Early access for Dead Cells started a long, long time ago on the PC. It was instantly a success and people couldn’t get enough. Now a year and a bit later the title is finally finished and is being released on the all major consoles. Does it live up to the hype?
Dead Cells is a part of the ever growing genre known as Roguevania. It makes use of randomly generated locations but also mixes in some permanent upgrades to open up new places to explore. It describes itself as “2D Souls” action and for the layman that is a fitting description, but I’d say it feels more similar to Bloodborne.
As you boot up the game you soon find yourself watching as a glowing sphere makes its way to a corpse. The ominous ball attaches itself to the corpse and it soon begins to rise from the floor. I’m not sure about the intricate details, but you are that ball and the corpse is now your new body. With this new lease of life you must find a way through the island as you navigate numerous locations and learn about an infection called “Malaise.”
Into the Dungeon
Progression in Dead Cells is simple. You enter a location and from there you need to find the exit. Of course all manner of enemies will stand in your way and a number of goodies are hidden around the map. Once you find an exit you will find yourself in a hub area. “Cells” are a pretty important currency in the game as well as actually gold and in this area you will have the opportunity to spend what you’ve found. Cells are spent on more permanently unlocking items and perks and gold is used for upgrading your weapons. After you’ve spent what you need it is on to the next location, you search for exit, spend Cells and repeat until you reach a boss.
It sounds simple ad possibly a little mundane, but it isn’t at all. What helps Dead Cells stay fresh isn’t just the randomly generated areas, but the choices it gives you. You typically have two exits that lead to different locations, sometimes more and each area hosts a number of different enemies to take on. This helps shake things up a bit as you don’t find yourself trailing through the same location over and over again. As well as different routes each area has a nice number of secrets to find and I keep getting shocked by what it tucked away and out of sight.
Dungeon crawling is one thing, but what truly makes Dead Cells stand out is the combat. You can map two weapons to X and Y, then you can map two secondary weapons to ZR and ZL. This system opens up a massive amount of combinations to take advantage of. The game boasts 90+ weapons to find and unlock. Spears, swords, lightning powers like a Sith Lord, throwing daggers, bows, shields, fire brands, and so many more. The majority of weapons feel distinctively different, but easy to pick up and use straight away. One playthrough you might opt for dagger that does critical hits when striking the back of the enemy and then also equip the secondary weapon that teleports you behind them. Another run you may go for a long range focuses style and another time a set that does bonus damage to foes that are on fire. The combinations aren’t just limited to playstyle, but also abilities that come tied to all the weapons.
If one side of the coin is the weapons the other would have to be the enemies. Many games that aim to deliver a challenge often fall into the deadly trap of feeling unfair. Dead Cells expertly avoids this pitfall and has a selection of enemies that feel tough, but never overwhelming. Even the first enemies could do a staggering amount of damage if not careful, but dodging and parrying works so well when you lose, you always feel like it is your fault. Archers, mages, scorpions, worms, and all kinds of nasty foes will challenge you and as you progress they naturally get stronger.
The enemy design and combat is what really makes Dead Cells stand out. It certainly is a lot faster than your standard Souls game. To me it feels a lot more like Bloodborne, cause of the greater focus on speed, but like both titles it is very addictive.
As I mentioned above you need to find weapons and you spend your “Cells” on permanent upgrades. Throughout the game you will find blueprints that must be found and then had a number of Cells spent on it to unlock that item. There are number of ways to unlock them typically they are gained by defeating enemies, but they are also found by clearing certain tasks in each level. Finding a specific key to unlock a door or stumbling upon a secret area. The amount to find is staggering and the means to get them all can be a bit confusing, but for the most part it is an excellent system to introduce new weapons and upgrades to the character. It helps people who are struggling make progression as you can spend Cells on more health flasks, so you can heal more times on your next run.
Is it all Perfect?
For the most part I only have glowing praise for Dead Cells, but that doesn’t mean it is without its flaws. I will have to tackle the biggest one first and that was a game breaking glitch I encountered leftover from early access. Once I reached one of the later locations the map had generated in a way that was impossible for me to continue as I couldn’t jump high enough. It was a real shame and frustrating. I must be clear that it has only happened once and if I had a particular permanent upgrade it wouldn’t have stopped me from continuing.
All other issues are absolutely minor. I felt like the tone of the game was a bit odd. The music, setting and imagery in some locations is very dark. This disease has spread through this island and lead people to drastic actions like taking their own lives and killing loved ones to stop them suffering. Dark stuff. The issue is that the game cracks jokes a fair bit and they just don’t really fit in with the tone. Another issue I had was that I felt the boss design was a little underwhelming visually. The fights felt great, but visually they were bland.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased a copy of Dead Cells for this review.