I’m Kinglink and today we’re going to talk about two titans of the rogue-lite genre. In one corner we have a game considered the best of all time, Dead Cells, which is an absolute powerhouse. But there’s a new contender in Hades, which has just left early access last month and is absolutely knocking it out of the park. So how does Dead Cells compare to Hades?
If you want to stop me and tell me how these two games can’t be compared for some reason, that’s the point. This isn’t supposed to be two very similar games but instead, it’s a chance to look at what makes each of these popular games different and perhaps figure out which is the best, or the one you should try next.
Feel free to make up your own mind as we go, I’ll be honest, I won’t purely be judging this competition based on who takes the most categories, and I won’t be making a firm proclamation because these two games are both really freaking good, and what I like, may not be what you like. I’m going to break down these games into five categories, and we’ll start with Graphics.
I normally don’t cover graphics because they are subjective and honestly, I don’t believe they are truly that important to a great game, but Hades and Dead Cells have a major difference. Dead Cells is a two-dimensional platformer with a focus on close combat, where you get to see highly detailed character models. Simply put, Dead Cells looks great.
There are also a lot of different characters, levels, and biomes here. Dead Cells has over 70 unique enemies, and except for a couple of flies, each enemy has a different design. There are over 20 biomes, which players will progress through and each feels like a new area with its own selections of enemies that fit in with the theme.
What about Hades. Hades is an isometric 3d dungeon crawler. If you know Supergiant’s previous games of Bastion and Transistor, you know this look, but the art is brand new. I will applaud Supergiant for returning to the same style, and somehow getting a fourth game that looks and feels brand new.
Hades is a little smaller, having about half the enemy selection, and while it has beautiful areas, there are only 4 themed areas, along with a House of Hades itself and a few special locations.
There are also the gods, and characters in Hades, and that’s where Hades really shines. The 2d characters here are beautifully drawn and look incredible but they amount to cutscenes. The enemies all look great and are well animated but there’s not as much.
Part of that could be due to the fact Dead Cells started in early access over three years ago and has really grown, but I can’t imagine that Hades will ever have the same variety of locations and enemy types, though I would enjoy that just as much.
Truthfully this is purely aesthetic but check both of these games as we go because I like the look of both of these titles. Though, in my mind, I think Dead Cells probably has a firm but subjective lead here.
So let’s talk about how each game plays out and, truthfully, they both are the same. Hit enemies a lot and don’t get hit, almost every game has this rule. They both have dodge systems to avoid damage, and pattern recognition is the name of the game. The goal of both games is to fight through levels of enemies and beat a final boss, that doesn’t change much.
I could point out that Dead Cells has a health potion system, where Hades doesn’t but at the end of the day, the gameplay is similar.
Yet, both Hades and Dead Cells have a key feature that makes them stand out quite a bit. Let’s put those head to head.
For Hades, we have the story. Hades is based on the Greek gods. The main character is the son of Hades, Zagreus, who is trying to escape. Of course, his father isn’t going to allow this. The House of Hades has a huge court as well, including many famous characters, such as Nyx, Cerberus, and Achilles, as well as a ton more who will show up. There are also the more famous gods that appear throughout the game, such as Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, and more.
Everyone in Hades talks. You can’t meet or run into someone without some dialogue being said, and for the most part, it’s a very enjoyable story. Everything is told in snippets, with most exchanges taking between one and three statements, but it’s also a story that will continue to show up for as long as you play. Hitting 50 hours, I’m still amazed that I don’t feel like the story is repeating itself and it often refers to what’s actually going on in the current run.
If you’re a fan of the Greek gods, you’ll fall in love with Hades, if you always wanted a rogue-lite where you can learn a little more about the characters you see, Hades is it. There’s a lot of deep and complex stories in Hades. This does sit on the Greek Pantheon of gods, but it doesn’t rehash those stories, so it’s a fresh experience.
As for Dead Cells… people call this a Metroidvania Rogue-lite, and I kind of hate that idea because rogue-lites and Metroidvania are far different games, and each genre works against each other. It’s one thing when Dark Souls has players explore areas and find keys, but Dead Cells does this while also restarting the game for each new run. That would be pretty painful in any Metroidvania or Souls game.
The multiple biomes I mentioned earlier are found by players using the abilities to reach new areas. This sounds pretty good. However, to get those abilities which are acting like keys, players are going to have to chase down new abilities from different areas.
The idea here is similar to Metroidvanias where the player has to venture off the well-worn path to get an ability, but the problem is that it doesn’t feel right. Within ten to twenty hours you’ll unlock all the biomes, and then Dead Cells really has nothing to do with Metroidvania. The abilities and keys are an interesting concept, but it’s only a momentary system in the game, likely made to show people different paths.
Personally, I like Hades’ story, but that’s very subjective, as I’ll sometimes just hammer through it as I get pumped up for a major fight or to get back into the game. Whereas Dead Cells’s feeling of a Metroidvania is not a huge negative but it feels like the first ten hours is a false game that can’t hold up past that point. Not that Dead Cells is bad, but it’s almost a marketing gimmick.
