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Deathloop

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
Release Date: Sept. 14, 2021

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PS5 Review - 'Deathloop'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 13, 2021 @ 2:30 p.m. PDT

Deathloop is a first-person action that transports you to the lawless island of Blackreef in an eternal struggle between two extraordinary assassins.

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It's weird to realize that we're in an era where roguelikes have gone from being the most obscure of the obscure to being big-budget titles from some of the best names in gaming. It doesn't matter if you're talking about the immensely popular Hades or Sony's new Returnal franchise — roguelikes are hitting the big time. Deathloop is a perfect example of this. Taking the basic gameplay of Dishonored and melding it with the repeat-and-improve gameplay of a roguelike is an incredible concept that leads to All You Need Is Kill-style antics in a playable form. It's an ambitious game, and while it doesn't always hit the mark, it succeeds often enough to be a fantastic experience.

Deathloop is set on the island of Blackreef. For mysterious reasons, Blackreef is trapped in an eternal time loop that repeats the same day over and over again. This loop is held together by the Visionaries, a group of eccentric geniuses who are responsible for the technologies that are holding the Loop together. The one person on the island who isn't happy with this is Colt Vahn, the former head of security. For unknown reasons, Colt is one of the few people who remember that the loop is happening — and he wants to destroy it. Unfortunately, the other person to remember is Julianna Blake, the new head of security; her favorite thing in life is to find more ways to make Colt's eternal loop a living hell.

 


The easiest way to describe Deathloop is "arcade-style Dishonored."It maintains almost all of the same gameplay elements from Arkane's "whalepunk" franchise, except it's faster, louder and has more explosions. Instead of lengthy stages that you can explore for an hour at a time, you repeat the same bite-sized mission chunks in roguelike fashion. It still focuses on small, dense areas like that franchise, and each zone you visit is packed with secret passages and hidden items.

One wise thing the game does is encourage you to use powers in a way that Dishonored discouraged. There are no non-lethal options, and Colt is very loud and proud of his willingness to shoot everything that gets in his way. Some abilities that were optional in Dishonored are now part of Cole's basic kit. For example, killing enemies automatically causes them to dissolve, leaving behind only a few traces of their remains. You can play stealthy or loud, but since your mission is to kill the Visionaries, you can't avoid at least a little murder.

Likewise, slabs — Deathloop's version of Dishonored's powers — are far more accessible. The list of powers is very familiar to Dishonored vets, including a short-range teleport, the ability to become invisible, the power to link two people together, and more. Like Dishonored, these powers rely on a power bar. Unlike Dishonored, the power bar replenishes in a few seconds. There's never a reason to not use your powers freely, and so it's a lot of fun to take the fight to the enemies.

The structure of missions is pretty interesting. The game is divided up into four time periods (morning, noon, afternoon, evening), and there are four locations to visit. Visiting a location takes up your time slot there, but you can stay as long as you like. While there, you can explore and find clues that lead to one of the Visionaries or hints about how to break The Loop. Once you're ready to leave, you head to one of Colt's tunnels to leave the area and advance to the next time period. You can leave at almost any time, but the longer you stay, the more things you can discover.

 


The trick is that you can't save once you're in a mission, so there's no restarting, and no trying again. Cole has a unique slab that gives him three lives per mission. Death teleports you a short distance away and revives you. Die three times in a mission, and you Loop, which resets your progress and items. However, it is only Colt's physical form that dies. Any information you gather, from passwords to clues, is retained automatically upon death.

This level of permadeath might sound harsh, but early in the game, you have ways to circumvent it. After an early mission, you gain the ability to imbue any trinket, slab or weapon. Imbued items remain permanently through every loop but cost a certain amount of residum to purchase. The more powerful the item, the more it costs. You get more by finding glowing objects in the environment, killing Visionaries and looting their corpses, or sacrificing weaker items. Any residum is lost at the end of a loop, so it's best to spend it and not hoard it.

This tends to work in your favor because you won't want to save every trinket and weapon. Instead, you'll almost always get enough resources to save valuable items, which means you're constantly gaining power. It can get ridiculous rather quickly. It's a very mild form of permadeath, since the only way you lose anything important is if you die three times in a single stage before you can imbue it.

You'll revisit the same areas often, but each visit usually has a goal that you can accomplish or secret you can discover. There are a lot of hidden side-quests or plotlines to discover by poking around, many of which lead to unique items or interesting pieces of the world's backstory. Sometimes, there are minigames or hidden areas that are only accessible at certain times.

