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Deathloop Review : Our Gameplay View & Ratings

by Lisa Hayden
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There’s an unsettling sense of ambiguity that comes with trying new things. Especially when it comes from a decorated game studio, it feels like a recording artist experimenting with other genres.

While Deathloop still falls under Arkane Studio’s first-person shooter MO, its loop mechanic has enough roguelite qualities to classify it as a drastic departure from the norm. 

And I’m happy to report that it’s their best work yet.

It’s the full embodiment of the “play your way” mantra the studio has been following with its past titles, including the Dishonored series and Prey. At the same time, Deathloop kicks it all up to overdrive by providing an open sandbox that allows you to play the game at your own pace and with as much distraction as you desire.

It all ties together neatly with the inclusion of multiplayer invasions, which can be treated as its own game mode. All of this is wrapped in an unashamed retro aesthetic that oozes with style.

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It all starts when you wake up on a beach of Blackreef Island. Without any memory of who you are or why you’ve been taking a seaside nap, you’re guided towards a door by a series of messages that appear out of thin air.

You soon discover your name is Colt, a man with a talent for violence who’s somehow connected to a phenomenon called the loop.

A taunting voice through your communicator, coming from a woman named Julianna, clarifies that you were once part of her group called the Visionaries. While she and her group want the phenomenon to continue, you’ve decided to go rogue and put a stop to it.

Its mechanics become apparent when Julianna gets the drop on you for the first time, ending your life only to have you re-awaken on that same beach without any of the equipment you gathered earlier. With a goal in sight and a brain full of questions, you and Colt set off to take out the Visionaries and end the repeating day cycle, all the while trying to piece together the reasons for betraying them.

It all starts when you wake up on a beach of Blackreef Island. Without any memory of who you are or why you’ve been taking a seaside nap, you’re guided towards a door by a series of messages that appear out of thin air.

You soon discover your name is Colt, a man with a talent for violence who’s somehow connected to a phenomenon called the loop

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A taunting voice through your communicator, coming from a woman named Julianna, clarifies that you were once part of her group called the Visionaries. While she and her group want the phenomenon to continue, you’ve decided to go rogue and put a stop to it.

Its mechanics become apparent when Julianna gets the drop on you for the first time, ending your life only to have you re-awaken on that same beach without any of the equipment you gathered earlier.

With a goal in sight and a brain full of questions, you and Colt set off to take out the Visionaries and end the repeating day cycle, all the while trying to piece together the reasons for betraying them.

The loop and Blackreef comprise Deathloop’s setting. Before it became a lawless island governed by the Visionaries, it was a regular place with regular people living ordinary lives.

Ultimately, it was bought out by an organization called the AEON Program, which is when the Visionaries came into the fold, and the loop began. The island is divided into four districts which you can visit during different hours of the perpetuating day. Each area you visit is a testament to Arkane Studio’s level design mastery.

Through interconnected pathways and verticality, you’re invited to take a wide range of different routes to tackle situations as you see fit. Thanks to the loop mechanic itself, you’re given plenty of opportunities to experiment with them as many times as you wish.

A loop begins anew when one of two conditions is met. The first, and most obvious one, is death. It’s in the name, after all. In Deathloop, whether you’re taken out by a Visionary, Julianna, or one of the Eternalist grunts that occupy the island, the day will end, and Colt will wake up on the same beach as he did in the beginning.

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The other way is to survive the entire day from start to finish. Breaking this cycle involves one thing, and that is to kill all of the Visionaries before the day ends.

At first blush, Deathloop might sound too open-ended, which is the bane of gamers like myself who find lack of structure intimidating. Luckily, the devs have incorporated an intuitive mission structure that you are free to follow as you wish. Its opening missions hold your hand a bit to showcase mechanics and give you an overview of the world you’re about to take on.

Letting go of your hand happens by way of giving you a choice to continue pursuing a Visionary that holds the key to a valuable mechanic or heading off to better arm yourself with abilities and weapons before making another attempt.

It’s a clever way of nudging you towards making your own decisions on how you want to play Deathloop.

That isn’t to say, though, that the game doesn’t continue giving you more missions. By way of main objectives and side-missions, Deathloop introduces you to both its world and story progression. The game never pressures you to do anything, though.

The ultimate goal has always been there in play sight: take out the Visionaries, end the loop. Whether you choose to pursue more power or progress through the story is all up to you.

It’s all facilitated through the game’s primary mechanic, the loop itself. Upon hearing of a day cycle that ends with you stripped of all your equipment, you may feel Deathloop is yet another roguelite and that’s correct to a degree.

Yes, you die and lose all of your stuff while also maintaining some abilities that help give you a sense of progression. But roguelites rely purely on you repeatedly failing and starting anew while also giving you random environments to plow through.

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Blackreef is never random, though. There’s a day-night cycle that plays a crucial role in how you approach taking on the Visionaries. The day is broken into morning, noon, afternoon, and evening hours.

During each of these hours, each Visionary can be found in different locations and doing different things. For instance, Aleksis will always host his party during the evening. Dr. Wenjie can always be found working in her lab in the Complex during the afternoon. If that’s sounding too predictable then you’re right.

This system is designed to push you towards learning as much as you can about your targets and planning out how you’re going to tackle each one until you’ve taken them all out in a single day.

It’s the sheer act of taking out enemies that’s also incredibly exhilarating in Deathloop. Your loadout can consist of an assortment of guns, abilities called Slabs, and enhancements, enabling you to build your own playstyle.

