The evolution of Dead Cells, the little roguelite that could

By Steven T. Wright, Contributor

It’s no exaggeration to say that the roguelite genre would look a lot different today without the success of Dead Cells. Already considered a modern classic, Dead Cells brought a new level of combat depth to the fore as well as a pervasive Castlevania influence that was relatively rare in The Binding of Isaac-dominated space. Co-developers Motion Twin and Evil Empire have managed to keep new players trickling in for nearly seven years now thanks to a steady diet of free updates and paid DLC. 

Now with the game’s final update lurking somewhere on the horizon, it makes you wonder how Dead Cells has changed over time and which updates brought the most inventive features and overhauls to the proceedings. Today, we’re exploring the evolution of Dead Cells from its humble beginnings in Early Access to its grand crossover with Castlevania in 2023. These milestones are a testament to the game’s continued relevance over the years as well as the developers’ ability to reify and reinvent in equal measure. 

Version 0.0 

Also known as “Early Access Vanilla” to today’s players, the original public build of Dead Cells offered quite a bit of content, including 11 levels, 20 monsters, and 50 items to mess around with. Even at this nascent stage, the game had a clear identity and an engaging combat system. If you haven’t tried out this OG version, give it a few minutes, if only to see how far it’s come since.

Version 0.3

Dead Cells
The “Who’s Your Daily?” update is on this list for one reason only: It introduced the Daily Run mode, which is one of Dead Cells’ greatest assets. By enabling players to challenge the same set of rooms for the best score and time, this mode radically increased the game’s replayability, giving you a reason to play it every day if you so desire. Plus, competing with your friends is always a good time. Add in a handful of quality-of-life changes, and this was an early win for Motion Twin.

Version 0.6

This patch added the game’s sixth biome, High Peak Castle, along with the final boss Hand of the King—essentially finalizing Dead Cells’ key path for the first time. The patch changed the way that Boss Cells work, radically altering the difficulty curve. It also rebalanced quite a few aspects of the game, especially the turret weapons. In a sense, this is the first “complete” version of Dead Cells, but it still had a few updates to go before its official launch.

Version 1.0

Dead Cells’ official release has to be on this list, of course, but it added only two things to the game: Lore Rooms to explain the story as well as a game-changing rune called Homunculus. Most importantly, it also marked the game leaving Early Access. A major milestone, but the best was yet to come.

Version 1.1

Dead Cells Gameplay
Coming just a couple of months after launch, the “Pimp My Run” update overhauled a huge portion of the game—especially the way that less useful items worked—and it took a wide variety of community suggestions into account too. It also added the beloved Custom Mode, where players can toy with various settings to create their own ideal run. The changes to damage reduction and difficulty scaling in this update had a big impact on Dead Cells for years to come.

Version 1.2: Rise of the Giant DLC

Rise of the Giant was Dead Cells’ first DLC, which mixed in four new biomes, 10 new enemies, two new bosses, and a variety of new items. It also introduced customizable outfits for your Prisoner player character, which helps vary things up a bit. This was one of the game’s biggest content drops, and it was also free, so it helped set the stage for the later paid DLC. 

Version 1.4

This “Who’s The Boss?” update didn’t add as much as some other patches, but it’s a great example of the creativity that kept players interested for years. Version 1.4 mixed in seven new weapons and six new enemies themed around the game’s bosses, as well as a host of bug fixes and balance changes.

Version 1.7: The Bad Seed DLC

Dead Cells’ first paid DLC was also a major highlight in the game’s history, introducing three new biomes, five new enemies, and a memorable new boss in Mama Tick. It also added a whopping 14 new outfits for your Prisoner, many of them bug-themed, so it’s ideal for all you Hollow Knight fans out there.

Version 1.9

Dead Cells Key Art
This “Update of Plenty” totally reworked many of Dead Cells’ weapons based on the results of a player poll, making less popular weapons a bit more effective and slightly nerfing some of the powerful ones. It also rebalanced the game’s economy to make healing more effective and changed the way that damage worked on several levels. This was another patch that really had a lasting stamp on the game as a whole.

Version 2.2/2.3

The Fatal Falls DLC added three new biomes, eight new enemies, seven new items, and a new boss in the form of the Scarecrow. We’re also throwing in 2.3, the “Whack-a-Mole” update, which made great changes to the game’s Boss Cell difficulty curve and fixed a ton of bugs.

Version 2.6

This was certainly the most surprising patch in Dead Cells history. The “Everyone is Here!” update added new weapons and items inspired by other hit indie games, including Blasphemous, Hollow Knight, Hyper Light Drifter, and others. I personally loved the HLD-themed set, which lets you whack enemies with a sword to get bullets back for your gun. This is exactly the sort of update that kept Dead Cells on the map long after its launch. 

Version 3.1/3.2

Version 3.1, the “Boss Rush” update, added exactly what it says on the tin as well as some new items and outfits. Version 3.2 continued the “Everyone is Here” trend of adding new weapons based on other indie games, including Shovel Knight, Hotline Miami, Katana Zero, Risk of Rain 2, Slay the Spire, and Terraria. The Slay the Spire set is a particular highlight, adding a “hand” of four cards that you can draw, hold, and discard for different effects. It’s very impressive stuff.

Version 3.3: Return to Castlevania DLC

Dead Cells Castlevania
My personal favorite update, this one featured the Return to Castlevania DLC, which added two new biomes, three bosses (Death and two forms of Dracula), and 11 ‘Vania-themed monsters, including familiar favorites like Medusa, Armor Knight, and Harpies. The weapons are also quite nostalgic to any series fan, including Death’s Scythe, the Cross, Alucard's Sword, and (of course) the Vampire Killer whip. This DLC is one of the best pieces of crossover content for any game in recent years, so you should definitely check it out.

Keep an eye out for Dead Cells’ upcoming patch 3.5, titled “The End is Near,” sometime in the coming future.

Dead Cells and all of its wonderful DLC are now available on the Epic Games Store.