Right at the top of this article, there is one thing I need to come clean about – I have an undying love and passion for Dead Cells and the world of Castlevania. While I may have been only a twinkle in my father’s eye when the original games were released, I have poured over the Netflix series ever since its release. Therefore, with the sheer amount of hours I have packed into both titles, I can confidently review this new action-packed DLC with only a hint of bias.
When Dead Cells first came onto my radar, I had just hit a roguelike plateau in my gaming life; after slaving away over games such as Rogue Legacy, Binding of Isaac, and Cult of the Lamb, I was spent and needed something fresh to reinvigorate my love for the genre. Thankfully, this is when Dead Cells came into my life.
For me, the best thing about this title is the development team’s constant support for the title, continuing to release new pieces of DLC over the years, allowing us avid fans to sink more and more of our precious time into the mechanically rich experience.
In this latest DLC, the world of Castlevania comes to Dead Cells. This marriage was a long time coming, with the Castlevania franchise being one of the key inspirations behind the game that eventually became Dead Cells; this is evident for anyone who has enjoyed both games.
As with all of the DLC released for Dead Cells, the Castlevania update is filled with amazing new weapons, music, and characters to keep everything feeling fresh; of course, all of these items will feel frighteningly familiar for any fan of the series. All of this combined lets the player really feel like they are back in the old world of Castlevania while never forgetting the beautiful Dead Cells twists.
So, with all this being said, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this Return to Castlevania review, delving deep into the nitty gritty of this DLC.
As with each Dead Cells DLC, the player must have already played through and died during the base game at least three times before the DLC activates and opens up to you. Once you have done this, a swarm of bats will fly by the player, indicating that you are good to go.
After this, explore the Prisoner’s Quarters level until you come across a set of stairs, a design that was outside the base game. Here, you will find Richter Belmont waiting for you, the last of the Belmont clan and vampire hunter extraordinaire. He will task the player with venturing into Dracula’s castle and vanquishing the father of evil.
Once you get up and running, mega fans of the Castlevania series will be pleased to find numerous nods and references to previous games littered throughout the main campaign, as well as central characters such as Richter and Alucard.
Outside of this, the usual Dead Cells theme of battling your way through room after room and surviving as long as possible will continue as normal. However, unlike the base game, in this DLC, the character actually has a final goal in mind, a zenith to reach – the extermination of Dracula. Of course, the path to perdition is not going to be that easy; you will also have to put an end to Medusa and Death itself before you encounter the final boss of this DLC.
When you finally reach Dracula, be prepared for an epic showdown, one worthy of the Castlevania/Dead Cells collaboration that brought you this far. For me, this was one of the most incredible boss battles in the entire game, let alone DLC content, as you will need to use every piece of hard-fought gear and mechanical mastery you have earned thus far to come out with the W.
The New Stuff
Of course, new weapons and music are added to Dead Cells with every DLC. However, the new flavors added to the game within this update combine the wonderfully quirky style of Dead Cells with the nostalgic and groundbreaking elements of the original Castlevania games.
While all of the new weapons (14 to be exact) and outfits add plenty of game time while you add them to your growing collecting, I have to say that the new music added with this DLC is the true star of the show. Many of these tracks are either inspired or directly lifted from the original games, serving as the best kind of fan service imaginable.
This DLC is made up of essentially two new areas, each with its own unique enemies and architecture. The castle grounds that you will need to travel through before making your way into the castle proper are filled with hidden areas and low-level creatures to boost your player’s attack and health capabilities before throwing you into the meat grinder that is the castle itself. There are a couple of low-level puzzles here that can seem challenging should you be running on little sleep. However, once you get the basic premise of these mechanics, everything should be plain sailing. The only issue I had with this area was the elevator section at the beginning. This section of the DLC must be completed with every run-through, and while the general structure may change slightly, the gameplay feels incredibly similar every time. This created a feeling of slog that I had to push past after every silly death transported back to the Prisoner’s Quarters again.
Once you make your way into the castle, the DLC improves massively. The enemies here are unique and interesting, requiring the player to come at them with a different tact than the commoners you have just walked through outside the castle. Here, you will also find the entrances to the other boss battles and Dracula’s throne room. Each new room is better than the last, with Dracula’s abode being the cherry on top.
The Little Annoyances
So far in my illustrious career and gaming life, I am yet to find a game in which I cannot find some flaw. Sadly, this DLC is no different. Through my countless hours of game time with this DLC, I have found a couple of spots that irked me just enough to bother bringing them to your attention. These are as follows:
- While this DLC marks Motion Twin’s first foray into large-scale collaborations with an entity outside of the indie gaming space, I do believe that the price for the DLC may be asking a little bit much, considering the overall size of the end product. While these fantastic developers and creatives who worked on the piece deserve every cent of that money, charging fans nearly $10 for it may be excessive.
- The only other issue I had with this DLC was the lack of changes to core gameplay mechanics or manipulation of the areas available for exploration. Parts of this DLC did not feel like Dracula’s castle, as the map was navigated and structured just like every other location in the Dead Cells universe. Therefore, at times, it felt as though a Castlevania skin was merely blanketed over the base game.
The Best Alternatives
While this DLC adds some more great content to the base game, you may run out of this very quickly. Thus, if you need some extra games to carry you through this cold hard existence, take a look at these brilliant titles that operate in the same vein as Dead Cells.
- Rogue Legacy
- The Binding of Isaac
- Slay The Spire
- Hotline Miami
Hitting the Mark Dead On
Throughout this review, you will be hard-pressed to find a section wherein I spoke even slightly badly about Dead Cells or this new DLC. The reason for this is simple; I am a sucker for a coming together of two worlds, for when two great loves of mine come together to make a Frankenbaby of epic proportions.
- This is the perfect piece of content for roguelike experts who garnered a love for the genre with the original Castlevania games.
- New pieces of music fill this DLC, engaging the player and placing you back in those old Castlevania games.
- Unlike the rest of the game, this DLC has an actual goal to work towards. The final battle with Dracula is easily one of the best pieces of content in the game to date.
- The DLC is a little bit on the expensive side, considering the fact that the download is less than 2 MB of content.
- No new mechanics have been added to the game in this DLC. The new areas and weapons seem like simple reskins of the base game.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: How do I gain access to the Castlevania DLC in Dead Cells?
Answer: After you purchase the DLC, the player will need to have died during the base game at least three times before the DLC is activated.
This will be indicated by a swarm of bats passing the player on their next playthrough. After this, explore the first level until you find a set of stairs with Richter Belmont waiting on them.
Question: How do you unlock Dracula in the new Dead Cells DLC?
Answer: To gain access to Dracula and ‘finish’ the DLC, you will need to explore the entire new area and venture through all of the areas while also battling and defeating the other two new bosses of the DLC.
Question: What does Vampirism do in Dead Cells?
Answer: Vampirism is a powerful skill that can boost a player’s speed and increase the damage of their melee attacks by sacrificing a section of their health in exchange.
For this review, James bolstered his usual weekly ten hours of Dead Cells gameplay with a healthy additional 10 hours skulking around the grounds and castle of Dracula. Most of this time was spent on playthroughs wherein the luck of the draw resulted in a character simply incapable of taking on the count in honest combat.
Outside of the actual combat and exploration of the DLC, many of these hours were spent gaining enough souls and experience to purchase most of the newly added weapons inspired by Castlevania.