 


Your goal is to assassinate the Visionaries, but it isn't as simple as it sounds. You don't just need to kill them; you need to kill all of them before the day is over. If even one survives, the loop repeats. The Visionaries are aware of this and do everything they can to stay separate. By default, you can't kill every Visionary in the same run because they are too far apart. This means a successful Loop-breaking run must be mapped out so that you manipulate things in such a way that multiple Visionaries end up in the same location and you can kill them in one day.

This involves multiple scouting trips to each location and killing each Visionary multiple times. You might need to clear one to get a clue about what they did earlier in the day, and on the next loop, you can manipulate them into being somewhere else. Each time you kill a Visionary, you also can loot their slab, which grants new abilities or amplifies existing ones, so you're killing two birds with one assault rifle.

Of course, even assassinating the various Visionaries takes a lot of effort. Each one has their own set of protection that you need to find ways around. For example, one hides in a bunker where slab powers are nullified. Another goes deep into hiding and is only available at a specific time period. Once you figure out the trick, you can kill them easily enough, but as mentioned, a single kill isn't going to solve your problem.

The real fly in the ointment is Julianna. She's the only other person who's aware of the loops, and her biggest joy in life is killing Colt in violent and terrible ways. Unlike the other Visionaries, Julianna is actively hunting down Colt. She can appear in any mission where another Visionary is. She locks down all of Colt's tunnels until he finds and hacks the signal jammer. While Colt is trying to do this, she is trying to murder him. She also has the same basic arsenal as Colt. She only gets one life, but in exchange, she can disguise herself as any other character in the area. In short, she is easily the most dangerous thing in the entire game, and she hates you.


That is only part of what makes her dangerous. The other part is that while you're online, other players can hop into the stylish shoes of Julianna and invade your game. There's a whole separate progression system, so the more you play as Julianna and kill Cole, the stronger you get. This adds an even greater layer of danger to the most dangerous character in the game, since you have a human brain behind her that can get more powerful and more skilled.

What benefit does it have? It spices up the revisited areas, since you don't know what new threat you're going to encounter. Killing Julianna means that she drops great loot, such as slabs and high-powered weapons; killing her is the most effective way to gain some truly powerful gear. Killing her also replenishes your lives, so you don't get handicapped by a hard-won fight. It's an interesting wrinkle, so if you're worried about getting griefed, you can set the game to offline mode so you only have to deal with an AI version.

For those playing as Julianna, it's more of a mixed bag. There's something enticing and interesting about playing cat-and-mouse with a superpowered protagonist, and when you succeed at killing them, you feel awesome. If you can't find them,  you're stuck wandering around and trying to figure out where they may be on the dense map. It's tedious unless they mess up and make enough noise for you to find them.

Weirdly, the game also supports a "soft" co-op. Julianna isn't bound by friendly fire restrictions. You can start murdering people to help Colt, right down to assassinating Visionaries. This can be fun, but it has the potential to make Colt's experience less fun, especially since you can end up locking certain quests or items. I get the feeling that griefing Colt may end up being more of the game than killing him.


One problem I had with our review build was that it had some notable bugs. It's very possible a patch will fix some of the bugs before release, but I'd be remiss for not mentioning them. Moving too quickly around the menus could potentially cause them to freeze and require a hard reset. There were more than a few audio and visual bugs, including Colt holding a conversation with a character across the map who I couldn't even hear. There was also some really bad texture flickering, and for some reason, the opening "waking up on the beach" scene seemed to run poorly no matter what.

Deathloop is a nice-looking game despite some poor optimization. The environments are lush and detailed, and the setting is extremely charming. It's a polished-up Dishonored in a lot of ways and maintains a strong art design. What sells the game is the excellent voice acting. Colt and Julianna's back-and-forth at the start of every level is a highlight, and I looked forward to every interaction between the two. The Visionaries have solid voice acting that sells the strange mix of genius and pathetic that carries each one. Overall, it's just a good experience.

Deathloop is an engaging and enjoyable game that manages to capture the feel of Dishonored in a more fast-paced adventure. The unique setting and engaging concept carry the game through the repetitive nature of the gameplay. The multiplayer at the center of the story is more of a mixed bag but still intriguing enough to be memorable. Some annoying bugs drag down the experience. If you liked Dishonored but wished it were less about stealth and more about blowing things up, then Deathloop is the game for you. Just be prepared to die again and again.

Score: 8.5/10



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