Most Games Are Happy to Let You Play How You Want, 'Dead Cells' Pushes Back


#1

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/kzyyvz/most-games-are-happy-to-let-you-play-how-you-want-dead-cells-pushes-back

#2

I was playing Halo: MCC the other night with a friend, and it got me thinking how good that series is in breaking me out of my bad shooter habits. In most shooters, I default to the standard midrange assault rifle almost always. Call of Duty? M4. DOOM? Heavy AR. Titanfall? R-201. But Halo’s weapon carry limit of 2 and its almost perfect balance of ammo scarcity forces me to maximize my entire arsenal. There’s nothing quite like having to make do with a plasma pistol as you face down a pair of Hunters, or trying to do anything with Halo 2’s Needler.


#3

This is why I like to do Nuzlocke runs in Pokemon every so often. If I were just playing I’d rely on my starter and go back to my usual rotation of Gardevoir, Milotic, an Eeveelution, and probably Ninetails. But Nuzlockes force you to use Whismur or Zubat, and you can build interesting teams out of the Mons you just ignore. The games can be more fun when you don’t have choices.

They’re also the only way to get any challenge out of Pokemon anymore, especially since these games get easier every gen…


#4

It’s really interesting that in the Dead Cells discussion thread, @LavenderGooms talks about this same mechanic but from the opposite perspective of it being frustrating and not rewarding Dead Cells, metroidvania, rogue-lite, souls-like, etc etc

It’s felt like the more equipment I unlock the worse I do, because a lot of the stuff is either bad or i’m bad with it so it’s less of a chance that i’ll get something i’m good with.

I think this kind of mechanic works both ways depending on what kind of player you are. If you’re dedicated to seeing the game through to the end and really mastering it, forcing you to discover different effective combinations might work really well, but if you’re just dabbling here and there or dipping in for a run or two every few days it’s frustrating that the early stages of the game get harder over time instead of easier.


#5

Definitely. As I noted in the other thread, I literally hated Rogue Legacy for mechanical things like this, because my skill ceiling is v low in Metroidvania games, and I reached a point where I literally could not progress. (Rogue Legacy is worse for this, as it also makes things harder as you unlock more things, IIRC, so you’re supposed to get better. Which, beyond a fairly early point, I can’t.)


#6

While lootboxes that can be purchased for real money are inherently evil, I’m still attracted to multiplayer games with randomized progression for this very reason. Like, I’m usually not a shotgun guy but I just got this awesome rare shotgun out of this lootbox so I guess now I am. I think if that stuff is done with good design practices and in good faith (read: no real money transactions), it can be a fun challenge to take what the game gives you and make the best of it.


#7

I definitely agree with that in cases where you unlock something and can choose to make it your go-to until you become a shotgun guy, but in Dead Cells where it just adds the shotgun to the pool, it just creates additional moments of “ugh, I’m not a shotgun guy but I guess I’ll deal with it for this run” every 7-8 runs, you know?


#8

I felt this a lot with Binding of Isaac. Once you unlock something really, really good, it feels like every subsequent unlock is only further diluting the item pool. But I guess that just goes with the “rogue-like-lite-like-lite-light” territory, I suppose.


#9

It is interesting to me that there is this idea that an unlock inherently must make the game easier. What you get with unlocks is more potential for variety. If the game never changed or evolved, there isn’t much incentive to keep at it after the initial few runs.

There’s a streamer I watch often who plays a lot of Binding of Isaac who talked about this one time. It went along the lines of “The initial item pool is probably the easiest to win the game with, but it gets repetitive fast. I prefer to have variety in my runs so getting all the unlocks and doing runs is what I like to do”


#10

I might just have to give those campaigns another go sometime soon. I just got put into the MCC Insider ring, and I’m looking forward to seeing how all those campaigns run after they’re fully Xbox One X Enhanced.


#11

The game gives you three options to pick at the start. A melee weapon, a bow/ranged weapon with ammo, and a shield. Pick two.

I never, ever, ever pick the shield. Because I suck with shields. The game is so fast that trying to get the timing down of a block always ends with me eating the full attack to the face, nevermind trying to do a perfect block and parry. Instead I just dodge roll everything.

