Commentary, tips and tricks on Dead Hand gameplay fundamentals. Guaranteed to make your first forays into the game a bit more successful.
After seeing one too many gameplay video of the player being a sitting duck in the open trading shots until he gets killed, never bothering to heal; or firing at enemies’ chassis and weapons (or even at walls!) and then complaining that they take too long too die; I’ve decided to write a short guide explaining some of Dead Hand gameplay basics.
I’m probably being too naive by thinking that, even though many people don’t bother reading the “How to Play” slides, they might bother with this guide. But then again, if I didn’t have some naivety in me I wouldn’t have gone into the indie dev business in the first place.
I strongly recommend that you play on the “Easy” difficulty level until you’re well familiar with the game mechanics and start finding the level of challenge you encounter until the first boss fight boring.
Action Points (APs) are your lifeline, your most fundamental resource. As long as you can act, you can kill that one opponent, drag yourself back into cover, pop some nanites, or reserve your APs for a crucial interrupt during the enemy turn.
During any given turn (disregarding modules and consumables), your weapons platform will have 16 AP available to spend, plus up to a maximum of 4 AP reserved from the previous turn. It’s quite advisable to always carry over the extra 4 AP, and only exhaust them when you actually need to; be it to ensure an enemy is destroyed, to make a dash to the exit, or to reach the safety of cover. Whenever you enter a new level, or revert to turn based mode from real time mode, your weapons platform will start the turn with the maximum AP possible (16 + 4 by default).
If you end your turn with 3 AP left or more, you’ll have the chance to interrupt your enemies during their turn. I’ll elaborate on the interrupt system in the combat section.
You can spend more AP than you’d normally be able to during a turn through the use of Cooling Gel consumables. There’s no limit to the amount of ablative cooling gel you can use in a turn, and sometimes it’s a good strategy to “go Nova” against Bosses or during other tough fights. Keep in mind that you need to have at least 1AP available to use cooling gel; if you are at 0 AP you are out of luck, so even though the gel can be used as a “get out of jail free” card, a bit of planning is still required.
Armor & Structure Points
Each part you can mount (weapons, hulls and chassis) on your weapons platform has Armor and Structure Points values (SP, both current and maximum). Armor represents how good the part is at resisting damage (more on that later), while SP determines how much damage it can take before being destroyed or degraded.
Parts can (and should) be repaired through the use of Nanite consumables. Try to keep your hull, chassis and irreplaceable weapons as close to full health as you can.
The hull is where the CPU of a weapons platform resides. If it reaches 0 SP the weapons platform is destroyed.
The hull also determines how many and the type of weapons you can mount, your Storage Capacity, how many modules you can install, and part of the Ram Damage.
The chassis is what allows your weapons platform to move. Each type of chassis has a different movement speed (in meters per AP spent), and that speed will progressively degrade as your chassis gets damaged, down to 50% of max. speed when it reaches 0 SP. Any damage suffered by the chassis after it has reached 0 SP will be applied to the hull instead.
The legged class chassis have a bonus weapon hardpoint. The type of chassis also determines how many modules you can install, and part of the Ram Damage.
Weapons are what you neutralize enemies with. Weapons will be destroyed (alongside any loaded ammo) when they reach 0 SP. Weapons have specific hardpoint requirements that restrict where can they mounted on any given Hull/Chassis.
Ranged weapons consume specific types of ammo (which must be reloaded when depleted), and have multiple firing modes varying in AP cost, number of projectiles fired, and projectile dispersion. “Aimed” firing modes are special since they allow you to fire at the specific point your mouse cursor is pointing at, as opposed to non-aimed firing modes, which will fire at the center of mass of the targeted part.
Melee weapons don’t consume ammo, but can only be used to attack enemies you’re adjacent to.
Any weapon mounted in the Front hull hardpoint will contribute to Ram Damage.
The wedge plow is a special case, being a “weapon” without any attack actions. It can be used as a shield for the front side of your hull, and it contributes a significant bonus to Ram Damage.
Modules are a rare and special type of part that is not externally mounted, but instead installed into slots inside hulls or chassis. Without wanting to spoil anything, they provide some bonus or utility that can range from the “nice to have” to the “extremely useful”.
Once installed, a module cannot be removed, only replaced by another module (destroying the original module in the process). Modules can be found inside supply crates, as well as preinstalled in minibosses’ and prototypes’ hulls and chassis (denoted by a * in the part name).
