Dead Cells Revisited

These days, no game is a static object, with updates and patches optimizing or fixing different features, or overhauling the gameplay in radical ways. Because of this, a review written at the launch of a game might not apply a year down the road. Old complaints or praise might need to be readdressed as a result of tweaks or changes.

This is most certainly the case with Dead Cells, a game I initially reviewed positively, but which has lost a lot of enjoyment with each new update since it has come out of early access. What started out as a fun platformer suitable for all levels of gamer has now catered itself almost exclusively to the hardcore fans while abandoning everyone else.

During early access, it was clear that certain weapons and skills were just preferable. For instance, the Sinew Slicer and Double Arrow Trap both had short cooldowns and a steady rate of fire, making them damned handy in every boss fight. Grenades, on the other hand, had crap damage and a ridiculously long cooldown rate. To counter this kind of dependence, the game makers nerfed the useful traps and put a limit of only one trap of any kind. Sounds good in theory, except the grenades are still garbage and have a stupidly long cooldown, so they still aren’t an option.

Another change is that crossbows are now two-handed weapons, meaning there’s no access to a backup weapon. With the so-called Update of Plenty, a backpack was added to allow carrying another weapon, except there’s no way to use it aside from throwing away the crossbow. I envisioned a system similar to Dark Souls, where I could swap from the one-handed weapon in a time of need, and then move back to ranged attack. But no, it’s just more hot garbage, poorly thought out and even more poorly implemented.

New biomes have been added, with enemies who do vastly more damage, usually with bullshit gimmicks like being able to fire through walls or teleport to the player, or to teleport the player to them. There’s a special kind of rage that comes from being one-shotted on the second level because I don’t yet have any health, or even any decent weapons or skills. Balance or any sense of it has gone right out the window, so only the hardcore players will get anything out of these “improvements.”

Another change I’d hope would fix past updates was a tweaked economy. Here again, my expectations of gaining a little more gold and thus being able to afford new gear was met with disappointment. In fact, it doesn’t feel like there’s any change whatsoever to the economy. Enemies still drop a miserly sum of money, and the shops all price stuff just out of my reach unless I scour a level and kill every single last enemy AND hunt down every single hidden treasure spot. Or I can try running for the door to get into a challenge room, but usually going that route leaves me woefully equipped to handle anything, even the wimpiest enemies.

Finally, there was a mention of adding more scrolls to the early levels to help level up damage and health, but in the vast majority of my runs, I found the exact opposite to be true. Before the last update, I might make it to Black Bridge for a fight with the first boss and have eight scrolls collected. Now even after scouring each level thoroughly, I’ve had to go into the same boss fight with four or five scrolls. It’s still doable, but if the update was supposed to increase the number of scrolls per level, it’s failed spectacularly.

I’ve been falling out of love with Dead Cells going back to the first tweaking updates that removed or ruined my preferred mutations, and every update after that has further chilled my feelings toward the game. The Update of Plenty gave me hope that perhaps there was still a chance it could be salvaged, but I can’t deny it’s no longer fun to play. It’s aggravating, and the combined effect of these updates is alienating me while catering to a different segment of the market. If you’re one of the hardcore gamers who love brutal games that punish you for the slightest mistake, this could still be your cuppa. But if you’re a casual fan just looking for a platformer to chill with, Dead Cells is no longer meant for you, and you should avoid it.

Perhaps with time, more updates could correct this, but history has shown that the makers of Dead Cells really only care about one segment of their users, and the rest of us can just stop playing for all they care.