Speaking the Praises of Dead Cells

A Really Hard Game Review


A picture of the player character and the Island this game takes place.

Dead Cells is a game that was released in 2017, and it is really hard. Released by Motion Twin, it is a roguelike game that has Metroidvania elements as well as soulslike elements as well. This amalgamation of a game has won many awards, like “Best Action Game” and “Best Indie Game” of 2018. Now, let’s spread the good word of Dead Cells.

Dead Cells takes place on an infected island where you take a beheaded corpse with an immortal blob of sentient jelly on an adventure where you have to hack and slash through levels and bosses of undead and mutated creatures. You start in this game in a base area known as the prisoner quarters, and you go through until you make it to the final boss, The Hand of the King or the Queen. On your journey, you will meet many strange (but helpful!) faces. From The Collector who you give blueprints for all the new stuff showing up in your runs, to the Blacksmith who reforges your weapons, as well as the mutation person who gives you up to three unique effects that stay with you throughout the run, as well as other random NPC’s you might find along the way. 

There is a unique currency in the game of Dead Cells, that being cells. When you defeat monsters and, on rare occasions, find a capsule of cells, you get cells which you can spend on the collector to get new items to play with. The collection of cells in lower difficulties is much harder than in higher difficulties, so there is a lot of grinding in the early stages. Also, at the end of each boss fight (except for final bosses) is a forge where you can spend a ridiculous amount of cells to be able to make the chance of finding higher quality item drops increase in 5% increments up to a 100% chance of finding +, ++, and S quality items. 

A Rare Blueprint dropped via Hunters Grenade

Blueprints are items that are rarely dropped by enemies and, sometimes, by bosses, and they are the way you will get everything beyond the base items, with a few other exceptions. The items you get from these blueprints vary from weapons to outfits, and even to mutations. The odds of getting a common blueprint are 10%, an uncommon blueprint being 1.7%, and the odds of getting a rare blueprint are 0.4%. You’d have to be pretty lucky to get even a common blueprint. There is a way of getting blueprints 100%, but you need an item called the Hunters Grenade to do so, and getting that requires the spending of cells to get to the specialist shop. If you do manage to get one of these blueprints, you still have to get to the end of the level to be able to keep the blueprint and to then spend cells on it. There is a silver lining with finding these, though, for some blueprints are guaranteed if you do certain things, like killing a boss or doing a specific side quest.

Now, the controls of this game are not terribly difficult to learn, but they can be quite hard to master. There is an attack button, a secondary attack button (for your secondary weapon/shield), motion controls in the form of the cardinal controls, a dodge roll, and a parry. Each is essential for not taking damage in this game, where one hit can take off most of your health. Parry’s are arguably the most important skill to learn for this game. They allow you to be able to not take any damage from an attack, and, additionally, most shields have some ability that if you parry will deal damage or help you, like spreading bleeding damage or getting an invincibility bubble for a few seconds. 

There is also a progression system that is quite interesting and makes the game of Dead Cells harder, and that is boss cells. Boss cells are given to you after you defeat the Hand of the King (or the Queen if you have the Queen and the Sea DLC), and they are used to elevate the game’s difficulty.

At 1 BC (Boss Cell), enemies hit harder, more new enemies are added (and there are more enemies in general), and there are less full heals at the end of level, those being replaced with a single heath flask.

At 2 BC, enemies hit even harder, there are, again, new enemies and more enemies, and there are no more full heals on the map.

At 3 BC, enemies, as expected, hit even harder, there are more enemies and, still, new enemies added, there is only a health flask at the end of the first boss and before the second, and there are some scroll fragments around and bosses drop a few of them as well.

At 4 BC, there are no free ways to heal at rest stops, enemies hit even harder, more and new enemies are added, enemies start teleporting after you, and there are even more scroll fragments.

The Giant, Dead Cells

5 BC is the last of the difficulties, and to get the 5th boss cell you need to fight The Giant because the Hand of the King (nor the Queen) doesn’t drop it upon defeat. Once you activate it, the game becomes significantly harder for a multitude of reasons. The first big thing is the malaise. Malaise, from a lore perspective, is the plague that struck the residents of the island and killed almost all of them. From a game perspective, it is an orange bar and as it fills up with time, enemies start teleporting more frequently, they start to hit even harder than they did before, new enemies start spawning around you and come after you immediately, and many more awful things. On top of this, all the changes from the other difficulties are here so there are no free ways to heal at rest stops, there are more scroll fragments with bosses dropping more of them, enemies still hit really hard, and all the enemy types are here. The only way to stop the orange bar from filling is killing every living, breathing thing you can. There was one way to heal for free, and that was food. Food would be dropped randomly from scratching at walls or killing enemies, but now the food is infected (except for one drop every biome and a few select exceptions). 

Along with each difficulty, you get access to more and more bonus doors. Each of these bonus doors can lead you anywhere from another bonus shop, a food shop, cells, or even different biome options (only in specific biomes). Each type of door is quite useful, but the most useful is arguably the food shop. The food shop is a shop only shown on certain biomes and there you can find a small piece of food (15% of health back), a big piece of food (50% health back), and a health flask charge. All are quite expensive, but are arguably worth it, being very useful in later difficulties when you want to save your health flask charges. At 5 boss cells, the food shop changes so instead of the small food, it has a flask that allows you to remove some of the malaise bar for slightly more than the small food cost. There is also a 5 BC door after the Hand of the King, where you can fight the true final boss (but I don’t want to spoil anything about it).

Dead Cells is a really hard game, even if the descriptions make it seem easier. Timing is key and, if your reaction times aren’t the greatest, the game doesn’t care. You get good or you struggle for weeks. If you are the impatient kind and someone who is prone to anger, I would not recommend this game for you (for the sake of your device). Property damage is not something I wish to be blamed for.

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