Movement & Exploration
Movement in Dead Hand is freeform, you’re not constrained by tiles. Your path is displayed through a line of circles, each of them representing 1 AP spent to reach from the previous one (you’ll notice the distance between circles narrowing as your chassis gets damaged). Green and orange circles show where can you move to during this turn. Orange circles indicate that you’ll be spending AP that could have been reserved for the next turn. Grey circles show positions not reachable this turn with your current AP.
You can abort your movement at any time by clicking the right mouse button, this will stop your vehicle at the end of the current AP being spent; the same will happen if you detect an enemy mid-movement.
Due to the three-dimensionality of the caves, it can sometimes be hard to tell if a part of a cavern can be traversed. In those cases the minimap is a useful tool to determine what regions of the cave are walkable without having to switch the camera view.
Your Autonomous Weapon Platform comes equipped with optical sensors for long range detection (default 30m) and a ground penetrating radar for short range detection (default 12m). Terrain will be revealed once it falls within the optical sensor range. Enemies require line of sight to be detected when inside the optical sensor range, but will always be revealed when inside radar range, regardless of LoS. Line of sight is omnidirectional, you don’t need to turn to see.
Make sure to scan (and loot, if you see anything you like) any supply crate or scrap pile you find along the way. There are no shops in this game, every part or item you can acquire has to be scavenged from the caves.
Combat in Dead Hand is extremely lethal, so the best advice I can give you is don’t get hit. Always try to end your turn in cover, unless you’re positive there are no enemies around or you’re fishing for interrupts. Never end your turn next to a combat-ready enemy, and try to keep your distance from melee/charger foes so they won’t have enough AP to hurt you after they close the gap.
Enemies die once their hull reaches 0 SP, so generally that’s where you want to hit them. Sometimes, however, it might be a good idea to hit their chassis to slow them down (eg: you play as a tankette having a hard time chasing down a harasser), or destroy their weapons (that same harasser, without a rifle, will just try to ram you ineffectively).
Destroy your enemies as quickly and efficiently as you’re able, ammo and AP are scarce resources, so try to not overkill them (ie: don’t use a Long Burst when a Snap Shot will do). The longer a fight goes on, the likelier it is that more opponents will join the fray (all enemies in a level are simulated and, when unaware of your presence, routinely patrol the level).
Shooting for fun and profit
The GunCam is your friend, always check it to determine if you have a clear shot and to see how much of your target fills the aiming reticle. Projectiles are simulated, they are shot towards a target and scatter* in a circle around it; you can expect most (about 85%) of your bullets to fall within the aiming reticle:
This is a good shot, most/all of the bullets will hit the hull.
This is a poor shot, few bullets will hit the hull, some will hit the chassis, and about half will miss.
What this means is that, stats aside, the size and shape of what you’re shooting at matters; a light sloped hull is hard to hit from the sides, but easier to hit from the top (an initial rocket hit to the chassis may help with this). Each weapon firing mode has a different projectile dispersion value; some modules and types of ammo will modify it.
*For the math turbonerds out there, bullet dispersion is calculated according to a gaussian distribution around the target. There’s no bullet drop or muzzle climb.
When you end your turn with 3 AP or more remaining, every time a visible enemy performs an action you’ll have a chance to trigger an interrupt. This chance scales with how close the enemy is, but is reduced for every other interrupt you’ve already triggered this turn. Keep in mind that you can only spend up to 50% of your per turn AP allowance (8AP by default) in any single interrupt.
Judicious use of interrupts can mean the difference between life and death. Try interrupting a plower mid-charge and getting away from it.
Common difficult fights
Level starts can be quite dangerous since you haven’t cleared any room you can safely fall back to yet. If you spawn in a wide open room, move conservatively so as to not draw aggro on too many enemies at the same time. If you suspect there are multiple enemies lurking around it might even be a good idea to reserve most of your AP for interrupts.
Corridors are dangerous as well, particularly straight ones, since they don’t provide cover. If you see you’ll run out of AP in the middle of a corridor on the way towards an unexplored room, try digging some cover so you won’t have to end your turn exposed in the open.
The good news is is that corridors are also dangerous for your foes. If, upon entering an unexplored room, you detect multiple enemies; consider executing a fighting retreat to the previous room and turning the corridor into a killzone. Your opponents will obstruct and shoot at each other while trying to get at you.
Without spoiling anything: the first boss fight presents a difficulty spike since, unlike all previous fights which you can more or less win by improvising, it requires preparation. Make sure you have enough ammo, enough nanites, spare weapons, and as much cooling gel as you can muster.