One of the great joys of our hobby is to play games long after their initial release, once a season pass’s worth of DLC is out in the wild and it’s been patched up to a Rockstar-like sheen. Whether or not you ever end up playing said DLC is irrelevant; it’s just exciting to confront such a deep, feature-complete vision.
Dead Cells, the side-on Soulslike-roguelike Metroidvania thingy where you play as some decomposing goo with incredible combat skills, feels like it’s now at that stage but, in fact, it’s barely halfway: Developer Motion Twin described the game as “in its mid-life”, so expect to see it shouting at a cashier in a public freakout compilation very soon.
More pertinently, it indicates how much more content Motion Twin has planned for Dead Cells after the release of Enter the Panchaku, the 30th free update, separate from its four DLC releases. Are we really in store for 30 more free updates before Dead Cells succumbs to nominative determinism?
In fairness, the dev hasn’t promised anything like that, but it does sound like the next year will be a busy one. “Heading into 2023 we won’t be slowing down,” reads the latest dev blog on Steam. “In fact, we’ll be stepping things up! It’s going to be by far our biggest year since the 1.0 launch, and we’re thrilled to show you what we’ve been cooking up behind the scenes.”
Though Motion Twin’s choice of words is telling – ‘mid-life’ suggests an honest appraisal that there will be an endpoint. Unlike the Destinys and GTA Onlines that wish for eternal life and relevance, Dead Cells will one day have said all it has to say.
What about this Panchaku update, then? The headline act is the titular Panchaku, a new weapon that involves brandishing cookware like nunchucks and absolutely leathering people with it. The weapon combos nicely and produces a satisfying tin thwack when your flailing pans deflect incoming projectiles.
It’s unlikely to be the sole reason you pick up Dead Cells again after a prolonged absence, though. That’s the job of the long list of weapon reworks, and an overhaul to how legendary items work.
Previously, gold-tier legendary items scaled to your two highest stats from Brutality, Tactics, and Survival, and gave you more damage, nothing else. Now legendary items have affixes, or extra powers, like in Diablo 4. Those bonuses might be linked to certain statuses like bleeding, so in order to make the most of legendaries you need to think about your entire build and spec your character out to target specific statuses or actions.
Jumping in green to a game like Dead Cells in its mid-life, obviously, you don’t have the awareness of what needed fixing nor the satisfaction of seeing it fixed. What you do get is an incredibly polished experience and a space to inhabit that feels like every inch of it’s been examined and refined by both developer and player. Every frame of your attack animations feels perfectly matched to each enemy’s attack routines, especially now after numerous buffs and nerfs to over 30 melee and ranged weapons.
But it’s an impossible dream to demand this standard of modern releases. If everyone waited this long to play it, the developer would have no incentive to have kept supporting it this whole time. And if the devs waited this long to release it, creating not updates but simply more polish and features, they’d either have to charge double the price or somehow hope to attract double the sales.
So it’s the pragmatism of Motion Twin’s ‘mid-life’ statement that’s really striking. The studio seems really in touch with how long it’ll hold an audience with this title, and the vast amounts of work – not to mention budget, hello staff retainers – required to do so. Even after that sustained investment, Dead Cell’s development will come to an end. That’s a cold, hard truth developers don’t usually publicly acknowledge. Try getting Bungie to imagine a future without an ever-improving Destiny 2, even 20 years down the line.
In addition to arriving at a smart, well-designed Metroid-souls-rogue-vania-like, Motion Twin’s exemplifying a smart, well-designed release and support model for titles outside the triple-A bubble. Good luck in that Tough Mudder you’ve just signed up for, Dead Cells, see you at salsa class.