So I’m going to give this one to Hades, especially because of the length and depth of some story segments. The dev team also really listened to fan feedback and I love having characters respond to what you’re doing, rather than just reciting random lines.
Moving on to the next big difference and that’s the weapon selection. This is a rather large difference between these two games. The question is how do you choose your weapon for a run.
Dead Cells is a more traditional rogue-lite. As the player enters the dungeon for the first time, they’ll have a choice between a set of weapons. They’ll get a melee weapon, a ranged weapon, and a shield, though they can take only two due to their inventory space.
From there random weapons will be found in the dungeon, including traps and power-ups. Players will also want to look for scrolls to power up their weapons, with each scroll powering up one of three styles. But weapons are scarce and Dead Cells has a different system here as well.
Over time, players will unlock more and more weapons and that means the weapon choices will grow and the pools that players will be searching through will be deeper, but if you want a favorite weapon, such as the Ice Bow, the more ranged weapons you get means the more you’ll have to dig through.
Normally, most games would just have several equally useful weapons but I do think there are significant power tiers to Dead Cells’ weapon selection and suddenly the question becomes which weapons should players unlock. Part of the issue is that certain weapons favor certain playstyles, such as the Frantic sword which requires players to keep a lower level of HP for higher damage. If that’s not for you, then maybe leave it locked? But that’s not a satisfying answer.
There is a custom mode designed to solve this for Dead Cells, but locking off achievement if you limit the weapon choices kind of sucks, and shows that this is not the intended way to play Dead Cells. In general, I just hate the idea that players get penalized for unlocking weapons.
Hades is different. In Hades, the game starts with players limited to the sword, and need to unlock additional weapons such as the bow, shield, and spear. Each will unlock with keys earned as players find them during runs in the dungeon, and eventually will unlock all six weapons. Hades is far more limited in its weapon selection. But each weapon also contains what is known as Aspects. Aspects are minor changes to the weapon, such as allowing the bow to mark enemies with normal attacks and then letting the special attack hone in on the marked enemies.
Aspects are little flavors of weapons rather than entirely new gear. At least they are until you get to the Hidden Aspects, each of the six weapons have one, and without spoiling them, each of those feels like a very unique version of the weapon. Similar design but you’ll have to tackle the game differently.
Though there are only six weapons, there is also a robust upgrade system that comes from the different boons and hammer upgrades that are earned throughout each run. This is where much of the replayability of Hades comes in, with a random selection of which gods and boons becoming the major changes in each playthrough. You can keep applying new boons throughout a run but in the end, they all go away. There are permanent upgrades in the form of a mirror that will allow you to upgrade specific features, but these are always positive and similar to the aspects they can be turned off.
This is probably going to be the most contentious point, at least until the next. You can decide for yourself, whether you like a large but random pool or a shorter list but able to be chosen,
Personally, I hate the idea of an always-growing pool of weapons, it’s just something I don’t find that interesting. The large pool is fine in games like Rogue or Nethack, but buying weapons that add to the pool and not giving a way to remove weaker choices isn’t something I love. I feel that acquiring new weapons in Dead Cells is a potential hazard, and that makes the player too hesitant to experiment. Though the multiple save files can help with that.
For our fourth category. Let’s talk about difficulty. I have to bring this up. The difficulty in these two games is quite different. I’ve actually seen people say they are equally hardcore or difficult, but… No, there’s no way. I enjoy both Hades and Dead Cells, but … only one of these games feels like a reference to a certain famous franchise of the Souls variety.
Hades is a challenging game that starts with the player having very limited power. As mentioned, they’ll have only the sword available but also no upgrades on the Mirror, and it’ll take players a decent number of runs to start unlocking more ways to play the game, as well as learning the system.
But around run 25 or so, players will start beating the game, and once that dam broke for me, I started beating the game regularly with different weapons and loadouts.
After beating the game, Hades also has a difficulty system known as the Pact of Punishment which adds new twists to the formula. Players have to take a certain amount of Pacts to earn new rewards but these pacts are optional challenges. If you want to have more enemies or stronger enemies, both will raise the difficulty level, but your choice about which system you use is completely up to the player. However, this is a very incremental style of difficulty where you pick and choose the challenge.
There’s also an option to play what’s known as God Mode, where the player gets damage reduction that rises every time a run fails.
Though if you do want a true challenge, Hades has a Hell mode which starts the game off with extra difficulty. I haven’t played that mode but… it would make the game decently harder.
On the other hand, Dead Cells is hard, I would say very hard, perhaps one of the hardest rogue-lites I’ve ever played. It’s much more focused on twitch gameplay whereas Hades just lavishes the player with invincibility frames at times. Enemies have very different strategies and if you’re not leveling up well, you can get killed in a couple of hits.
There are health potions and such, but outside of the health potion, there are only a couple of improvements that really make the game easier, and many of them are weapons and items that will be placed in the larger weapon pool we mentioned earlier.
I think the name Dead Cells is a slight allusion to Dark Souls, though obviously not a direct reference, I find Dead Cells to be similar in enough ways to make that comparison. Dead Cells will challenge you as a gamer. It’s a little easier than you might expect with that comparison but also remember if you die you lose everything and start over, with only a few minor upgrades carrying over between runs.
