Dead Cells isn’t trying to be some new inventive video game with groundbreaking mechanics that aim to change the industry; it pays homage to many that have possibly done so, however. The gameplay has us looking back on titles like Rogue Legacy and Spelunky, two of the greatest rogue-likes to ever exist. Its tone and presentation then has us looking back at Castlevania and Dark Souls, two series that had us fighting against evil monsters and barely making it out alive by the skin of our teeth. The reason why Dead Cells has climbed up the Steam charts is because it blends all of that together. Players spend run after run gladly taking the punishment in hopes to succeed.
In Dead Cells is centered around the player character—a dying soul who wishes to collect cells to restore his decomposing body. Players start in a dungeon-like area but have the opportunity to explore other locations if they can make it out alive. There are already around twelve or so biomes(stages) and counting, and the developers will most likely add even more after the game leaves early access. Throughout my many runs through the world of Dead Cells, I spent most of my time in toxic sewers, the ramparts of a dark castle, and a desolate promenade. Much like the later Castlevania games, some of these areas couldn’t even be accessed until I had a certain ability.
So now that I have described what the world of Dead Cells is like, it’s time to discuss gameplay. The combat feels like every one of the influences I have mention above. The X and Y buttons on an Xbox controller are where the main weapons get equipped while B is the roll button. These main weapons range from various swords, shields, bows, spells, and more. It is up to the player what combination of weapons are used, but I personally carried at least one sword on me at all times while I really enjoyed using an ice blast spell as my secondary attack. The game is also generous enough to offer players a bow or shield at the start of every run too.
Throughout each stage, players have the chance to find blueprints for new weapons. To have a shot at finding these weapons during the next run, they must be given to the Collector. This hooded figure called The Collector is found at the end of each biome, he collects any blueprints and cells in the player’s possession. Anyone who has played a Souls game is familiar with how cells work, but in Dead Cells they are used to upgrade the weapons rather than the character. Each run can be absolutely precarious, but a new item or upgrade can mean the difference in progress from the previous run to the next.
The progression system is likely my favorite aspect of Dead Cells. By the time I near the end of most video games, my character feels overpowered and can decimate any foe in their path after I have upgraded them. With Dead Cells all I really need is the weapons and items I am best with coupled with a few or the temporary health, strength, and skill upgrades that can be found in each stage. Beating that first elite archer enemy felt like such a victory because it wasn’t just upgraded stats that helped me win, it was a solid build with tools and abilities that empowered me to progress further.
The Rogue-like elements of Dead Cells require the player to adapt to their environment with every stage. Each stage might be randomly generated, but each contains specific enemies or traps that has players rethinking their strategy after they were already destroyed there in a previous run. Each biome includes at least one shop, which had me sighing in relief when I had enough gold for some extra health and a weapon I enjoyed using. On multiple occasions I could have surely been defeated, but I made it an inch or foot further than I had anticipated.
During my time with Dead Cells I learned why it is at the top of the Steam charts. Players are continuously taking a beating in Dead Cells run after run, but we know at some point we are going to conquer it. Any rogue-like video game that has seen success has mastered the formula in that same way, which is why I believe Dead Cells has the potential to join the ranks of our favorites when it finally makes it out of Steam’s early access program. When that day comes there will be a full review right here at Geeks Under Grace.
Early Access copy was kindly provided by Motion Twin.
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