About a year ago, I heard tell of an exciting Souls-like* game in Early Access called Dead Cells. I watched a few Let’s Plays and Let’s Look Ats, and I was immediately intrigued. However, I am chary of Early Access, and I decided to wait. Recently, it was on sale, and I was between games, so I snapped it up. I installed it, started it up, and I was hooked. The controls are intuitive (although, funny story. I went back to Dark Souls III to try a pure pyro strategy, well, close to a pure pyro, and I’ve been accidentally hitting NPCs because interact in RB in Dead Cells and A in Dark Souls III (on my Xbox One controller). Fortunately, you can hit NPCs once and not aggro them, but it’s pretty disconcerting), and soon, I was rolling, jabbing, and collecting my souls, er, cells, with the best of them.
So, speaking of souls, let’s talk about it being a Souls-like game. I’ve heard that quite a bit about Dead Cells, and I didn’t really see it when I first started playing. The more I played, though, I got the comparison. It’s funny to hear Lets Players talk about souls and Estus Flasks, and I agree it’s better to be deliberate in combat rather than just mashing buttons (though I panic-mash more often than I care to admit). However, I don’t think it’s so much that this game is Souls-like than it is that both are Metroidvanias. Sprawling levels to explore with locked off areas. Getting runes to acquire abilities to unlock said locked-off areas. In this case, permadeath, but with upgrades that you keep between runs.
When I start, I’m just a ball of goo that rolls across the floor until I reach an empty body. I inhabit the body, and then I’m ready to go. I start with a Rusty Sword, and I start wrecking fools. Or rather, they wreck me in the Prisoners’ Cells. There are random pickups on the ground, such as melee weapon (all kinds of swords), ranged weapons (bows, whips, etc.), shields, and skills (traps, grenades, meat grinder, etc.). There are also upgrades and gold balls you hit to break and scatter. There are secrets in the wall that are marked with a faint rune, and you hit them to open them. They usually contain some kind of gem (gold) or food (kebabs and chicken so far), which is a nice pick-me-up.
You can speed run through the area to try to make it to the timed door in the next area, but the time limit is really strict. To make the first timed door, you have to get there in under two minutes. I’ve done it a few times, but that means skipping most of the first area and not getting the upgrades. Behind the timed door is *spoilers* good loot such as one upgrade (strength, tactical, or skill, and each includes a health upgrade), several gems/gold/coins, a bunch of cells–oh! forgot to say that the cells are used for the permanent upgrades at the end of each level–and sometimes a blueprint for a new weapon/shield/skill. I don’t think it’s worth it, though, because you have to take the blueprint and cells to the end of the level in order to cash in on them, and I feel severely under-leveled if I don’t clear out the first area before proceeding. I’ve never made it to the other timed doors, and I don’t really care.
Let’s talk upgrading. After each level, you can talk to the Collector who’ll use your cells to make whatever you want (and if you have blueprints for it). When you first start the game, you don’t have any ability to heal. You can buy the Estus Flask from the collector for fairly cheap, and you get one gulp. Each upgrade is successively more expensive, and I’m up to three swigs. You have to spend all your souls–cells!–before moving onto the mutation guy, though I just found out that you can break that door down to save your cells. There’s a reason for doing this, which I’ll get to in a minute.
The adorable mutation guy lets you choose one mutation after each level. This can be as simple as more health, or as specific as an X amount of increase in damage for Y amount of seconds after killing an enemy. You can unlock more of these by spending your cells with the Collector. My favorite is Ygdar Orus Li Ox, which brings you back from death once, but you can only pick it up after the first level. I guess it’s so you won’t choose it right before a boss fight, but so what if you do? It’s irritating that I have to carry it all the way through all the levels if I want it to actually help me during a boss fight.
I hit a wall a while back, and I was getting frustrated. I reached the first boss, and he promptly killed me. It had taken me so long to get there, only to be decimated. Going through three areas to get to the fourth (the boss) was disheartening. It took me a while to get back, and he killed me again. This is one of my complaints about games with permadeath that make you start over again–for those of us who aren’t great at it, getting back to the place you once were can be daunting. I’ve been thinking about how terrible I am with these kinds of games (including Soulsborne games. I’ve gotten better, but I’m only firmly competent in them), and I usually chalk it up to my age and slowed reaction. However, I think it’s also because I didn’t grow up playing Castlevania or Metroid, so this is all really new to me.
