It is time to reveal a highly unpopular opinion that I have. I personally do not like the Dark Souls or Bloodborne games. I find their controls to be clunky, and I find them to be way too frustrating to be enjoyed by a “filthy casual” like myself who enjoys games for the story and content provided rather than a nail-biting challenge. I couldn’t help but be curious about Dead Cells though, as it boasts “Souls-Lite” style combat and procedurally generated gameplay; the premise caught my interest and made a skeptic like myself wonder if it would be worth my time.
Before I get too ahead of myself though, I should make sure that you are aware of the fact that Dead Cells is in Early Access. The developers have said that the Early Access build only has 40-50% of what they hope to have in the final build of the game. With that being said there is already a TON of content in the game. 11 levels, 50 items (weapons, skills, traps, amulets, etc,) and tons of monsters, (two bosses currently). There’s also anywhere from 45 minutes (if you are some kind of ridiculous souls wizard) to 30 or 40 hours worth of gameplay.
I personally have spent much longer than 45 minutes, and I highly doubt that the developers are being serious with that number (because really, who is THAT good?). However I am greatly pleased with this Early Access offering. In some Early Access releases, you get just enough to tease or to show that the game is being worked on. Dead Cells is a full experience and the developers have stated that there will be more updated and added over the coming months, with the final release coming in mid-2018 at the latest.
Dead Cells is what the developers call a “RogueVania” blending the procedurally generated elements of roguelikes with the exploration of an interconnected world that became popular with Metroidvania titles. Instead of traditional Metroidvania backtracking, Dead Cells utilizes permadeath in an interesting way. As you progress, certain things will be blocked off until you learn how to bypass them. Once you learn the way to bypass things it will be unlocked even if you die, which will allow you to continue progressing even after you die. Exploration is just as important as combat, as there are secret areas and plenty of pathways and things to explore.
As I previously stated, I am not a fan of the Souls games and the “Difficulty for Difficulty’s sake” genre that has popped up in action RPG’s in recent years. Dead Cells doesn’t feel like one of those games though. Don’t get me wrong; it’s hard and it is a game you have to learn through trial and error. Even so, I find it addictive with beautiful visuals and plenty of ways to play. Every weapon you find plays differently has its own stats and gives you a different way of experiencing the combat. There is always something new and different to try if you find yourself dying and being sent back to the beginning.
The permanent sort of upgrades and things that carry on throughout playthroughs are tied to blueprints and cells. As you explore, you will uncover blueprints for items. These blueprints can be given to the Collector, a being who will give you those items in exchange for Cells. Cells can be found by killing enemies, though it takes a while to amass a proper stock of Cells. If you die you lose all of the cells you have collected, so it is wise to spend them between sections. You also gain permanent abilities by killing bosses or elite monsters.
Like in Rogue Legacy, you can put cells into a skill that will increase the amount of gold you get to keep between deaths. This makes it easier for you to buy things early on that you may not be able to amass enough gold for in the beginning. Sadly, one of my personal issues with Dead Cells is that unlike metroidvania games (or roguelikes akin to Rogue Legacy) there is no way to move backwards retroactively without dying. Once you progress to a new area you are locked out, which makes things somewhat frustrating if you wanted to earn more gold to buy a weapon upgrade or something in that vein. It also means that you need to follow a particular path if you are going to survive long enough to reach some of the more difficult areas, which makes things somewhat predictable. There is plenty of choices involved, but it becomes clear that if you want a natural sort of progression there is a clear line to follow. If you want to follow a more challenging route it is also available, but it does make things more difficult and frustrating.
I also found the “Active Skills” a bit unappealing for a game with fantasy elements. From traps to flashbangs they just didn’t seem satisfying and I found myself wishing there were a bit more variety. With that being said, I see where synergy and skill can be used to devastating effects with the active skills. My final issue pertained to what I called “hourglass doors” which are optional areas in a run that require you to reach them before they close. These are designed for speedrunners in mind, but I find them to be impossible to reach even if I crippled my run and focused entirely on reaching an hourglass door that may or may not appear during a run.
I’m all for optional perks for speedrunners, but with a game like this, I find that it feels a little imbalanced. Perhaps the developers will tweak and adjust them as they keep adding updates, or maybe they want them to be ridiculous because the secrets within are far too great for average players to find. I am hoping that they adjust them personally, but I’m by no means a pro at the game.
I was skeptical about Dead Cells from the beginning but I can honestly tell you that I am addicted. Dead Cells may have its issues (as I haven’t really encountered any bugs as of yet) but it has exceeded my expectations and I greatly look forward to seeing what the developers do next with it. There are missing bits of content that the game tells you are coming soon, and I can’t wait to see Dead Cells grow and evolve.
Early Access titles are always tricky, as you never can be sure if you should buy it or wait until it releases. I encourage you to give Dead Cells a try, you will not be disappointed.
A Steam Early Access Review Copy of Dead Cells was provided by Motion Twin for the Purpose of this Review