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The eagerly anticipated indie Dead Cells finally moves out of early access this week, and I argue in my review that it’s one of the finest action games I have ever played. French developer Motion Twin have capitalized on the popularity of both Metroidvania and roguelike games to deliver an experience that never gets old. At Dead Cells’ core is a loop of exploration, adventure, and eventually death.
While there’s a lot the game does in order to make you feel prepared for the grueling quest before you, Dead Cells is also shrouded in a fair bit of mystery. This is intentional, certainly, but it can take a long time to figure out the best strategies. Below, we’ve assembled five spoiler-free pieces of advice to start your journey out on the right foot.
1) Consider your upgrades
Your first run in Dead Cells will certainly be your weakest. After being dropped into the prisoner’s chamber, your reanimated corpse sets out into the sprawling dungeon ahead. You are armed with only a single blade, and the world is a mysterious and frightening place. Right away, you’re given the choice between adding a bow or a shield to your loadout. What might seem like a simple decision actually holds a lot more heft. While the bow does grant the ability to strike from far away, the shield can be used to effectively parry and redirect enemies’ attacks back at them for massive damage.
This is just the first of many loaded choices to follow. While there is no “right way” to play Dead Cells, one does need to consider their objectives. Focusing on collecting cells to unlock upgrades might require killing more enemies, hence the bow. But making solid progress through areas like the Toxic Sewers or Ramparts can be easier with the shield. Likewise, various scrolls found around the map can help you upgrade your stats. Each category corresponds to a weapon color. Brutality increases red weapon damage (typically swords and knives). Tactics boosts purple weapons (often projectiles and bows). Finally, Survival helps green equipment (almost all shields). These decisions only affect the current quest, so be careful to keep a close eye on your loadout at all times.
2) Study enemy behavior
Surviving past the opening minutes will require a familiarity with the obstacles to come. While there are plenty of platforming puzzles and environmental hazards, nothing poses a bigger threat than the various foes lying in wait. Remember that everything in Dead Cells is spawned differently each time you perish. That means you can’t memorize enemy locations or pairings. They will never be the same. However, the routine each creature follows will always stay recognizable.
It’s important to teach yourself the necessary tactics to take down whatever the game throws at you. Early rooms are full of slimy creatures that launch themselves from afar. A well-timed parry or dodge roll can help here. Likewise, the archers you encounter early on are weak enough to be killed by one of their own reflected arrows. As you move on, you’ll find foes that can give shields to all other hostiles in the area or even teleport around the map to chase you down. Taking the time to focus on a new enemy the first time you see it will be worth the risk, so you can conquer it in the future, even if it spells your immediate doom.
3) Master your moves
Movement will be as instrumental to a successful battle as weaponry, if not more so. Dead Cells hides a complicated layer of platforming mechanics behind simple single-button combat. One of the first things you might notice is how quickly your character can move. The second may be that enemies can move even faster. The complete range of your mobility isn’t immediately obvious, and it takes some experimenting to figure out exactly what you can and can’t do. The first thing to perfect is rolling. As in Dark Souls, this simple evasive maneuver can be used to greatly benefit the player. Use this to move away from arrows and behind shielded foes to quickly slash at their weak points.
Another thing to be aware of is how controls work in the air. You won’t take any fall damage, but you can find yourself stunned when dropping a large distance. Those wasted seconds can actually be more harmful than any lost HP. Enemies can swarm and end your life in the brief interim, so always be sure you know what you’re landing in before jumping. However, from short distances, a double jump down turns into a ferocious burst attack that can stun or even eliminate weak enemies. Coupling this dash with a roll can help bust through doors or thin platforms and take out foes without ever using your sword.
4) Be conscious of time
You may not realize it at first, but Dead Cells is keeping track of your every move. In the lower corner of the screen by your gold count and map, a timer shows how long this current run has taken you. Likewise, the friendly NPC in the first room will keep a running log of everything you’ve accomplished up to this point across all your runs. While the timer can be used to brag about how long you survived on one life, there are a few gameplay elements that this score also plays a role in changing.
Hidden in nearly every new area are doors that can only be opened under a certain amount of time. If you make it through the first dungeon into the Promenade of the Condemned in under two minutes, for example, a door will be open granting a great deal of treasure. Deciding if you want to rush past everything to reap these rewards is up to you, but it does serve as a way to change up your tactics in the future.
5) Leave something for the future
And finally, this decision-making applies across the entire experience. No two runs of Dead Cells are ever identical, though there is much to be learned on each adventure. It helps to set a goal for each quest before setting out, and to make progress only in that direction. Trying to see or do everything the game offers in one go can be overwhelming, if not impossible.
For example, if you’ve hit a wall in later areas, focus on crawling slowly through the first dungeons to get every single cell, upgrade, and secret you can uncover. Stocking up early can help unlock benefits that carry over permanently. That way, even a failure to progress turns into an opportunity to beat the final boss on your next try.
Dead Cells is available now for PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.
AJ Moser is a Brooklyn-based reporter who focuses on video games, movies, and internet culture. His work has appeared in Paste Magazine, Game Informer, and Big Spaceship.