We've covered Dead Cells a lot over the past year, and with good reason. It might still be in Early Access, but even from its early days, it was clearly shaping up to be one of the slickest, most satisfying platform-roguelikes yet, blending stylish melee combat with Metroid-esque progression.
While developers Motion Twin aren't quite ready to call it done, the sixth major update for the game just rolled out on Steam, adding one more, very dramatic looking environment to the game and a final boss fight to match that have a distinct 'endgame' feel to them.
Dead Cells might have started you off in a dingy executioners chamber, dense with decay and ever-living slime, but for the moment it ends with a real sense of grandeur. The Castle zone is a beautifully candle-lit expanse filled with fancy statues, marble pillars and equally ornate guards in gold-trimmed armor. Two new basic enemies join the roster: A guard with a magic greatsword that can spin to create a tornado that'll draw you closer, and a spearman who uses their weapon's range to poke at you on the floor above, although this attack is mercifully well telegraphed. So far, so Castlevania.
The Hand Of The King is the final boss of the game, for the moment. A huge beefy armored bloke with an enormous twin-bladed pole-sword about three times as long as you are tall, and a similarly oversized fist that he can slam into the ground to send out shockwave attacks. He looks like he means business, and seems a very mano-a-mano battle, rather than the 'pound on a big dumb sack of projectile-spraying HP' style that tends to cap off so many Metroidvania games.
On top of the new area to explore, new enemies to be murdered by and new boss to cap the entire thing off, they've introduced a lot of tweaks and refinements to the game this update. While I'll get to the others in a moment, the one that most catches my eye is a tweak made to dodging: Evading immediately after an attack and continuing after you land allows you to resume a combo chain where you left off. Yep, it's the brilliant Dodge Offset from Bayonetta. Good to see it featured in other genres now.
Health gain has been tweaked between the three level-up scroll types, meaning that Survival makes you the most durable, and Brutality gives you the least HP, with Tactics striking a balance, defining the three as high/mid/low-risk styles. There's also a couple new weapon/skill types, including bare-handed melee, which looks very satisfying for combo-fiends.
To make more room for dessert (the Castle) the portion sizes on the main course (Fog Fjord, Graveyard, Sepulchre and Ossuary zones) have been reduced, which is probably a relief to some players. And if you somehow master all of the above, a new difficulty setting has been introduced: Nightmare mode, which the developers insist - in classic Doom fashion - is not at all fair.