Dead Cells Revisited: Featuring Return to Castlevania!

Okay, I’ve not been posting, and that’s totally on me! So I can at least start by posting about one of the things that’s kept me distracted lately: Dead Cells! Yeah, I reviewed it before, but it’s gotten a new DLC since then and I’ve been spending a lot more time with this title. I’ve even gone so far as to make a music mod for it, which I’ll bring up in the revisit review proper.


GENRE: Roguevania But Now That Moniker Makes More Sense

It’s been awhile since I looked at Dead Cells, and a new DLC’s come out since then too. So honestly? We’ve got a LOT to talk about here. But let’s start with the most important thing:

Read this first if you haven’t!

Okay, caught up? Then let’s talk about a major aspect of Dead Cells I admittedly didn’t get into in that first review: Difficulty and progression.

One of the big things about Dead Cells is that you unlock new difficulties by winning a run on the current difficulty you’re on, which grants you a Boss Stem Cell. The difficulty increases for each boss Stem Cell you activate, up to five max, but you’ll need to be on the highest difficulty you’ve unlocked to get your next cell. And what makes Dead Cells’ difficulty interesting is that it’s not just a simple case of “enemies get more health and damage.” Yes, they DO get these things, but that’s only a very small part of the equation here, which is what makes said difficulty progression so interesting.

You see these? These are Boss Cells! They’re how you progress to the real endgame and make your life more miserable in the process!

Each difficulty increase adds new features, some bad, but some actually good as well! For example, your starting weapons will start to be higher level and thus be stronger from the getgo, and you can also have a chance to have ALL weapons you find start with bonus upgrades you normally have to pay for at the game’s Minor Forge between levels. The higher the difficulty, the better these weapon bonuses are.

New paths also open up in every level as doors that require a certain number of Boss Cells to be active will open for you, leading to additional loot, shops, or even new branching paths to levels you couldn’t reach from the current one before.

The most painful change though is that as the game gets harder, you get less and less free healing. At first, some Health Fountains you refill your potion and heal at between levels will be broken, with only a single potion charge in their place. On the next difficulty, you’ll find all the fountains are replaced with these charges, and another difficulty up will reduce the charges to only a couple in a few specific transition areas, and on max difficulty, there are NO free potion charges in these areas, meaning you’ll have to buy them for a LOT of gold. Thankfully, if you aren’t into this deprivement of your healing, Custom Mode lets you disable the broken fountains rule at the cost of achievements also being disabled.

The last big difficulty aspect exclusive to max difficulty is the Malaise bar, which gradually increases until you kill almost all the enemies in a level. As it goes up, your enemies get stronger, and things just get worse overall, encouraging you to be quick and efficient as killing 90% of the level’s enemies is the only way to stop the bar’s increase. Killing enemies also lowers the bar a bit, buying you more time as long as you can keep killing back to back.

Needless to say, all this means you’ll be playing for quite awhile if you’re trying to reach the true endgame and final boss, which can only be fought on the max difficulty. It gives a bit more longevity to the game as you aren’t just trying to go for wins, but trying to go for wins under increasingly difficult situations.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the DLCs. I said they were a thing, but didn’t really elaborate on what each of them offer, something that was admittedly a mistake and something I intend to correct with this second look at the game.

This was the first DLC for Dead Cells, and is actually free. This DLC was a big deal in that not only did it introduce a new mid game biome and boss, but was also what introduced the true endgame of Dead Cells with its 5 Boss Cell difficulty exclusive area and final boss.

The Giant is a popular routing choice because you can skip straight to the Throne Room (and final boss of most runs) while also getting 2 Stat Up scrolls, bypassing High Peak Castle entirely!

The Caverns is one of the hardest areas in the game for sure, with some of the toughest enemies, many of which resist crowd control effects, making them absolute nightmares to fight. The Giant boss himself is also notable in that there’s some big lore to be told when you fight him, and one of my favorite boss death sequences in any game ever. It really helped give an idea of what to expect with future DLCs as well, typically 2 new biomes and a new boss, aside from Castlevania, but we’ll get to that in due time.

