Hoo-boy, does Deathloop make for one heck of a first impression.
Not one to mess around, Deathloop thrusts you right into the action. Or, more accurately, it thrusts into you, opening with a brutal stabbing to establish the eponymous gameplay loop and the adversarial relationship between the two lead characters. From here, it continues to surprise in multiple ways.
Set on the mysterious island of Blackreef, you play as Colt, who violently awakens on a dirty beach strewn with empty beer bottles from what should’ve been a fatal blow. Everything is hazy as he tries to recall his thoughts of what the hell happened, with some amusingly delivered cursing to drive the point home.
While trying to make sense of his surroundings and why he woke up after exploring the wrong end of a machete, Colt begins to sense a strangeness in the air. Glowing handwritten text begins to apparate out of thin air as if to direct Colt toward answers.
Only one objective seems clear: break the loop.
Even with the sheer volume of Deathloop trailers Bethesda and Arkane have dropped on us, much of the gameplay cycle has been shrouded in a nebulous cloud of secrecy.
In terms of narrative, the amnesia-riddled Colt attempts to break the cycle of the same day repeating itself on Blackreef. To do so, he needs to take down the leaders inhabiting the island known as “Visionaries” and determine the specific cause of the loop — all on the same day. All the while, one of the Visionaries, Julianna, takes it upon herself to ensure Colt never achieves his goal.
Arkane Studios is known for developing several of the most acclaimed first-person stealth adventure games, including the Dishonored series and 2017’s Prey reboot. Deathloop follows a similar design ethos with densely packed areas to navigate, offering multiple pathways to a single objective.
Many of Deathloop‘s gameplay systems came as a surprise to me — someone who actively tried to avoid absorbing too many details from pre-release material — especially the discrete method in which the in-game day is broken down.
Instead of exploring the entirety of Blackreef from the outset, you choose one of four main areas to tackle, all of which can be visited at different times of the day. In between being out and about, Colt regroups in his bunker, where you navigate menus to plan your next move, in addition to adjusting your load out based on equipment found along the way.
Oh, but any gear you collect disappears once the loop resets — whether it be due to surviving the whole day or simply dying. But you do uncover a method of circumventing this, which I’ll delve into in as spoiler-free terms as possible in a second.
A cycle of surprises
Deathloop is a prime example of how blurry videogame genres and descriptors have become. Yes, it’s a first-person shooter with stealth elements, but it also contains the exploration of an adventure game, the gradual progression systems of a roguelite, and not to mention a competitive online multiplayer aspect.
The roguelite element is one I’m most intrigued by from my several hours with Deathloop so far. One constant between loops is the retention of information. Billed as being more powerful than any weapon, Colt remembers any information gained, regardless of whether he survives a day or is mercilessly gunned down.
This information is tracked across various menus, including easily identifiable leads on where to find Visionaries or valuable equipment. Deathloop is as much a mystery as it is a gleefully violent hunt-’em-up. Unearthing new secrets about the nature of Blackreef is as satisfying as kicking an unsuspecting foe off a cliff.
More than anything, however, what excites me most about what I’ve played and am yet to play, is Deathloop‘s surprising volume of interwoven subsystems. Not only is there a looping day to contend with and mysteries to solve, but there’s also plenty of new gameplay elements introduced at a steady rate.
I mentioned earlier how equipment doesn’t carry over between loops, so I thought I’d somehow have to amass an arsenal capable of taking down the visionaries over the course of a single day, after multiple loops of learning where to find such weaponry.
It turns out that was far from what Deathloop had in mind for me.
Without spoiling the narrative and in-game lore details, you eventually acquire the ability to accrue a form of pseudo-currency to retain equipment in a roguelite manner. This includes guns, abilities and modifiers (referred to in-game by names I’ll leave for you to discover), which presents an interesting method of becoming more powerful over time.
I love games with this form of progression, testing your skills against insurmountable odds and rewarding you with just enough to make your next attempt different or slightly more powerful. It’s not Arkane’s first foray into the roguelike-slash-roguelite scene, either, with Prey‘s Mooncrash DLC an example.
I haven’t spent much time beyond discovering this subsystem, so I can’t wait to push it as far as I can.
Another Deathloop surprise I managed to avoid hearing about was its multiplayer component. You can absolutely play the whole thing as an offline single-player experience, but there’s plenty in it for you if you jump online.
Popularised by the Dark Souls series (I know Souls comparisons are beyond parody at this point but bear with me!), is the ability to invade other players’ games online and cause mayhem. Deathloop‘s version of this is the “Protect the Loop” mode, where you inhabit the role of Julianna and hunt down others playing as Colt.
Although I’ve not dabbled too much into this component, my limited experience with the Colt vs Julianna showdowns have been thrilling. There’s also an incentive to engage with the online mode, with special gear and cosmetics up for grabs for doing battle with players online. You can opt in and out as you choose, so there’s no need to worry about playing online if that’s not your thing.
Several hours in, Deathloop has surprised me in countless ways beyond what I’ve described here. As soon as I thought I had a handle on what to expect, another gameplay system to learn or narrative wrinkle was there to greet me. I’ve played slowly so far, soaking in Blackreef’s mysteries and checking out every tightly crafted corner along the way.
I’ll continue to slowly savour every moment of Deathloop and can’t wait to see what surprises are yet to come.
A digital PS5 copy of Deathloop was provided for coverage.
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Chris is an award-nominated writer based in Adelaide who specialises in covering video games and technology. He loves Donkey Kong Country, sport, and cats. The Last Jedi is the best one, no questions asked.