by August 31, 2021 @ 3:00 pm
Reviewed on PS4
The 2020 Soulslike Mortal Shell was one of the best games of that year. It delivered punishing action-RPG gameplay, a bleak world, and incredible combat. One year later, Cold Symmetry is back with Mortal Shell: The Virtuous Cycle. Though it’s not a full-on new game, it takes the base campaign and gives it a roguelike twist. The result is a compelling and rewarding remix of the main game that’s super addictive and a great deal of fun.
A Vicious Cycle
Mortal Shell: The Virtuous Cycle retains all of the elements that make roguelikes so captivating. You’ve got one try to get through the entire game, so if you die — whether it’s at the start of a run or after a successful boss battle — you’ll have to start all over again. Because this is a Soulslike, everything feels all the more intense and hopeless, yet oddly exhilarating.
You’ll play on essentially the same map as the base game, but the Fallgrim you see in The Virtuous Cycle has a few key differences. For starters, there’s a lot of randomization in terms of enemy types and placement. So where you once saw a weak grunt, you might find a hulking, ax-wielding enemy. Or two. Or maybe you’ll find a couple ax-wielders and a grunt. You never know!
Scattered everywhere in Fallgrim and in the dungeons are pillars. These pillars contain Instincts, which are special upgrades unique to The Virtuous Cycle. Instincts range from simple upgrades like increased damage or speed to more unique character improvements like higher damage specifically to bosses or projectiles activated when you dodge roll. These are only temporary and will reset when you finish or die during a run.
When you’re not actively in a run, you’ll be in the Reverie, which is basically a slightly altered Fallgrim Tower for the purposes of The Virtuous Cycle. Here you can spend Tar and Glimpses you’ve found along the way to unlock permanent upgrades like higher tier Instincts. Over time, these upgrades will make your runs a lot more enjoyable as you’ll actually stand a chance against the game.
Glimpses and Tar are once again the game’s currency here. It’s important to note that while you keep Glimpses, any Tar you gain along the way (that’s tallied in your Tar counter in the HUD) is lost when you die. That said, you won’t lose any pick-ups in your inventory that grant you Tar, allowing you to use these to unlock permanent upgrades. To that end, you could unlock a permanent upgrade that lets you keep all the Tar you collect. And just so you know, this is an essential upgrade that you should absolutely unlock early on.
Differences Between Standard Mortal Shell and The Virtuous Cycle
There are some major differences between the base Mortal Shell game and this roguelike DLC that you’ll want to keep in mind. For starters, you won’t come across any healing items like you did in the main story mode. You can still heal when you successfully perform a riposte, so if you were never the best at that (like me), things could seem a little grim. Thankfully, you’ll also heal a little bit when you acquire new Instincts at a pillar. And with the proper upgrades, you’ll heal a little more every time you interact with a pillar.
Another thing to note is the way progression works in Mortal Shell: The Virtuous Cycle. While you start in the Fallgrim hub world, you’ll get to a point where you can’t return there after you’ve accessed your first dungeon. From here, you’ll basically go from dungeon to dungeon rather than back to Fallgrim. I enjoyed this switch from the standard campaign because it meant that I wasn’t at the mercy of an accidental death in the overworld in between dungeons.
Before you can fight a dungeon’s boss, you’ll need to find the token to access that battle. So while you could reach the boss area, you won’t be able to take on the big bad until you get the token from a pillar. Don’t worry, though — if you have to backtrack for the token, you won’t have to make the trek all the way back to the boss area again as you can simply use the token to teleport there. Nifty!
New Shell and Weapon
Aside from the new roguelike mode, The Virtuous Cycle also adds a new shell (class) and weapon to Mortal Shell. These can be used in both the standard game and the new mode. Hadern, the dude you fight a bunch of times to get new weapons in the base game, is now one of the many shells you can switch between. Hadern comes with his own set of abilities and can also take some of the abilities from each of the other shells. He’s an interesting addition, no doubt, but Eredrim still rules the roost, in my opinion.
The new weapon, the axatana, is a very, very, very welcome addition to the game. (Yes, I had to stress that.) It’s basically an ax that you can dismantle and turn into two katana and vice versa. Whether you’re using it as an ax, dual-wielding katana, or switching between the two, this is about as overpowered a weapon as you’ll find in Mortal Shell. It’s an awesome weapon that’s a lot of fun to use. And if you’re using it for The Virtuous Cycle, you can upgrade it to the point where you’ll cut through enemies with ease.
Admittedly, the axatana can make things a little too easy, if you can believe that. I got to the point where I was just jump-attacking through enemies in one, maybe two hits. Bigger monsters required more hits, but even they were chumps when it came to the axatana’s damage. In a way, an upgraded axatana turns Mortal Shell into a faster-paced hack-and-slash action game. Of course, you still can’t get reckless, because it’s easy to get caught up in the badassery of your new weapon and then get ambushed.
I don’t know if developer Cold Symmetry has any plans to release a patch that debuffs the axatana, so if you want to experience the weapon in all its OP glory, now’s the time.
Like most roguelikes, Mortal Shell: The Virtuous Cycle is a slow burn at first. You’ll probably die over and over again without making a lot of progress during your first runs. You’ll reach a point, however, where the game just clicks and you start getting into a rhythm, both in terms of getting a little bit further every run and unlocking the best permanent upgrades.
At launch, the DLC was a free download for a few days. At this time, The Virtuous Cycle is no longer free. But at just $8, it’s definitely a worthwhile expansion that’ll make you want to revisit the game many times over.
Everyone’s play time will vary, but for reference, it took me nine hours to beat The Virtuous Cycle, and that specific run was about two hours. Add to that the multiple classes, the weapon variety, and the randomization, and you could easily spend dozens upon dozens of hours just obsessing over this DLC mode.
Mortal Shell: The Virtuous Cycle changes up the way you play the base game. It’s awesome, it’ll hook you, and it’s just a really enjoyable addition to what was already a stellar Soulslike experience.
Score: 8.5 out of 10
Follow this author on Twitter.