GamingFeature ArticlePC / MacPlaystationPS5

Deathloop retrospective

After guest writer Mark delivered a hefty Deathloop review previously. Dylan and myself thought it would be worth having a Deathloop retrospective to chew over some of the key elements.

Deathloop Retrospective

Loop One: 2 Hours

Dylan: I’ve always been drawn to games that reward growing expertise. One of the most pleasing gaming moments that stays with me is when I managed those ‘kill every arsehole in one quick time event’ moments in Max Payne 3 with free-aim. This was on my second playthrough, whereby I had gained enough confidence and proficiency to become a head-shot machine. Similarly, I love how Alan Wake’s battles increase in complexity, always pushing against what you are capable of. Dark Souls is perhaps an extreme, though just as satisfying, example. As is, to my mind, the racer-shooter The Club, which I still wish was backwards compatible as I have fond memories of getting higher and more satisfying scores on each run.

Which leads us to the loop, Deathloop. A strange, complex, crazy title that I have spent two hours with and am still not sure what to think.

Richard: I had a great first day on the Island. Breaking into the library, scoring some sweet weapons, hunting them all down. Then losing it all because of the narrative. Screw narrative. 

In seriousness though, this experience shows how Deathloop does try to do something different. GIving me an impressive playground with just enough secrets to uncover. I had fun sneaking around, not really paying attention to the objectives. In my traditional kleptomaniac style, I took hours over what should have been a quick sojourn.

When I found an open window on the second floor of the library, I couldn’t help myself. There were weapons aplenty and I was nicking ‘em. I got in. Grabbed a 50/50. Was ambushed. Had a fight and died. What impressed me was that, on my return to said window, I found it locked. However, I could still hack it open. Surprisingly a step away from the usual run and gun. