An argument can be made that there are far too many Soulslikes (games inspired by Dark Souls). Since Dark Souls debuted in 2011, the number of copycat games has grown exponentially, oversaturating the market with brutally difficult action games. While lots of Soulslikes are fun, many of them are missing the heart and ... soul ... of what makes FromSoftware’s games so appealing. But one Soulslike that nails the formula is Mortal Shell, a game from 2020 that stands apart thanks to refreshing mechanics that don’t detract from a faithful Dark Souls homage. Best of all is that Mortal Shell has returned to Xbox Game Pass after its removal in November 2022. But what makes Mortal Shell worth your time?
Enough to stand apart
It’s abundantly clear that Mortal Shell aims to pay homage to the Dark Souls games. This is evident by the moody atmosphere, its nearly identical combat, and even the UI. But this game actually does a lot to stand apart, particularly in the Shells (hence the game’s title) you gain access to.
Unlike the Souls games — which allow you to customize your attributes however you see fit — Mortal Shell gives you access to four unique classes, each represented by a different Shell. These classes are Harros, Solomon, Eredrim, and Tiel (the names of the deceased Mortals whose Shells you wear).
Harros is the starting Shell and is more of a balanced class, whereas Tiel gives you maximum stamina, making many fights more manageable. The thing is, you can unlock the ability to swap between these Shells on the fly, meaning you aren’t locked to a particular playstyle.
This alone gives the game an edge, as you’re encouraged to try different ways of playing Mortal Shell without having to re-spec or start a new game.
Of course, many mechanics around the Shell system are what you’d expect: You’ll dodge, manage stamina, explore labyrinthian stages, and use currency to upgrade your character.
Streamlined and approachable
Despite the similarities, Mortal Shell is a much more streamlined experience than Dark Souls. Depending on what you’re looking for, this might be a turn-off. But for players looking for a more digestible, approachable take on the Souls formula, Mortal Shell is worth checking out, especially on Game Pass.
Right off the bat, Mortal Shell is an easier pill to swallow, as it’s only around 15 to 20 hours long to complete. This is a far cry from Dark Souls, which could take anywhere from 40 to 100 hours to see the end.
But aside from the time commitment, Mortal Shell is much easier to master. Sure, it’s no cakewalk — especially at first — but once you learn the art of each Shell, things will likely click for you. Since Mortal Shell is much more condensed, it’s easier to max out your stats and learn how to use each of the different classes available to you.
Above all else, there’s a particular mechanic you can absolutely use as a crutch if all else fails. The Shells you wear have an ability that allows you to harden, and upon doing so, will completely negate damage taken for a moment. It has a cooldown so you can’t spam it, but you can certainly learn to back off, wait for the ability to recharge, and use it again while mixing in a few attacks.
If you learn to master this technique, you can essentially get through battles without taking damage, which is nearly impossible to do in Dark Souls.
So whether you’re hungry for another high-quality Soulslike or if you’ve held out for something a bit more approachable, Mortal Shell should definitely be on your radar.