Earlier this year I attended the PC Gamer Weekender in London. The show was awash with AAA and indie developers. When there are so many games in one place sometimes games can be lost in the crowd, however one game stood out the most for me, and ended up being my favorite game of the show. The game is Dead Cells. Dead Cells released into early access on May 10 2017. Ever since the show I had been looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of the game and finally last week I got the chance to continue playing.
The story in Dead Cells is almost non existent right now. All we know is our character doesn’t have a head. Since the game is in Steam’s Early Access program this does allow the developers time to possibly work on some sort of narrative for Dead Cells, but even without any sort of story the game is just as enjoyable as if it did have one.
Dead Cells uses a pixelated art style which I am sure a few of you will be rolling your eyes at, but this style is absolutely gorgeous when done correctly, and the developers have knocked it out of the park here. Having spoke to the developers at the PC Gamer show, we discussed the fluid manner that the character moves, and they went on to say that they actually built the game in a 3D space and then mapped all of the movements to a 2D sprite, which gives the character extra depth, and you can really tell the difference between a regular 2D sprite in another game, and the ones on show here, they feel much more alive and real than the later.
Right now it’s hard to even point out any negatives with the art style. The only small downer is that the environments can sometimes be very dark, and gloomy. I would like to see a little bit more colour thrown into some environments just to mix things up a bit and so the repetitiveness of the atmosphere doesn’t become an issue. Since the game takes place in a castle, maybe one environment can be a library or alchemy lab with lots of potions in the background. This would give the developers chance to inject a little bit more colour. Having said that though, the environments which are currently in the game are all very well designed. I have explored around 6-7 so far; each with their own different theme which in turn results in different enemies.
Technically I didn’t encounter any problems either which is surprising given that it is in Early Access. At the start of the game you get a warning saying that people have encountered bugs such as being stuck in walls, falling through the game world, or even save game wipes. Thankfully over the past few days whilst playing Dead Cells I didn’t run into any of these issues; so take it with a pinch of salt. You know what you are getting in for if you purchase an early access title anyway.
Right now there doesn’t seem to be much music in the game. When you are exploring the castle the only sound you get is the background noise of enemies wandering around. I hope we get some sort of atmospheric soundtrack added in future patches as it would be a shame to just have silence otherwise. The same can be said for voice acting. Dialog is few and far between currently; however if more gets added I would like to see some voice acting.
The sound effects which are in the game are very well done though. I am particularly happy with the squelchy sounds enemies make when you attack them. It’s always a really satisfying moment to hear your thunderous attacks really sound like they hurt.
Dead Cells is a roguelike, combined with a metroidvania style game. Throw in the addictive nature of the gameplay, and the speed that a single run can start makes it a really easy game to drop into if you only have half an hour.
You start the game at the beginning of a castle with just a trust sword equipped. As you explore the dungeons and rooms in the side scrolling environments you discover new weapons and special abilities that makes combat much easier. When you find a new item, it’ll ‘unlock’ and you will get the chance to loot this item again in future runs, as well as upgrading it using ‘Cells’ which can be looted from dead enemies. Any points you spend upgrading items are carried over to future runs too. Meaning you are always progressing. If you manage to get a few dungeons into the castle and then you die, then no biggie, at least that half an hour was spent improving your weapons or abilities which should make your next run a little bit easier. I think if this progression system were not included I definitely would not have been so addicted to Dead Cells as much as I am now. That feeling of always moving forward is much nicer than slamming your head against the desk because you just died half an hour into your run and need to start all over again.
The weapons that you find each have their own plus and negative points, some can be slower but deal more damage, others are fast and to chip damage, or maybe you fancy yourself as an archer to deal damage at range. You can equipped two weapons at one time, I tended to use one melee weapon and one range. The special abilities are crucial too. These can be items such as ice grenades, regular grenades, the ability to unleash small bugs to nibble at your foes feet, among many more which I have yet to unlock yet. Again these special abilities and items can be upgraded using the cells system.
Even at the start of the game when you don’t have much unlocked, the combat system is easy to get to grips with, but extremely hard to master. After around five hours of gameplay I was able to play at a fairly quick pace too. I found that if I had grenades equipped and had a few points in upgrading them, they do wrecking balls worth of damage. So far I have found that the twin daggers, and throwing knife weapons are my favorites. The two combined together makes for some devastating amounts of damage. I would like to see maybe some mage spell casting abilities included in future patches. There is indication that this is a route the developers are going down due to one spell being included already, a sort of frost shock. Maybe we’ll get a Risk of Rain type class base system which allows players to have a different armoury as different classes.
The combat system referred to as “Dark Souls-like”. Whilst I agree that there is an element of Dark Souls combat, I really don’t like that term, and it's being used quite a lot lately. The only Dark Soulsy element is that boss fights require you to learn their attack patterns and retaliate as appropriate to them. The rest of the combat is fluid, quick paced and action orientated.
The metroidvania elements come into play when exploring dungeons. Throughout any level you’ll come across teleporters that makes moving back and forth much easier. But as you unlock new rooms and unique abilities that will allow you to explore new routes and secret areas, you’ll be making use of these teleports much more. They are especially useful if you are the sort of player that likes to explore as much as a level as possible to make sure you don’t miss out on any loot!
I would strongly recommend the use of a controller too. Whilst Dead Cells does have keyboard and mouse support; as you’d expect from a 2D side scroller, it just plays much better with a controller. All of the buttons are self explanatory and even without much of a tutorial, I was able to figure out controls with ease.
Dead Cells was an absolute dream to play. It’s come very close to being my favorite roguelike of all time, only Risk of Rain beats it thus far. It’s very hard to actually see that this game is in Early Access though. Even in it's current state there is very little wrong with it, and if the developers play their cards right they could be sitting on a real gold mine. Some of the content the devs are working on right now are more weapons, items, more NPCs, achievements, stats and some new mechanics. This is great ground work for being a classic PC game. They will also be addressing bugs players have encountered too. These updates should be happening towards the end of the month.
Like I said, even in the current state, Dead Cells is is a dream. It’s well worth the current price and with the promise of more content on the horizon, it’s a bargain at that!