It introduces some particularly favored weapons and items too, with some of the unfortunately only appearing in the 5BC exclusive final area of the game.

This DLC is the most impactful one for new players, because it adds a new alternate level path from the start of the game. The Dilapidated Arboretum introduces an interesting new gimmick in the form of plants that chomp on you, but become spring boards if you jump before they do so. 

Bad Seed teaches you an important lesson: Nature is a jerk that wants to kill you.

The next area it features, Morass of the Banished, is basically a tree filled swamp full of new annoyances like blowgunners and ticks, and has the Mama Tick boss waiting for you at the end. It also introduces a lot of rather uniquely functioning new weapons that are quite quirky, like a guitar/lute that requires timed inputs for optimal damage.

This DLC is a pretty big deal for numerous reasons. It introduces one of the most enjoyable pets in the form of Serenade (AKA the Sword Familiar), as well as the Fractured Shrines. While this area is fairly dangerous, it rewards you with a choice of one of three legendary items if you know where to look. A guaranteed legendary item can potentially save a run, so this can often be a place to visit on your runs if you’re willing to take the risk.

Fractured Shrines is dangerous, but with a choice of 1 of 3 legendary items being guaranteed, it’s a worthwhile risk!

It also introduces a major lore area that’s quite difficult known as the Undying Shores, which features enemies that revive other enemies. Get beyond this and you’ll meet the DLC’s boss, the Scarecrow (Who has some lore to be found in the previous DLC).

Fatal Falls has some of my favorite items, like the Scarecrow’s Sickles, an amazing Tactics/Survival cooldown item that can do some insane damage if you learn how to keep it flying by not catching it on the return. It also introduces the insanely fun Snake Fangs, one of the best multi-purpose weapons in Dead Cells: It’s great because it can be a main weapon or a support weapon, as it does good damage, adds poison, crits on enemies with a LOT of poison on them, and warps you to foes when you swing it from a distance. Seriously, this DLC has some good stuff in it.

The Queen and the Sea is probably the last DLC I recommend looking into if you’re new to Dead Cells, because it’s an alternate endgame path with an alternate final boss. It’s pretty darned hard, especially since you have to deal with a double header of bosses, one of which is a trio, before you deal with the alternate final boss: the titular Queen.

The Queen will put your skills to the test, she’s got way more tricks up her sleeve than the standard final boss…

The Infested Shipwreck is also a brutal biome with some new threats and old ones, and environmental hazards such as platforms that crumble when bombs explode, causing any further bombs to suddenly have the potential to drop on your head.

The Lighthouse features one of the toughest bosses in the game: The Servants. This particular boss is tough in that it’s both a boss *AND* a level. You’ll have to fight your way through the servants as you climb up the lighthouse, rematching them several times until you deal with all three at once near the top of the tower.

And then there’s the alt final boss, the Queen. She’s tough, REALLY tough. But in some ways I find her more fun to fight than the Hand of the King, the regular last boss. She’s a lot more of a duel as opposed to just taking on some really big, bulky guy.

As for the items this DLC offers, they’re…Interesting? A lot of the items in this DLC are gimmicky in nature, with only a few that really shine brightly like the Bladed Tonfas and Queen’s Rapier. This DLC is worth doing for the challenges, but it definitely doesn’t have the best rewards compared to Fatal Falls.

The biggest DLC of Dead Cells by far, and honestly what re-kindled my interest in the game. It would be unfair to say this DLC by itself is a good reason to play Dead Cells though, because the game itself is plenty amazing even without the Castlevania content. But said Castlevania content is a bunch of winners, in my opinion. It has some of the best added items of any DLC, with the notable ones being the Vampire Killer, the Cross, Holy Water, Alucard Sword, and Maria’s Cat all being absolutely amazing items. It also has some of the best new skins, as they’re effectively entirely new characters, not just new outfits for The Prisoner/Beheaded to wear.