Considering this is an Arkane Studios game, you know that the playstyle variety has a lot of meat on the bones. From run-and-gun fast-paced shooting to stealth and assassination approaches, there’s no shortage of ways to play Deathloop.

Colt also has a few small techniques up his sleeve that really make the experience work. For starters, he can slide which allows him to close the gap on his enemies while ducking under fire before blasting them in the face with a shotgun.

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He’s also pretty agile and spry which enables him to vault over objectives and climb up to high ground. Then, there’s the kick. This oh-so-satisfying punt allows you to send enemies plummeting to their death. Needless to say, I’m extremely addicted to using this every chance I get.

The combination of Colt’s movement, skills, and loadout makes for gameplay that’s easy to get into yet offers tons of customization to experiment with.

Building your Colt is a game in itself. Thanks to the sheer number of customization options, there’s no end to how many ways you can tailor Colt to your desired playstyle. Each gun can be fitted with a number of trinkets that give them a variety of properties.

For instance, you can make your already super accurate high-powered sniper rifle be even more precise and deal fatal damage to body shots. There are also four slots for character Trinkets that give Colt more abilities.

From more significant health regeneration to tighter shotgun blast spreads, these Trinkets can significantly define your Colt’s build. Finally, there are Slabs, supernatural abilities that give Colt and the Visionaries their unique skills. Colt begins the game with Reprise which allows him to respawn twice before finally dying and ending the day.

You can gather more Slabs by taking out Visionaries. Aleksis, for instance, holds the Karnesis Slab which allows him to use psychokinesis. Taking him out and grabbing this Slab enables you to flick enemies around from a distance and use them as weapons.

Changing your loadout occurs between the time of day shifts. You can trigger these by moving from one area of Blackreef to another. While inside an area, you’re free to explore for as long as you like. Once you’re done, you can take the exit which will allow you to make any changes to Colt’s loadout before moving onto whichever other area you want to explore next.

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While your stuff carries over between area changes, it’s all reset when the day ends or you die. You can, however, allow yourself to take a loadout to the next cycle by using Infusion. After you take out Dr. Wenjie, you’ll be granted the ability to gather energy called Residuum and use that to build loadouts that can carry over post-death.

Even still, the game’s structure and mechanics are built to encourage you to try out new tactics and use new weapons so things are constantly kept fresh.

Deathloop comes with a multiplayer component in the form of invasions. Your potty-mouthed rival, Julianna, will occasionally go on the prowl in the area you’re in to hunt you down and stop you from ending the loop.

While she can be controlled by an AI, making her significantly easier to deal with, by connecting to Bethesda.net you can be invaded by a human-controlled Julianna.

If this is giving you Dark Souls flashbacks then rest easy. The odds are actually skewed in Colt’s favor. For starters, he has access to Reprise which effectively acts like two extra lives.

Julianna, on the other hand, needs to only be taken out once. Colt can also survive by hacking a radio transmitter that unlocks the exit and making a dash for it. The nature of the game doesn’t make it possible for a significantly overpowered Julianna to enter your game.

Playing as Julianna is a game in itself. She has her own progression system that is based on mini-tasks you can complete every time you invade another player’s world. These can range from taking Colt out with specific weapons to surviving for a set amount of time.

It’s the perfect implementation of a system that adds a sense of unexpected exhilaration to the main game while also serving up an alternative yet robust game mode.

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Unfortunately, invasions are plagued by matchmaking and lag issues. On average, it took me about 5-7 minutes to get into games, while players on forums are reporting even longer wait times. Lag seems to also be a problem for a lot of players as well.

Personally, I only experienced a couple of laggy games that severely impacted my experience. This was primarily from the perspective of my Julianna which leads me to believe that the connection is heavily skewed towards giving Colt players a better experience.

It’s a “your mileage may vary” situation that ultimately adds a small blemish to what could otherwise have been a perfectly implemented invasion system.

Deathloop is a definite contender for Game of the Year in this writer’s eyes. It’s an Arkane Studios masterpiece that feels like the devs have been given total freedom to express their vision of a “play your way” game.

Its retro-tech vibe, crisp visuals, and old-timey film soundtrack give it an unmatched level of charm that blends perfectly with the game’s overarching narrative. Unraveling the mystery of Blacreef’s loop, discovering who Colt is, and his involvement with the phenomenon lends a level of tension and stakes that pushes you towards achieving the ultimate goal.

The game controls are snappy, enabling you to experience the full spectrum of the game’s fast-paced open-ended gameplay. And it’s because of its more open nature that you’ll likely find you can replay it many times and still have plenty of other ways to enjoy it. Multiplayer has its issues, but it’s still a masterful evolution of invasion-style matchmaking that I’d like to see fleshed out even more in future titles.

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Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Time loop setting is blended perfectly with the game’s main mechanic and design
  • Retro aesthetic that’s incorporated into all aspects of the game’s presentation
  • Familiar Arkane Studios “play your way” but kicked into overdrive
  • Intuitive use of time of day mechanics that affect the positioning and approach to targets
  • Open-ended sandbox that allows you to ignore missions and simply explore and wreak havoc
  • Intriguing memory loss narrative weaved into the overarching unraveling of the mystery behind the loop
  • Multiplayer feels like an evolution of Dark Souls invasions and plays like it’s an entirely other game

Cons

  • Matchmaking for invasions can take a long time and matches can often be laggy
  • Reports of performance issues with the PC version

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