Dead Cells is a game I’ve had my eye on since it first hit early access, after getting a brief hands on at EGX Rezzed earlier in the year, my interest spiked. When the full 1.0 release came along I decided it was time to try it out.
Described by many as a ‘Souls like’ game I was expecting it to be a challenge and that it would take some patience and practice to get good at it and I felt like I was ready to take on that challenge. I was intending to do a full review on the game but there is one tiny problem with that. I suck at this game!
It turns out that whilst I was prepared to dabble in a little death here and there I wasn’t quite ready to repeatedly die to the same guy over and over and over again. The worst part is, is he’s not even a proper boss; he’s just some elite archer dude that apparently is invincible when I come to fight him. I spent about 3 hours playing before I was able to actually get passed him. I hate him with every fibre of my being. The thing is, is that I actually really like the game, it looks great, it plays incredibly smoothly and has really great rewarding combat and it’s got some interesting ideas going on.
But I’ve discovered something about myself when playing Dead Cells, it’s that I don’t want to play hard games any more, I don’t have the patience to keep re-doing the same sections over and over again. I don’t want to be challenged to within an inch of my sanity. I want to enjoy what I’m playing and I want to be able to progress at a decent rate – I think this is why I liked Diablo 3 so much, none of it was a challenge for me, but it was 100% fun. Maybe it’s a platformer issue because I got stuck on Hollow Knight too and I adored playing that, up until that one stupid boss who kept beating me.
I think what I find annoying these ‘Souls like’ games is that you have to get back to where you are, and that usually involves a fair bit of trekking through areas you’ve been through ten times. When you finally get there, when you finally face up to that stupid elite archer half your health is already gone and he pretty much one shots you within 3 seconds of the fight. I can see him now mocking me “Oh this loser again! I wonder if I’ll actually have to work this time.” I hate him. It’s deflating and I don’t find it fun. I’m 100% aware that my inability to deal with him is completely my own doing, but when you’re on your tenth try you start to get a little impatient and start to rush things a bit too much, which leads to making mistakes, which leads to me dying… again.
I think it’s fair to say that this is my last ‘Souls Like’ I will ever play*
*Until the next one comes along with gorgeous artwork and a fantastic score that I can’t help be drawn towards like a sailor who’s been at sea for too many years hearing a siren song in the distance.
Once you get passed him though and once you’re done tea-bagging him for 25 minutes gloating over your precious victory Dead Cells opens up to you with so many possibilities. It’s not until this point that I feel this game truly gets going and that you start to appreciate the details, the loot, and the progression. Every run you do in Dead Cells will change slightly because the layout of the ‘dungeons’ are randomly generated. Each area has a similar feel and the same enemies, but it’s tweaked to still feel familiar, but also fresh at the same time. You can’t memorise the route to that door that locks after 20 minutes sealing off precious loot, because it won’t be the same. But there are similarities, enough that you will still be able to progress quickly enough should you need to.
Once you start to collect enough cells you can start to bank them and unlock new abilities and perks which you can combine and experiment with in crazy ways. This customisation gives you so many options to tackle your enemies in so many varying ways and that’s what will really appeal to people. Being able to do one run with a certain set of weapons and then do it again, but with a different set. It will feel new for a long time due to nature of the way the maps are generated and the weapons you can take with you. I’ve only really scratched the surface of what the game truly has to offer but I can already see that there is loads to see.
To me the idea of Dead Cells is that each time to die, you learn something new, that can be anything from a type of enemy, a new weapon, or a new location and that next time you play you will get that little bit further than you did last time. It entices you to keep playing with that “Hey, maybe you can get to this place next time now that you’ve got a new weapon.” And I like that side of it. But I just can’t consistently get to grips with it and that’s why I can’t complete it and can’t call this a real review. It’s my “Not a review” review.
Would I recommend Dead Cells to a friend? Hell yea, it’s slick presentation, tight controls and challenging combat will be enough to entice many players with over 30 hours of content for the completionists out there. But I’d only recommend it if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind dying and having to repeat sections and only if you’re the kind of person who likes a challenge. I will still fight on to see how I can do, but I don’t see me completing the game any time soon.