Finnish developer Housemarque has garnered a title synonymous with quality over the years. From games like Super Stardust, Resogun, and Nex Machina, the team has quite the library under their belt. However, with Returnal, the team looks primed for an even greater leap in quality.
The game represents not only Housemarque’s most ambitious project yet but also has the full backing of Sony. Suffice to say, this is a monumental opportunity for the studio. Opportunities to continue to create something wholly unique, with a publisher’s support, while sticking to the established DNA of your studio, is rare. All of this comes together to create a title players have eagerly anticipated since the game’s June reveal.
In honor of the game’s release, let’s go through this beginner’s guide for things you should know about Returnal!
The Basic Premise of Returnal
In Returnal, players will take on the role of Selene. A Greek-American astronaut following a signal dubbed ‘White Shadow’ across the cosmos. In doing so, the signal eventually leads her to the planet Atropos where she crash lands, and immediately, something strange ensues. Both the planet Atropos, a planet once inhabited by an alien civilization, and Selene are caught within a time loop. Each time Selene dies, she awakens back at the moment she initially crash-landed on Atropos. To make matters worse, the planet will shift and change each time Selene dies. Meaning, Selene can not get too familiar with her surroundings thanks to this.
However, there is a way to end this. A way to break this loop that has ensnared her. This secret, however, will involve Selene delving into the deepest recesses of this cursed planet to uncover the solution.
The main path of the game is more or less broken into biomes. Six, to be exact, all of whom present visual distinctions from the ones before it. For instance, we have the arid landscapes of the Crimson Wastes as well as the fauna populated terrain of the Overgrown Ruins. As previously mentioned, each will differ aesthetically, but you will also find biome-specific enemies as well. All in all, ensuring to maintain a constant stream of progression for the player.
Although the groundwork of each level has been carefully crafted by Housemarque, death will cause these biomes to shift. Just how large scale these changes are, will vary. For starters, enemy placement is subject to change between runs as well as the environments themselves. With the latter, specifically, having the potential of undergoing pretty drastic changes.
If At First, You Don’t Succeed…
Returnal‘s core gameplay actually contains a mesh of varied genres to create something so uniquely itself. As you well know by now, the game carries a roguelike structure. Maybe not with the build variety or narrative depth as a Hades, but Returnal’s central narrative ties into this structure regardless.
As mentioned already, each time you die, Selene awakens back at the crash site. Therefore, resetting the time loop. Allowing you the opportunity to gather new items and weapons, which can help you progress further than your last run. Of course, before you die again and need to restart at the beginning again. Each Cycle will bring about changes to Selene’s story, revealing more than your previous run. The environment will shift in response to the new Cycle but, not all is lost. Ether, an in-game currency for one, some tools and shortcuts to help shorten runs all carry over.
In truth, don’t expect much more than that.
That Classic Housemarque Action
Housemarque, for the better of 20 years, has proven time and time again, just how prolific they are with gunplay. Thankfully, Returnal is no different.
Sublime, third-person, bullet-hell combat accompanied with the natural franticness of dancing around a fireworks display hurtling towards you at break-neck speed, still exists in full form here. Only this time, it’s made even more intense with the dark cloud hanging over your head. That cold realization that one little misstep, a single wrongly timed dashed or greed-fueled attack, can be the difference between progressing and losing an hour’s worth of nail-biting toil.
Think of this similarly as a Devil May Cry combo meter, essentially. Every time you kill 3 enemies in a row, without taking damage yourself, your Adrenaline will increase. Each level is accompanied by a certain combat benefit, with there being 5 levels in total. However, if you get hit, the Adrenaline level drops back to 0.
Make Use of Golden Enemies!
These enemies will run away from you, similarly to the shiny lizards in Dark Souls. If you are quick enough to kill them before they are gone, you will be rewarded with a large drop of Obolites.
You Don’t Need to Be in a Rush to Heal
This specifically pertains to how dropped items won’t disappear. So, there is no need to pick up a health consumable when let’s say, you are currently at 75% health. Leave the health and make sure you remember its location so you can return later when your health is seriously depleted and are in desperate need of a heal.
These strange lifeforms attach themselves to Selene’s suit and can offer buffs for the player. Think of something in the vain of gaining a bit of health with every enemy defeated. However, these come with their own drawbacks as Parasites also come with a debuff. The choice lies with you. Are you willing to swallow a possible difficult pill all because you desperately want a specific buff? Would you be willing to take a slower cool down in order to have a slight buff in your overall damage?
These are the kinds of internal, tactical decisions that really help cement the risk/reward structure permeating throughout the game. If you later find out a particular Parasite is not your cup of tea, you are allowed to remove it. Just know they as well will break down after a Cycle.
Continuing this trend of risk/reward, we have the Malignant system. These purple glowing items in the form of health, keys, and so on, will have the chance of infecting your suit with a detrimental malfunction. This can range to a wide variety of disadvantages to hamper your run and ensure your life is one of endless suffering. For instance, you may find yourself infected with a slower cooldown on your dash or even find reloading unresponsive.
You can remove these malfunctions by way of mini objectives such as defeat 10 enemies with melee attacks. Upon completion of the given challenge, your suit will return to normal. These seem like a needless hassle, in my opinion. But once again, you must decide how desperately you are in need of said item while remaining cognizant of the potential consequence.
In Returnal, players have access to two forms of currencies, Obolites, and Ether.
The former of the two disappears after you die and begin a new run. Meaning, no matter how much you collect in a run, if don’t spend them within said run and die, then you lose them forever. Think of Souls from FromSoftware games, except without the opportunity to regain them at the spot you died last. So, this essentially urges the player to use Obolite, while they have them in their possession.
Ether, on the flip side, can be carried over on following runs. You can carry a maximum of 30 but, once again, they are meant to be spent in the Fabricator. Where you will have access to passive buffs and consumables, all of which will be lost when you die. The Fabricator helps encourage players to browse and experiment, through trial and error to discover a loadout, which works best for them.
You Can Only Carry One Gun
Through containers you find scattered about, Selene will have access to new weapons. Naturally, the main catch being, she can only carry one. So, now this places a difficult choice in the hands of players. There lies a large variety of weapons in the game. From the classic pistol to the shotgun and the carbine, you will have enough to sort through to discover your personal favorite. The choice therein lies between a gun you have grown attached to versus something with better stats.
See, the higher the proficiency level is, the more of a stat increase the weapon obtains. This pertains to a number of attributes like damage and rate of fire. Then you toss in weapons having alt-fire capabilities and you can see where the hesitation stems from. Those conflicting thoughts of not wanting to drop your favorite weapon, even though another weapon has a clear advantage with its proficiency.
This further cements the importance of experimentation. Players will constantly have a new stream of weapons dropped before them, so, the game encourages you to sift through the list and find what you like.
Put Your Console into Rest Mode
Something which will surely put off many people lies within Returnal‘s saving system. Or, lack thereof. Be wary that if you decide to shut down the application or shut down the console this will end your Cycle. Meaning any new weapons, items, Obolite and whatever you managed to scrounge in the most recent run will be lost.
The closest thing you have, in terms of a save, is the PS5’s rest mode. Essentially, this will suspend the game and allow you to pick up right where you left off. Maybe not the most ideal method, but it’s as good as we will get.
Surprisingly, the game has a ton of moving parts. Whether this includes the unrelenting combat, to the eerie world, roguelike elements, and equally as chilling narrative. All of these, move in sync together to form something punishing yet, strangely mesmerizing. Hopefully, a few of these tips can help you enter Returnal, just a bit more prepared!