I have a problem when I play Dead Cells, the excellent roguelike action adventure with Metroid-style exploration that is out now on PC and consoles. I often hold myself back from “playing it wrong,” and that has made the game more difficult for me. This self-imposed governor is unnecessary, and I’m trying to break the habit because I can tell that Dead Cells wants me to.
Let me explain what is happening here. Dead Cells is a run-based game with intricate, fast-paced combat. It is unlikely that you will have the same weapons and equipment from one run to the next, but sometimes that randomness can break hard in your favor. What this means is you might get a pair of legendary grenades that make almost every encounter trivial — and this is where I start to hold myself back.
Dead Cells’ combat is so exquisite and fun that I feel like I’m cheating the game and myself if I don’t engage with those mechanics every chance I get. What that means is that I might take something like the Assassin’s Blade, which does critical damage to an enemies back, and I’ll want to go in toe-to-toe with every enemy so I can dodge-roll behind them and take them out with that weapon. That’s awesome, and I love it, and I feel guilty if I avoid that in favor of standing outside of an enemy’s range to take them out with grenades or turrets.
But what I’m realizing now is that the game gives you license to use those cheesy survival strategies due to its run-based nature.
If you get a combination of weapons and equipment that feel unfairly powerful, use them. Use them now, because on the next run you probably won’t get a similar build. It takes dozens of hours of grinding to get the game to drop more powerful weapons more often, and even so, you have a significant chance of getting items that you don’t like as much next time.
That’s why the randomness exists in the first place. You have a couple of bad runs with builds that you piece together that you’re not in love with or that teach you a few things but don’t take you past the first few levels. So that when you do get the legendary impaler that you like and the legendary fire grenade, you realize how impermanent those are. And Dead Cells makes you feel like you gotta use them while you have them.
I still sometimes revert to playing too cute and trying to save my cheesier tactics, but I’m doing that less often.
Now, I just need to deal with my other problem in Dead Cells, which is my inability to decide what kind of run I want. Do I want to grind for cells, do I want to find blueprints, or do I want to try to beat the final boss? That indecision has made me impatient and clumsy, and I need to make a conscious effort to pick a goal for each run to improve my results.