Lots of entertaining sass and snark from lead characters
May become repetitive
Crashes happen often enough to be annoying
PvP aspect isn’t for everyone
Plenty of non-linear games boast player freedom and flexibility but very often, these games also demand a compromise. If you kill excessively, the games will “punish” you in a number of ways – it could lead to quests becoming inaccessible or an invisible morality counter that affects the whole game. Take Dishonored for instance – even though you’re an assassin, your propensity for violent takedowns will ultimately decide whether you get the good or evil ending.
This is where Deathloop sets itself apart. By virtue of being caught in a time loop, every bad decision and murder committed on Blackreef island is rendered inconsequential when time resets at the end of the day.
Here at Blackreef, you’re invited to indulge with other like-minded hedonists in a never-ending pursuit of all things depraved and debauched. As an in-game sign suggests, you are here to enjoy amorality and I did just that. I mowed down every Eternalist in my path with nary a blink, knowing that my character’s actions will be absolved and reset come daybreak. It’s liberating and it’s hella fun.
In a nutshell, Deathloop is a game about gathering information and loot but how you choose to go about it is completely up to you. You play Colt who awakens on the beach at Blackreef island with nothing in hand and none of his memories. Trapped in a time loop, you are forced to relive the same day over and over again. But just before an existential dawning hits, you will soon discover that all the mindless killing is not without purpose.
Colt is tasked with breaking the loop and the only way to do it is to kill all eight Visionaries in the same day. Unlike the other island inhabitants, Colt is able to retain his memories between loops and will have to use all of his accumulated resources to execute the perfect octuplet murder.
Blackreef island consists of four main open-world locations with each area varying slightly depending on the time of day: morning, noon, afternoon and evening. The map layout remains unchanged, but you might discover some differences, such as tighter security from the enemies, new clues and even a change to the Visionaries’ locations.
As they don’t stay in the same area throughout the loop and you’ll have to revisit the four areas over a span of 20 hours of playtime to pinpoint the Visionaries’ locations and identify the best window of opportunity to take all of them out.
The game manages to keep you on your toes with new enemy routines as well, so even if you have to revisit the same location for a quest objective, the area which was deserted in the morning may be swarming with enemies at night, forcing you to rethink and switch up your approach.
Whether you prefer throwing caution to the wind or a sneakier method, the game has only one piece of advice: you do you.
If a stealth mission suddenly goes tits up, the game encourages rather than punishes you for switching gears and descending into chaos with your shotgun and hand grenades. And if you’re a stickler for the perfect run, nothing’s stopping you from resetting the loop to do it again – this time armed with better knowledge of enemy traps and layout.
But if Colt dies more than twice during a loop, the loop will reset, causing him to awake once again on the beach, losing every item he’s collected during that run. Short of embracing a full rogue-like genre, the game quickly provides Colt with the ability to infuse his weapons and trinkets with psychedelic energy called “residuum”, which allows Colt to retain his arsenal across time loops.
Residuum cannot be carried over when a loop resets so you’ll need to manage and spend residuum to infuse your gear in between missions or risk losing everything should you die mid exploration. Over time, you’ll collect stronger weapons as denoted by their colour, not unlike other looting games. With a loot tier in place, it makes it easier to identify powerful loot to keep and which ones can be sacrificed for residuum.
Visionaries not only carry the best weapons in-game, they also drop slabs – the most powerful item in the game. Each Visionary’s slab has a unique supernatural ability, which can be upgraded by repeatedly killing them to loot their slab. You can equip up to two slab abilities that best suit your playstyle, and these abilities include brief invisibility, teleportation and one that lets you link enemies together such that when you kill one, all who are connected will fall dead in one fell swoop – so freaking satisfying.
The Visionaries are a diverse and paranoid bunch, with wacky personalities and different motivations for wanting to sustain the loop. But your greatest adversary is also one of Deathloop’s most compelling mysteries – Julianna, the snarky and trigger-happy Visionary who is constantly one step ahead of Colt and seems to be the only other Blackreef inhabitant that retains her memories of every loop.
The strange frenemy-like relationship between Julianna and Colt is the heart of this game, as is their banter which is anchored by strong writing and superb voice acting. Though she incessantly undermines and chides Colt, calling out on his flaws to humorous effect, it never crosses beyond the sense of friendly rivalry.
Over time, Colt even learns to give as good as he gets, turning their verbal sparring into one of the most enjoyable aspects of Deathloop.
But Julianna’s tongue lashing isn’t the only thing Colt has to contend with. She will often and without warning, invade your loop to assassinate you at the most inconvenient of times.
AI-controlled Julianna becomes easy to fight once you’ve upgraded your gear, though the same can’t be said when you enable multiplayer mode. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, having the Dark Soul’s element of another player infiltrating your game as Julianna, but some will still appreciate this added layer of challenge and unpredictability to a game about, well, loops.
If you’re going to be revisiting the same four locations for the entirety of the playthrough, it does beg the question of whether Deathloop becomes repetitive. The answer is yes and no.
The thrill of not knowing what to expect around the corner eventually fades away at the 10-hour mark. It’s inevitable that you start to memorise the maps, traps and enemy movements. But game progression in Deathloop isn’t static.
Every time Visionaries die, they become tougher to kill the next time around. It’s usually due to an increase in enemy count, which makes farming for slabs and rare items a little less straightforward and calls for some strategic planning.
I found that I sometimes had to forgo a Visionary kill when stealth fails and retreat for the day or risk losing the loot and residuum I had collected. If you’re the reckless sort to play by ear, you’re still going to have fun as enemies can do more damage and aim better, even if it doesn’t become smarter.
For some, Deathloop’s mysteries keep them engaged, particularly the question of exactly who Julianna is. Every loop presents new information for the sleuthing player so that you’ll always be accompanied by a sense of progression even if there isn’t a change in scenery.
For those who aren’t keen on tons of reading, you’ll be relieved to know that the game has every clue neatly pieced together and easily tracked from the menu.
There’s no game like Deathloop. It’s certainly not for everyone but it will definitely leave an impression. I’ve had to go in blind with an open mind to see what Arkane was trying to accomplish. It defies any single genre labelling and is incredibly well thought out.
Like Colt who was on a trail of (self) discovery, I was also on a journey outside my comfort zone as a player. I had tons of fun adopting play styles that I never would have resorted to otherwise. A once strictly lawful-good player, I am now basically chaotic evil Corvo unleashed and I am forever changed.