Dead Cells, the majestic rogue-like action-platformer from developers Motion Twin and subsidiary Evil Empire, is expanding again, this time introducing a range of new accessibility features - including an adjustable Assist Mode - in a PC and console update the studios are calling Breaking Barriers.
Evil Empire first discussed improving Dead Cells' accessibility back in January, when it began canvassing players for feedback on how it could expand the game to better suit a wider range of needs. It then shared an update on its progress in May, detailing some of the accessibility options that were on the way.
After a round of beta testing, all that work has now been moved to the live game with the official launch of Breaking Barriers. The update brings a huge range of new accessibility features - tested by a panel of players with various disabilities at AbleGamers - all of which have been detailed in a lengthy new blog post and nine-minute video breakdown.
"Hopefully we don't need to justify adding accessibility options," Evil Empire wrote in its post, "but we'd had quite a lot of feedback that the game can be inaccessible for a wide range of reasons. Dead Cells is intended to be 'tough but fair' [but] we realise that the way the game is designed can put up barriers to reaching this experience for some players. These new options are designed to allow tailored, specific adjustments of the game for those who need it, to make this 'tough but fair' gameplay accessible, instead of adding arbitrary difficulty levels which don't actually address players' needs."
Dead Cells new accessibility features fall into two main categories: adjustable options focused on input, visibility, and audio, plus a customisable Assist Mode. In the former camp, there are now more options to customise controls - especially actions that require a long press or a complex input and joystick action - as well as options to adjust the likes font type and size, interface size and transparency, stat colours, intensity of particle effects, and more.
As for Assist Mode, this includes a number of additional adjustable options. Auto-hit, for instance, is designed to reduce the need for rapid inputs by letting the game handle primary weapon attacks while players focus on their secondary weapons and skills. Players can also choose to activate either 1, 3, 7, or infinite lives that will spawn them at the start of a biome upon death rather than back at the beginning of the game. "This is targeted for players who have involuntary movements or activity, such as muscle spasms," explains Evil Empire, "to have another chance if their run is ruined by something that is out of their control."
It's also now possible to instantly reveal the whole map, and a final group of customisation features are intended to allow "specific, dare we say delicate, adjustment of the game's challenge". These include customisable trap damage, enemy damage, and enemy health in percentage increments, plus toggle options for slower parry windows and trap speed. Evil Empire says it also wanted to add a game speed slider but "it just isn't possible without breaking the game."
Unfortunately, Assist Mode has received a certain amount of "pushback" from portions of the Dead Cells playerbase during beta testing, and Evil Empire has addressed these complaints directly in its post. "The Assist Mode is designed to let people enjoy the game who would otherwise be excluded from doing so," it explains. "We recognise that some people who don't 'need' the mode will use it anyway and as a result they will die less and won't learn from mistakes, which is a key part of roguelites. However, we've put multiple messages explaining this in-game, so it's on them if they want to go ahead and use the Mode anyway."
Players using Assist Mode won't be able to register their scores to Dead Cells' Daily Challenge boards, but achievements will remain enabled. "The intent of this update is to open the game up to players who would otherwise be excluded from enjoying it," Evil Empire reiterates. "We are not going to make that possible and then take achievements away from those players."
Rounding out the Breaking Barriers update are reductions in cost for "most" beginner items - "to make the early game less tedious for new players and to make new items a viable unlock option while trying to get your flask, gold and other useful upgrades" - alongside reworks for seven weapons: the Barnacle, Tentacle, Magnetic Grenade, Biters pets, Corrupted Power, Wings of the Crow, and Decoy.
"We hope that these changes can let more players enjoy Dead Cells as we intended," Evil Empire concludes, "and if the unaltered version of Dead Cells already hits the right balance of challenge and progression for you, then these changes are all optional - just leave the game as it is and continue having fun".