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Dead Cells beginner’s guide

We’ll show you how to survive this hellish Metroidvania rogue-like

Motion Twin
Russ Frushtick is the director of special projects, and he has been covering the world of video games and technology for over 15 years. He co-founded Polygon in 2012.

When you first start playing Dead Cells, you may think it next to impossible. Like most roguelikes, a death will seemingly set you back to square one, and that can be pretty disheartening. But in actuality Dead Cells is much more approachable than most games in the genre, so long as you know what you’re doing. While you can certainly find that out for yourself, we’re more than happy to take on some of that burden with a handful of tips for beginners to enhance their skills.


Even though you will start from the first level every time you die in Dead Cells, there’s quite a bit that carries forward from each playthrough, making future playthroughs much, much easier.

First and foremost there are runes which unlock special, Metroidvania-esque abilities, letting you explore new areas. For more about runes and how to unlock them, check out our Dead Cells runes guide.

Another important aspect of progression: improvements and blueprints which you can unlock by spending “cells” at the end of each level. Cells are those white things that pop out of enemies occasionally. Dying will make you lose all of them, but at the end of each level, you can clean out your bank, spending to unlock a variety of things to help you in future journeys.


Motion Twin via Polygon

You may feel overwhelmed by the options of where to spend cells when you first reach the blueprint vendor. The answer is simple: General Improvements whenever possible. These are upgrades that will persist, granting you healing potions, bonus gold and the ability to recycle useless weapons for even more scratch. These unlocks are all upsides and will always be beneficial.

Unfortunately you can’t simply unlock every General Improvements right from the jump. Some of them require you unlock X number of items before you can invest cells. So you’ll need to start buying some other things. Here’s where the strategy comes in.


Motion Twin via Polygon

As you’re working to unlock your General Improvements, you’ll need to unlock some gear. These are essentially weapons like swords, bows and traps that, once unlocked, will appear in the world randomly.

When deciding what gear to unlock, read the descriptions carefully. Some of the gear is, frankly, kind of awful. The Spartan Boots, for example, cost only five cells but they are almost universally bad and you’d just as soon not have them in your item pool.

My advice: Focus on items with effects that are easy to pull off. The Infantry Bow grants critical hits when you use it close up on enemies, whereas the Blood Sword always nets you bleeding damage. Ones to avoid are things like The Impaler or the aforementioned Spartan Boots, which both have environmental demands that are far too inconsistent to count on.

All that said, if you end up unlocking something that you really don’t enjoy using, it’s not the end of the world. You can always recycle those worthless items for extra gold as you come upon them (so long as you’ve unlocked that general improvement).

Motion Twin via Polygon

Outside of weapons, Mutations are also unlockable once you’ve found their blueprints. Mutations are neat in that they don’t drop randomly. Once unlocked you can select them from a vendor between levels, which removes a lot of the randomness. Which mutations you prefer will vary on your playstyle. I usually focused on ones that decreased my ability cooldowns, but it’s really up to you.



There are a number of ways the game implies that you should be rushing through levels. The biggest are a series of doors that will lock automatically once a certain amount of time has past. Ignore these. It’s really fine.

As you play more and become more familiar with the earlier levels you may find that you can zoom through things much quickier. But even then you’re probably missing some of the nooks and crannies of the world, not to mention putting yourself in riskier scenarios. Taking your time will net you more cells and gear overall.


Assuming you’re playing Dead Cells with a controller (you should be), I highly recommend making a small change to the default control scheme. Specifically: swap dodge to the left bumper and put your health button on the far-right face button. The reason is that dodging is super important in Dead Cells and your finger should essentially be resting on the dodge button at all times. Having to move your thumb over to a face button slows things down and will absolutely result in a few unnecessary hits.


The easiest way to get deep into the later game of Dead Cells is to utilize traps. There are a number of them in the game, but my early favorites are the Sinew Slicer and the Double Crossb-o-wmatic. These are auto-turrets that will fire on any enemies in range once you drop them. Paired with cool-down enhancing mutations and you can get these traps out every 3 or 4 seconds.

What’s cool about traps is that you can abuse enemy AI but dropping to the level an enemy is, leaving a few traps, and then retreating while they do the work. Enemies will even target the traps, which makes them a nice distraction tool.

Something to note, though: Traps require “power.” All that means is that you need to be somewhat close to a trap for it to fire. If you’re too far away you’ll see a little electricity bolt above the trap. Get a little bit closer and it’ll start firing again. The range is pretty forgiving, though, and you can definitely use this to hide around corners as they do their work.


Motion Twin via Polygon

It’s usually a safe bet to replace a rank 3 crossbow with a rank 4 crossbow, but make sure you read carefully before leaving a favorite piece of gear behind. Certain passive abilities of gear will yield unfortunate results, like increasing the damage you take by 100%. Yikes. Some of these passive perks are shown as icons above your characters head, but they’re never really explained well, so if you’re ever stumped on why you’re getting creamed, best to do some reading.


I know it’s tempting to unlock as many weapons as you can, but really consider focusing on some of the big ticket items in the store as they come up. Later upgrades to your health flask will cost hundreds and hundreds of cells, but they are absolutely worthwhile.

Another example is a unique vendor that shows up after boss fights. They’ll take cells to increase the chance of getting a “+” rarity item. I know this doesn’t mean much but the easy answer is that + rarity (appended to the end of an item’s name) effectively increases that item by several levels, making a level 2 item into a level 4 item. Getting this percentage up will take a lot of time, but it’s worth doing whenever you spot this specific vendor and it will make future playthroughs much easier.

With those things in mind, good luck in the dingy, dirty world of Dead Cells. Like any rogue-like it may seem downright impossible but if you spend the time (and the cells), you’ll find yourself the master of this world in no time.