Dead Cells was built to kill its players in a frenzied, procedurally generated and unending cycle, which makes inserting a story tricky. The game is a roguelike with a modified permadeath system, which means when a player bites the dust, long stretches of recent progress are lost and any items that haven't been properly stored or traded in disappear into the ether. Players start back at the Prisoner's Cells and tackle the dungeon again. And again. And again.
Motion Twin developers didn't want to shoehorn loading-screen lore into a game that was really all about action and punishment. Besides, no one on the team would call themselves a writer. They continued to build out the game, adding bits of fantasy and naming characters with no grander goal in mind. At least for a little while.
"After a few months in Early Access, it was becoming a little bit more obvious that we wanted to tell something because the universe was compelling for most players, the world of the game, so it would be a shame not to do something from that," Bénard said. "Just to tell a story, a light one. But it finally became a quite complicated one."
Motion Twin has a narrative document now, patched together in half French and half English, but it tells the entire story of Dead Cells. The game itself is speckled with story beats, both accidental and purposeful, and the narrative is vague. Part of that is due to the game's nonlinear format, which naturally conceals certain details from players. The other part is Motion Twin intentionally keeping things vague, building a tone for the universe and introducing characters so players can put the pieces together themselves.
Essentially, Bénard said, fans have gotten it right so far. According to the most recent theories and in the most barebones terms, the plot of Dead Cells goes something like this:
A terrible Malaise is unleashed on the kingdom, killing citizens and driving them mad, and the Alchemist blamed for the plague is locked far away in a castle. There, the Alchemist discovers what seems to be a cure for the Malaise, using cells as the catalyst. The king, meanwhile, is frantically locking up and killing suspected infected people, losing his grip on reality and humanity. The Hand of the King and the Giant turn on the king and the Alchemist (who is also The Collector) and steal cells for themselves, becoming extra powerful. The King is granted the ability to leave his body, but he loses his memories in the process -- and he becomes the protagonist, a headless, unkillable fighter. Oh, and there's a Time Keeper watching over the entire thing, messing with the fabric of reality.
Phew. That's only the most basic outline of what's going on in Dead Cells, at least as it appears to players. There are more details to come, though. The first bit of free DLC for the game, Rise of the Giant, only hit PC on March 28th and it should land on consoles this summer. Rise of the Giant adds new levels, bosses and a handful of player-requested features, including 50 fresh skins for fans to choose from, with no microtransactions in sight.