Because I dodge roll everything, I almost always use fast weapons. Assassin blade is good because i’m usually rolling behind an enemy already, may as well get a crit out of it. Bows are even better because I don’t have to get close at all. Then if I get some turrets and pick the mutation that reduces the cooldown on abilities? chef kiss

This means, though, that if I get a slow melee weapon or slow crossbow? I’m gonna be crap with it. Rolling behind an enemy doesn’t work because the windup animation is so long they just turn around. I’d have to get good with the timing and synergize it with other abilities, and that doesn’t happen because I either die or I find a fast weapon that I like and can replace it with. I’m not getting practice with the stuff i’m crappy at because the game is hard enough that me being crappy means i’m also soon dead.

I have never once restarted a run. Because of the starting loadout or otherwise. I always give it a try. And the trend has been that since i’ve been unlocking more and more and more equipment i’ve gotten less and less far on average with all of my runs. Near the start once I got the hang of how the game played I would regularly get to the end boss on most runs. Now I often die before even reaching the second one. It’s like i’m getting worse at the game the more I play it, just because i’m not allowed to ever be comfortable with the abilities the game gives me.


#12

I’m definitely up for playing some co-op campaign once the 4K update hits. Not an insider, unfortunately.


#13

But it’s helpful to have external forces guiding one to a better path. Maybe it’s a life partner doing you a solid, and eating all the M&Ms before you can get to them.

Give Patrick a Pulitzer for this one.


#14

I ate eight of them today.


#15

Is there a reason, like additional content, to unlock all of the blueprints? The mechanics of the game seem to indicate that it really isn’t optimal to unlock new blueprints too fast because the player’s skill using the mechanics won’t keep up.


#16

The actual mechanics between different melee weapons aren’t really all that diverse—once you’re familiar with the set of statuses they can induce, the differences usually come down to how/under what conditions they crit, or their attack speed/range (which just determines when and how often you have to dodge roll). Same with bows. And shields all work in the same fashion with the same timing—parrying just has different added effects depending on the shield (bleeding, crit damage to nearby enemies, money drops, etc.). Traps are a bit more varied, but they all generally boil down to thing you deploy that does AOE damage over time. New unlocks shouldn’t be giving you new mechanics to master; they should be giving you new ways to use the mechanics you’ve already been using for the rest of the game. I guess in disagreement with the rest of this thread, I really like that style, and I like that the game makes me frequently learn new weapons, because it means I get to be creative with combat encounters that would otherwise become really stale over the course of 40/50/100/however many runs.

I’m wondering how differently this part of the game would be received if it just gave you everything at the beginning and didn’t place an expanding weapon pool as a series of unlocks. If the game didn’t give you that opportunity to feel like you’re owning it with a couple of the early weapons, would it actually be less grating to have to learn new ones? Maybe then it would feel like more of a traditional difficulty curve.

In all honesty, out of the weapons I’ve actually tried to use, I’ve found very few that I didn’t end up feeling proficient enough with to make it about as far as I usually do (either to the last stage or until I do something recognizably silly and die). I definitely have some favorites—I always get excited when I get Twin Daggers, an Assassin Blade, or an Impaler as a legendary drop—but getting something different just gives me a chance to engage in a different combat style.


#17

I think some of the difference in opinion on this mechanic will depend on how deep you are in the game. For the most part I agree with you, and I was going to comment in the other thread that I feel that the early part of a run is harder than the later part, because by the time you get there you’ve optimised your gear to over power the enemies.

That made me think about unlocks and that - of course you should shoot for x% +/++/s. But then actually before that you probably want maxed survivors bag. And actually before that you obviously want healing potions. And that is actually all quite a lot to do if you’re not sure you’re even that into the game.

There is also the specific issue of balance where some of the weapons are at best niche if not outright useless


#18

Coming to this thread late, and the balance of progression in Dead Cells aside, I think some of my favorite examples of the kind of design that Patrick’s lauding in his original post is in Supergiant Games’s, uh, games.

Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre all take strides to get you to try weapon/ability/character combinations that you might otherwise ignore. Partly that’s through really diverse mechanics - those weapons/abilities/characters can drastically change the way you play the games, lending the same combat very different rhythms, depending on what you’re packing when you go in - but, increasingly with their releases, there’s also a strong narrative incentive to try new stuff. In Transistor, leveling up different Functions tells the story of the person that Function used to be, meaning if you wanted to learn everything you could about the world (and world-building may be Supergiant’s greatest strength) then you had to switch up your loadout pretty frequently. And Pyre sidelines characters entirely as you go deeper into it, plus it roots the character churn in strong emotional beats, so that you actively want to put everyone in the ring, even if you aren’t comfortable with their playstyle.