And then there’s the extra difficulty, similar to Hades, the game does get harder after you beat it. But Hades has optional challenges. Dead Cells adds what is known as Boss Cells. These are more of a difficulty setting. You get fewer chances to restore your health potions, different enemies, and a few other changes. You choose all the changes or none. Just losing out on the health restores is a big change, but ultimately, Dead Cells gets VERY hard. If you want a challenge, this is your rogue-lite.
There’s really no “easy” mode for Dead Cells either, and personally, I wouldn’t mind one so I can see more of the content. This game is pretty brutal at times.
So which is better. Well, This is easily the most subjective category, and probably the easiest to choose as well. Do you like a challenging game that can be made easier, and you’ll definitely overcome it? Or do you want a brutally hard game that few people will beat?
Personally, I’m going with Hades, I’ve conquered both games but the incremental difficulty in Hades has made me fall in love, whereas Dead Cells just feels like it created a new cliff for me to struggle against.
This though is probably the most important point because I know people love Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Hollow Knight for the challenge, and while you can create and find hard challenges in Hades, I think Dead Cells will always be the more difficult game.
So there’s one final category. Longevity. Listen, these are rogue-lites. You’re probably not beating either of these games in the first run, or the tenth. But the idea of the rogue-lite is to keep playing and one day you might beat it. I know I’m still praying that happens on Nethack, but what about Hades and Dead Cells? Which will keep you entertained longer?
Dead Cells is packed with content. If you’re someone who wants to collect everything, Dead Cells will keep you busy. Not only is there a high number of items to find, but you’ll have to unlock them by playing the game and spending ‘cells’. You’ll earn the cells currency just by killing enemies and you will spend a decent amount of time hunting for blueprints to get the ability to purchase everything.
That’s just the inventory. I’ve talked about the challenge of the game, and a lot of the challenge comes from learning and mastering Dead Cell’s combat. People are talking a bare minimum of a hundred hours or so just to beat the second boss cell, again that’s basically the third level of difficulty.
There’s also the different biomes which each have different enemies and challenges. If you stick to the main path you’re looking at about a third of the game, but there are so many other paths to explore.
As for Hades. There’s a lot of content in Hades, and you’re constantly making progress through it. Even harder difficulties may not challenge you as much. There’s also a question of how far you’ll go. Getting every achievement in Hades will take some time as most of them will require running the game many times. There’s also an epilogue in which you’ll have to grind out relationship levels with some characters.
If you’re going for all the achievements, you can probably earn that in under one hundred hours. There’s still tons to do, and there are higher difficulty levels, but many of them are not required for the achievements.
Essentially, there’s a soft limit to the content. You can always chase additional power and difficulty, but at some point it’s just higher difficulty levels, not unlocking new content.
So if you were stuck on a Desert Island and had to choose one of these games. I’d probably pick Dead Cells. You’re going to need more time to unlock everything and there’s tons of content for you to chase, whereas in Hades, there’s a lot of content but much of the later unlocks are minor changes to the look of the place.
Though realize neither game is lacking and both games will get you your money’s worth so you really don’t have to worry.
So that’s the five categories. Graphics, Special Feature, Weapon Selection, Difficulty, and Longevity.
So all there is left is to crown a victor. As I said, this is a very subjective topic, because for every reason I like Hades or Dead Cells, someone else might prefer the other game. But one of these games made me drop 50 hours playing it without trying. I spent multiple nights playing it instead of making videos, writing, or just playing what I was planning to. Even recording footage for this video was challenging.
This last month has been less productive than others. And the reason for that is Hades. Hades is an amazingly addictive game, and I can’t stop playing it. I literally have had to stop picking it up for just one game, because it’s never just one. And on-screen I’m flipping through all my pictures of my wins because I always feel proud of those accomplishments.
That’s not to say Dead Cells has not given me sleepless nights, but personally, I just have not fallen for Dead Cells as much as other people. I love Metroidvanias, I love rogue-lites, and Dead Cells is incredible but it just hasn’t grabbed me the same way. To Paraphrase Jeremy Clarkson. Dead Cells is Brilliant, but I like Hades.
So there you have it. What do you all think, are you Hades fans, Dead Cells fans, both, or do you just dislike rogue-lites? Any other important differences between these two? Or what other recent rogue-lites should I have covered?
This video was born out of the necessity to cover Hades, but a desire to also talk about Dead Cells, both of these games are highly addictive, and I felt that I should cover them as I started playing both of them this year. If you want to see more head to heads, let me know, I find this interesting because rather than look at one game, it’s more interesting to compare and contrast it with another game, similar to how I looked at Void Bastards and Rogue Legacy earlier this year.
Anyway, you know the spiel, like and subscribe, comments help out the channel, do what feels right, I hope I’ve entertained you enough for that.
I’ll pop up that old video on Void Bastards here. And I’ll also throw up my video from two weeks ago where I tear down a quest from Disco Elysium. If you like RPGs with a focus on dialogue, trust me, you’ll want to check that one out.
Until then I’m Kinglink and thanks for watching.