Tips for Playing Dead Cells

Between the return to retro and more growing interest in independent developers, it’s a good time to be an indie gamer. But two of the most frequently talked about, Hollow Knight and Dead Cells are phenomenal returns to 2D platformers that often get compared to one another in part due to the level of challenge they provide gamers. Not too long ago we provided some tips on how to get ahead in Hollow Knight and now we’re back to do the same for the other half of this dynamic duo.

Dead Cells is a roguelike metroidvania inspired game from Motion Twin that quickly gained a cult following. Even in its first days of Early Access Dead Cells was loads of fun and showed a lot of potential. After some some fine-tuning and bug squashing, it’s worth every second and penny put into it.

But it’s not all fun and games so to speak. It’s one hell of a challenge that will change with each new playthrough so a few pointers will go a long way.

Expect to Grind

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It’s like staring into a time capsule of hours lost playing.

Once you pick up Dead Cells, it will grab hold of you and refuse to let go. At the start of each run, you’re granted the choice of three random weapons to fill two weapon slots. The initial pool of weapons is small and relatively uninspired but spending cells will unlock new and more effective weapons drops.

None of this is possible without the grind. Each new run starts players off with only one hundred HP. Nothing that players do can add to that starting value. Getting ahead in Dead Cells means unlocking new weapons, skills, and charms.

Early weapons are traditional RPG fare; arrows, daggers, swords, and shields of varying strength. But as new tools are unlocked, weapon drops will gain status effects such as flame, poison, freeze, and bleed. Some of these status effects will get applied to enemies on contact, or they’ll explode upon death, applying effects to neighboring enemies.

It may not sound like much, but the number of possible weapon combinations are endless. I recently unlocked a repeater crossbow that did poison damage and played it with a dagger that added bleed damage to anything already poisoned. No enemy  could withstand more than two hits and I charged through effortlessly until I reached one of the big bosses.

Bosses suck

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Motion Twin’s colorful version of Scorpion.

Boss design is inconsistent at best. This means there’s no way to anticipate what you’re going to encounter and if you’re not on your A-game, you’re a dead blob walking.

The first boss you encounter will be The Concierge in Black Bridge. He’s weak and lumbering at first but his move set expands over the course of the fight, making him a formidable foe. At first his melee attack and bubble shield are just a nuisance. Players will instinctively stay close in order to spam as many quick attacks as possible while he’s vulnerable. But at phase two, The Concierge’s shield turns a deep red and will hurt you when you’re close by. If you’re only carrying melee weapons, you’re going to be in a tough spot with this fight. Essentially, bosses are designed so that you either get lucky and happen to be carrying the right gear for a winning strategy, or you die the first attempt as you test out what will or won’t work.

My best advice in facing bosses is to keep your distance and observe before melee attacking and keep a good shield handy. I had a deep aversion of Dead Cell‘s shields until recently, but there’s no substitute for a good parry. The Bloodthirsty shield in particular will add bleed status to your enemy at every parry. Bosses like The Time Keeper move incredibly fast and rolling out of the way will keep you alive, but waste valuable opportunities to attack.

But there is one fool proof way of being prepared….

DPS is your best friend

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More bang for your buck.

Stock up on all the DPS (damage per second) weapons and abilities that you can. This has been the most crucial piece of my Dead Cells success. As you come across loot, try to collect as many prolonged damage items as you can. Critical hit bonuses are nice, but simply don’t compare to the crowd control abilities of the stackable status effects.

Be on the look out for:

  • Burn
  • Oil – makes enemies more susceptible to burn attacks.
  • Toxic
  • Freeze – applies slow to enemies after they thaw.
  • Immobilize
  • Bleed

In addition to these, enemies can explode on death and leave damage inducing bile on the ground that damages any other enemy that walks through it.

But why are these so important? In cases where bosses move too fast to get close (or have The Concierge’s annoying shield) your best bet is to strike with as many status altering attacks that will wear the enemy down while you focus on dodging. You’re able to stack multiple status conditions on top of one another, multiplying DPS. Using this strategy, it’s entirely possible to defeat tough bosses without ever having to get close.

Know your exits


In case of emergency, this map will be useless.

Thematically, each new area remains the same in how it operates. For example, The Ramparts is a largely linear area that takes you across the fortress ramparts (hence the name). Your path out is to the right and you can simply dash forward and across, as you would along the top of any wall. The exploration part of the map goes downward, into the the interior of the wall and towers you traverse above. Similarly, Toxic Sewers starts off by dropping downward and then branching out, forcing you to travel in every direction through the labyrinthine pipes.

The arrangement of pathways will shift with each new playthrough, but the overall structure of the area will remain the same each time. When you first encounter a new area, take your time and explore. Get familiar with the new surrounding, the hazards, and the enemies within it. Step with caution and become familiar with the exits.

The first few times you encounter an area, don’t move on until after you’ve explored every ounce and cleared out every villain. Doing this will help you develop a familiarity with each area, making it possible to anticipate the best routes through in the future.

But once you’re familiar with a region, you’re going to want to….

Speedrun the dungeons

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Close calls are a painful sight.

Dead Cells tracks the total time of each dungeon run. In most games, this only serves to track how many hours you’ve spent playing a game, but in Dead Cells your time will count against you. Each region contains at least one hourglass door that will turn red and permanently lock you out, denying you the wonderful treasures behind it. Some of the treasure is randomized, but most contain a plethora of gold and tens of cells to unlock new weapons. Each time you access one of these doors, the spoils only increase and make it worth your effort that much more. It’s a great way to collect massive amounts of cells and get ahead in your weapon acquisition.

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Look at the glorious bounty you’re bound to lose.

Did we miss something? What helps get you escape the prison? Let us know below!