Dead Cells is a procedurally-generated action platformer featuring numerous roguelike elements. It splits the difference between permanent death and a Diablo-style loot fest in a smart way that keeps it interesting and enjoyable for an extended period.
While it is often referred to as a Metroidvania, I find that characterization a bit misleading. Dead Cells certainly borrows some basic Metroidvania concepts, but the gameplay is more about action and execution. Exploration is certainly not the main concept here. The gameplay loop centers around obtaining upgrades, but these are mostly in terms of weapons and other combat abilities.
Every time you die in Dead Cells (which will happen a lot), you start over from the beginning of the game. Any equipment you had is lost, but permanent ability upgrades remain. The pool of equipment you are likely to encounter is expanded in a similar way by finding and cashing in blueprints for new gear. As a result, even though permanent death is quite real, you will make long-term progress in the game. You do have to complete levels to cash in most upgrades, though, and this is not a game where constant iterating will win you the day.
Dead Cells is at its most interesting at the start, when you are seeking out a half-dozen permanent upgrades that allow you to traverse new areas. The sequence of levels always begins and ends in the same place, but as you earn these special runes, you’ll unlock a variety of different paths to explore in the middle. Getting all of the runes can take a while, and the game can start to become a bit rote after you’ve done so. At that point, your main goal is to unlock more upgrades and get good enough to complete the game at increasing difficulty levels. The moment-to-moment gameplay is incredibly fun, but it can nonetheless get a bit monotonous after a while.
You can get as much out of Dead Cells as you want, but its lack of a definitive ending leads to it being the kind of game you don’t finish so much as eventually stop playing. It’s great while it lasts, but if you’re like me and like wrapping games in a nice bow, you’ll likely end up a little bit disappointed.