The DLC also has an entirely separate storyline from the main story, featuring both Alucard and Richter. Dracula’s castle has inexplicably shown up in the world of Dead Cells, and now both Trevor and Alucard seek the Beheaded’s aid in stopping the revival of Dracula! Now, what’s a bit weird about this DLC is that there’s two points in a run where you can choose visit Dracula’s castle, but you can only do so ONCE per run, and which time you go to said castle determines which of the two DLC bosses you do battle against. This is a bit annoying, and it’s something a lot of us hope gets reworked in the future, but it’s not really a dealbreaker either, at least for me.

The Castlevania levels are the Castle Outskirts, which consists of the outside of Dracula’s castle, and then the inside itself, called…Dracula’s Castle. And they went all out with the Castlevania stuff on these. You’ll spot plenty of familiar Castlevania foes, and a lot of references throughout each of the new levels, like familiar statues, a bloody fountain, and plenty of other stuff I just don’t have the time to go into.

The Castlevania DLC was the best surprise at the start of this year, and it’s easily the best DLC for Dead Cells now.

And then there’s the music. While it continues to be in the style composer Valmont has used throughout Dead Cells, I’ve rather enjoyed his take on the Castlevania songs that made their way into Dead Cells: Vampire Killer, Beginning, Bloody Tears, Dracula’s Castle, and Tragic Prince to name a few. And then there’s the dialogue. While it has the somewhat “Black comedy” stylings of Dead Cells, it still pays plenty of homage to Castlevania with lines you absolutely expect to  and do end up seeing said. A lot of humorous references to gameplay elements and moments of Castlevania also happen in the dialogue, and this DLC as a whole made one thing very clear:

Motion Twin absolutely respected the source material when they made this Collab DLC, and I absolutely love them for it. At this point I’m convinced if Konami outsources a full Castlevania project to them, it would be in good hands.

Now, there is one extra part of the Castlevania DLC I have some minor gripes with, but it’s not a dealbreaker, especially since this gripe is one I fixed with modding (which I’ll go into shortly). There is an option to use an all new Castlevania soundtrack that replaces ALL the music in Dead Cells with music from the Castlevania series itself. My issue is that some of the song choices are questionable, and there is a LOT of Symphony of the Night and Rondo of Blood in there, in my opinion…Too much. There’s a lot of iconic songs that simply get left out, and there’s a bit of inconsistency in music quality as some songs are low sound quality GBA tracks, others are CD audio quality like those from SotN. How did I fix this? Well…I made a music mod:

This mod’s goal was simple: Use music from more Castlevania games, keep the sound quality consistent, and most importantly: Choose songs that fit the areas they’re in. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

Anyway, music gripe aside? Return to Castlevania is easily my favorite of the Dead Cells DLCs if only because not only is it a great homage to Castlevania, but it also has some of the most fun weapons of any DLC. Seriously, the Vampire Killer is stupid good.

So really, at the end of the day, spending more time with Dead Cells has shown me just how deep this game really gets, and it continues to reinforce why it’s one of my favorite roguelites: The build variety and ability to customize your gameplay to fit what you want to do, whether it’s incredibly hard runs, or more relaxed ones where you get to fully define your build from the getgo, Dead Cells allows you to enjoy in whatever way suits you most. And it’s that commitment to making a game that both the hardcore roguelike players and more casual folks can enjoy equally that makes me love this game so much. Well, that and just how fun the overall combat and gameplay is. My point is, if you like Castlevania, this DLC is a good addition to Dead Cells. And even if you don’t like Castlevania, Dead Cells still stands tall on its own merits without the Castlevania content…

…Though seriously, just get the Castlevania DLC. And all the rest. It’s that darn good.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.