Dead Cells Lives On In Dev’s Faster-Paced, Multiplayer Successor, Windblown

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Windblown‘s fast, flashy combat and seemingly lighthearted aura are what first caught my eye. In its trailer, anthropomorphic animal heroes move like lightning and slash through enemies with swords and daggers. Innocent slacking during a training session turns into a war cry as a bulky enemy effortlessly slices through a teammate, red splashing onto the battlefield as you rush in for the final blow. Like Dead Cells, the previous game from developer Motion Twin, it excited me with what looked to be responsive, creative gameplay with a dark underbelly waiting to be discovered through environmental storytelling.

At GDC 2024, GameSpot took a sneak peek at Windblown and spoke to Motion Twin about its inspirations and what the team aimed to accomplish. Motion Twin announced in February that Dead Cells support would end after the upcoming “End is Near” update. Thankfully for fans of that game, Windblown aims to take Dead Cells’ strengths and build on them with new features that Motion Twin wanted to see in a cooperative, fast-paced action game. On top of that, Windblown is an opportunity for the studio to go beyond its comfort zone and work on features it hasn’t offered before, like 3D and multiplayer.

“For us, the goal was to create a super fast-paced action game that we can play with friends,” Motion Twin’s Yannick Berthier told us. “That was what we wanted. To be able to play together. But we could not find [a game with that]. We could find really good multiplayer games. We could find super good fast-paced games. But not something that glued all of those [together].”

“It’s more how do we get all those pieces so we can create that game we were dreaming of? And in the next game, we’ll do the same. The question will be what do we want to play now?”

The roguelike genre wasn’t the only option Motion Twin considered when it decided to develop a new action game. However, it ended up being the genre that it decided on, acknowledging that previous experience from Dead Cells helped to leverage it more effectively. It wanted to keep the “state of flow” that Dead Cells had. In the case of Windblown, state of flow meant a snappier, combo-heavy experience than in its metroidvania-esque sibling.

“When you play Windblown and then you go back to Dead Cells, it feels a bit slow, which is fine. It’s a different taste. Speed is just a way to convey the flow differently,” Berthier said.

An enemy attacking our anthropomorphic animal hero with a laser beam.

Motion Twin considered making Windblown a side-scroller similar to Dead Cells, too, but realized a top-down view worked better for multiplayer. With that perspective, players can easily see each other and all nearby monsters. Other aspects of Dead Cells, such as action-based consequences, carried over into Windblown, like a boss that returns for revenge if you fail to smash its head in during a previous run. At every turn, it seemed like there was a mechanic to help the player feel more engaged or give meaning to actions beyond just mashing buttons and moving onto the next level.

Motion Twin also incorporated feedback that it received on Dead Cells into Windblown. In the new game, players get two weapons that they can switch between to trigger a special attack. Any two weapons have special attacks that players can discover, encouraging them to experiment. This is on top of other abilities you might earn through your playthrough, like a shockwave that hits enemies when performing certain attacks.

“We try to refine the formula and propose new things. So we keep some stuff that is working very well in Dead Cells, and we try to add things like dual wielding,” said Thomas Vasseur, another developer on the project. “This was a big frustration in Dead Cells to not be able to synergize each weapon. This special attack is an answer to that. It’s an answer to make the player want to try every weapon and see what it does.”

Your peaceful home base with the ominous Vortex looming in the distance.

At its core, Windblown is about an impending apocalypse. You live in the formerly peaceful, floating village called The Ark, which is threatened by a dangerous phenomenon called the Vortex and the monstrous Sentinels that came with it. The player character is capable of absorbing the memories of past comrades, which helps them prepare for battle and grow stronger with each loss, albeit in a somewhat grim way. In Dead Cells, you have piles of corpses and while Windblown might not have as gruesome of a reminder of death, it’s similar.

“Our heroes will encounter very dark subjects to deal with,” Vasseur warns. “You are absorbing memories. Maybe you are absorbing more memories than you lived yourself. So it will make some crazy things [happen to] your character. Maybe this is not your first body. Maybe your personality is downloaded in this new body.”

One concern Motion Twin is seeking to address is balancing how less-experienced players can keep up with their friends who have hundreds of hours in the game, and making sure that there is a way to feel like the experience was still engaging, even after you die. It teased a “unique” way to address death where players can stay together, though it didn’t share any specifics.

Windblown is currently in development for PC and expected to release for Steam early access in 2024.