence on its sleeve, Cold Symmetry also wasn’t afraid to add its own twists to gameplay that helps Mortal Shell stand apart in significant ways. For those looking for a solid Soulslike until the release of Elden Ring in a couple months, Mortal Shell should certainly offer a serviceable experience.

Next: Why Soulslikes Shouldn’t Be Scary To New Players

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Author: Mason Teague