One of my personal rules is that I don't play games in Early Access. There are usually enough finished games coming out that keeping up with unfinished ones seemed unnecessary. Plus, I'd rather play the thing when the developer feels like it's done. I don't begrudge people who want to be part of the process—they're making the game I'll eventually play better—but it's not for me…usually. Dead Cells, which hit Early Access two weeks ago, got me to break that rule.
In short: Dead Cells is very, very good.
Granted, I'm regularly breaking my Early Access rule with games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, but that's multiplayer. I draw a distinction between single and multiplayer games when it comes to playing them in an unfinished state; so much about a single-player game is based on what's been handcrafted by the developer. Battlegrounds is reliant on that, too, of course, but it's able to skate by as a work in-progress because of (deadly) interactions with players.
Maybe I'm being semantically ridiculous, but my worry is that a poor first impression will lead to a lasting judgement. If I jump into an Early Access game and have a bad time, it's going to be very easy to convince myself to stay away in the future, even if people are arguing it's made a lot of progress. Again, we live in an age when there are far too many games to play, making it tough to argue that spending hours with a potentially crappy game is a worthwhile endeavor.
(I'm aware that I wrote an article making the opposite point. I stand by it.)
By letting development continue until the creators are "finished," I'm giving the game the best possible chance to impress me when I actually sit down to play it.
Luckily, Dead Cells already feels like a complete game. Little about about Dead Cells suggests otherwise, and if I dump 20 hours into play it over the next few weeks and never come back, I doubt I'm going to feel like it wasn't worth my time. It's already thrilling to look at and play, suggesting a game that's only going to get better as the developers respond to feedback, add more content, and tweak.
When I wrote about the problems facing the crowdfunding effort for Project Rap Rabbit last week, I pointed to the lack of gameplay footage. Too many projects have relied on blind faith, a faith that's been tested countless times. Given that many game fans are cynical, the best way to combat that cynicism is by outright proving them wrong. My guess is that if Dead Cells had tried raising money on Kickstarter right now, rather than launch on Early Access, it'd be wildly successful, and that's specifically because they could point to a game that is fun right now.
Given how many amazing games I've left behind in 2017 already—15 hours into Persona 5, my attention shifted to Prey; 10 hours into Nioh, Nier Automata showed up; 8 hours into Yakuza 0, Horizon: Zero Dawn appeared—there's still good reason to leave Dead Cells alone for now. But given how good it is, if you find yourself interested, you can feel good about diving in. I'm the last person to dip into Early Access, but I'm already itching for more Dead Cells. One more run, one more run…