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Mortal Shell guide: Combat basics

How to survive longer and kill more efficiently

Mortal Shell guide: Combat basics Image: Cold Symmetry/PlayStack via Polygon
Jeffrey Parkin (he/him) has been writing video game guides for Polygon for almost seven years. He has learned to love just about every genre of game that exists.

Mortal Shell’s combat is brutal and unforgiving. It’s just as challenging in your 20th hour as it is in your first.

In this guide, we’ll help you out with the basics, including the simple steps we found that helped us understand and get better at combat.

Walking backward is the key

From the lowliest shambling peasant to the stabbiest boss, every enemy you face in Mortal Shell can deliver devastating attacks that drain your health within a couple of hits. Combat is all about avoiding those hits.

Luckily, the way the game works — specifically the enemy AI — has a built-in solution. Enemies have a very narrow trigger for approaching you, and they move very slowly. This means that you have a ton of control over when and where combat happens, and which enemies get involved.

Here are two ways that you can use that to your advantage.

Kiting and fighting one-on-one

Kiting just means walking backward as you lure an enemy toward you. And walking backward is probably the most important skill you’ll develop in Mortal Shell. Kiting lets you control how enemies move and where combat takes place. For slower enemies, you’ll even walk right out of their attack areas without needing to dodge.

Enemy animation has a clear delineation between them being unaware, when they notice you, and when they’ve decided to approach. Usually, they’ll be sitting down at first. When they notice you, they’ll stand and maybe even taunt you. When they decide to attack, their posture will change and they’ll start walking straight toward you.

Those three animations (and stances) let you control how combat starts. If two enemies stand up at the same time, you know they’re both eying you. If you step off to one side, though, you should be able to get only one to attack at a time.


While you’re in the hub part of the world — Fallgrim and Fallgrim Outskirts — there will be bear traps scattered around. You’ll usually find them by stepping in them. These are great for luring enemies into. As you’re backing away, put the trap between you and them. They’ll walk straight into it. While trapped, they’ll be vulnerable to an attack, and they won’t be able to fight back.

Learn how to harden

Your ability to Harden is a basic mechanic and conceit of the game. It’s also your most effective defense. Harden is as effective in hour 20 as it is in hour one. Spend time early on making sure you understand how Harden works — how long it lasts, what kicks you out of it, and how long its cooldown is.

Hardening prevents you from taking damage and pauses your attacks and movement. Getting hit will knock you out of Harden, though, even if you don’t take damage. And that means you can do things like start a swing, Harden immediately, and then wait for someone to get close enough to attack you. When they do, you’ll ignore the damage, and finish your swing.

The video above shows us doing exactly that.

Dodging acts like mini-Harden

When you dodge, your animation will show you Hardening for a split second. Think of this like an implicit acknowledgement of invincibility frames.

Dodging (and rolling) isn’t quite as effective or versatile as Harden, but it’s still great way to avoid damage. You need to account for a dodge while managing your stamina (more on that in a second), but dodging is almost as good as Harden in most situations.

Manage your stamina

Like any Dark Souls-inspired game, you’ve got a (green) stamina meter in Mortal Shell. It drains while sprinting, swinging a weapon, and dodging. Managing your stamina is the difference between surviving a fight and getting murdered by a low-level enemy.

Your job in combat is balancing your attacks while still having enough stamina to dodge out of the way. Luckily, your stamina recharges while you’re Hardened (if you’re Hardened for long enough). And that means you can drain your stamina gauge with swings, Harden to recharge it, and then swing again and dodge out of the way when you’re no longer Hardened.

Rule of two

The way we think about combat tends to be in twos. No matter what shell or weapon you’re using, you can light attack twice and still have enough stamina to dodge.

And that makes your basic move(s): Get in close, swing twice, and then dodge out of the way.

Save your Harden for when your enemy’s attacks surprise or overpower you. As you get more confident in fighting, you can mix up your moves and attacks, but the two-hits-and-dodge strategy will help you survive your first (several) hours.

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