When I first killed this boss, I was ecstatic. Right after, there’s a place called the Forge, and the Blacksmith can upgrade your existing weapons and skills, but at a price, of course. Cells, man. They all want your cells. The problem is, you don’t get that many from killing the boss (like twelve. Which sounds like a lot, but each upgrade costs at least twice that), and it seems kind of useless. This is where learning that you can beat down the door after the Collector pays dividend and adds a new wrinkle. I can cash in my cells and upgrade things with the Collector, or I can hoard them and hope I don’t die until I get to the Forge and upgrade my existing stuff. I also have to say, getting the Challenger rune for killing the first boss which unlocks the daily challenge was very anticlimactic. I don’t care about the daily runs as they’re speed runs (I tried one), which is so not my thing.
Beating the boss boosted me enough to keep going, though. The next area was different and properly hard again, and then I made it to the sixth area–which can go fuck itself. Seriously. The mechanic is *spoiler* that if you’re not in light, your health rapidly depletes. The first time I made it to this area, I was rocking a really good build. However, I didn’t understand what was happening, and I wasted two flasks before figuring it out. When I did (and the item you’re given), it was too late. I’ve been there three other times, and each time, it’s just grim. You have to be OP in order to get through as quickly as possible, and the enemies are a pain in the arse. Again, it takes me forever to get here, and by the time I do, I’m ground out.
This game is amazing, but as I said to Ian when I first started playing it, I feel as if it’s the sort of game that I’ll hit a wall that I can’t climb over, and I’ll have to give up playing. It happened with Nuclear Throne, Enter the Gungeon, and Hollow Knight. I fear I’m fast approaching that point with this game, though I can’t shake the feeling I’m missing something in that I haven’t reached a few of the biomes (areas) that I should have by this time. I’ll give it a bit more time, but my patience is running short. Too bad because the gameplay is so addictive. “Just one more run,” thinks I. Three hours later, I force myself to put the controller down and go to bed. Now, though, I find myself more reluctant to even start the game because I know I’m just going to be frustrated. Oh, well. At least I’ll always have Dark Souls III.
ETA: I am a complete and utter idiot. I found another area–by looking just a little harder. I’m back in the grips!
ETA II: OK. I got a new rune after ‘beating’ the new area (or rather, an elite in the area), so that should open things up for me. I will fully admit that I’ve been an idiot, but it’s also because I’m still bad at this game. I watch YouTubers breeze through the first few areas (well, breeze in comparison to me), and it’s really frustrating. Something about my brain just can’t grasp the frenetic scenarios playing out in front of my eyes. Again, it’s like relationships–I always lust after people who don’t lust after me.
The new section is hard, but probably because I’ve only done it four times. It’s relatively early, so I’m usually rocking some crap gear. The elite wrecked me twice (didn’t find it the first time), and then the third time, I went in with Ice Grenade and Ice Bow (both which I’ve upgraded at the Forge), and basically spammed that until the elite died. Then, I collected on my rune and was on my merry way. I also beat the first boss in this run, even with a substandard sword.
I’d like to note that one thing I love about this game (and Soulsborne games) is how the first time I saw the boss, I was like, “No way I can beat this guy.” Even with OP gear, I thought he was impossible. Now, I know all his moves, and if I die, it’s because I fucked something up–not because he beat me. It’s things like that that make the grind worthwhile. Also, ice gear is the SHIT. Any run with ice weapons/skills, and I feel 100% more confident. RNG is a big factor in this game, and while it’s pretty balanced, it could used some tweaking. Hah. I initially wrote *I* could use some tweaking, which is also true.
Anyway, I’m back into it, bay-bee. We’ll see how long until I hit the next impenetrable wall.
ETA III: I fucking hate the traps in this game. The spikes on the ground/wall and the overhead swinging mace balls, to be more precise. The hitboxes are fairly generous, but I just hate that kind of artificial difficulty, especially when combined with a horde of enemies. I really think the balance needs to be tweaked.
*More on that later.