Initially released as a Steam Early Access title around five years ago, Dead Cells is a side-scrolling roguelike where players attempt to progress through a sprawling map, collect randomised upgrades, and defeat bosses without dying and being sent back to the start of the run.
Released earlier this week, the latest update to the game, titled Breaking Barriers, is an accessibility focused update, and seeks to make the game’s “Tough, but eventually completable” challenge completable by more players.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be talking about the changes introduced by this new Dead cells update. We’re going to talk about what new settings have been added, how they work, and how the developers have attempted to preempt player response to increased accessibility.
When you first boot up Dead Cells post update, if you go into the options menu, you’ll see that the game’s new Accessibility options are split into two separate menus; Accessibility Settings and Assist Mode.
Starting with the Accessibility Settings menu, let’s quickly rattle through some of the many new settings added to the game.
For players who may struggle when presented with full screen flashing or shaking effects, both can be toggled off in the Accessibility Settings menu, though the game does warn some explosions and bright effects will remain in cases where they are gameplay critical.
For players who either become overwhelmed by too much visual information, or partially sighted blind players who may struggle to pick out visual information in cluttered scenes, players can limit the number of particles generated by effects such as fire and snow in the game, in 10% increments. In addition, blood effects can be turned off entirely, removing another source of potential visual clutter from gameplay.
The new Background Filter option allows players to change the colour and saturation of the background in levels, making it easier to at a glance see what is a background element which can be safely ignored, and which are foreground elements important to gameplay progression, similar to how Sony’s High Contrast Mode helps separate interactable elements out from backgrounds and environments.
Another option for players struggling to make out gameplay elements in the moment, the main character, enemies, and NPCs can all have outlines applied around them during gameplay, each of which can be set to a custom colour. The same outline setting options also exist for active skills, projectiles, and secrets.
When collecting new kinds of skills during Dead Cells runs, the three previously colour coded skill types, Brutality, Tactic, and Survival, can now have their colours customised, as well as having icons displayed next to them so they can be differentiated without the need for colour differentiation.
Lastly, text size in various areas of the game can be individually toggled. However, while these are the only text altering options in the accessibility menu, they’re not the only ones available in the game, as a few accessibility settings are hidden in other menus.
In the Video menu, players can change between a number of different fonts, including one designed to be more approachable to dyslexic players. This same menu also contains options for customising your HUD, including being able to increase its size up to 50% from its default.
In the Gameplay Options menu you’ll find many of the game’s new mobility options. Players can Hold down a button to execute multiple attacks rather than needing to mash repeated button presses, jump for as long as the jump button is held, turn the shield from a button hold into a toggle, and make it possible to chain rolls by holding down the roll button. The game also now allows for input remapping of many major functions.
For players who need greater control of their audio mix, Dead Cells Sound Menu now allows for editing all sound effect volumes separately, with a high degree of control on offer.
Before I move over to Assist Mode, I want to state that while I am really happy that all of the previously mentioned accessibility features have been added to the game in its latest update, I am somewhat frustrated that a lot of these accessibility features additions do not exist in the accessibility menu, and only exist spread out across other disparate menus. While I understand it’s important for example to be able to find granular audio mixing options in the Sound menu, it always frustrates me when I see an Accessibility menu, and can’t go straight to it to find all of a game’s available accessibility options in a single clearly defined location. Several settings, such as the custom font selection for example, took me a while to find when working on this video, despite knowing explicitly they existed and had just been added in this accessibility update.
Lastly, let’s talk about the new Assist Mode.
One of my biggest concerns in the run up to the release of this accessibility update for Dead Cells is that early reporting on the update suggested the game might actively discourage the mode’s use.
“When you activate assist mode, there is a disclaimer that comes up saying part of the fun of Dead Cells is to enjoy the tough but fair experience”, Evil Empire’s marketing manager Matthew Houghton told Twinfinite back in May.
However, now the update is live, it is clear that in practice, the game does not try to discourage use of Assist Mode, but in fact leans into trying to reassure the player it’s okay to use. There’s perhaps some discouragement from using the settings to make the game “easy” for yourself, suggesting you aim for making it a challenge for your ability level, but it’s certainly not the blanket discouragement of use I had braced for.
With Assist Mode active, players have a few more options available while playing. Players can reveal the entire map of each level right from the start without requiring exploration, set your character to automatically attack nearby enemies with your primary weapon, destroy nearby doors automatically, provide an easier parry window, slow down the activation of enemy traps, reduce trap damage, reduce enemy health and damage, and even give yourself a number of extra lives, up to and including infinite lives.
That final feature, the increased number of lives, is perhaps this update’s most interesting, and controversial, feature. Players who die with extra lives available will restart the current level, with the exact items and progression they had when they first arrived at that level, rather than having to restart the entire run.
The setting is basically intended to support players who either struggle with involuntary motor control movements, or players who may struggle with consistent coordination or sustained focus, allowing them to keep a good run of the game going if an element of their disability outside of their control impedes their ability to progress. It essentially creates checkpoints at the start of individual levels, to reduce the likelihood a single moment of disability ruins an otherwise promising run.
While it’s undeniable that this new set of accessibility settings is going to help a lot more people get into playing Dead Cells, it’s a shame the support came five years after the game was released, and that not every accessibility option can be found from the accessibility menu. Still, if that’s the biggest complaint I have about an accessibility update, it’s probably a pretty well done update.
I really appreciate all the work put into this Dead Cells update, and I feel confident it’s going to get me back into trying to finally see the end of the game for myself.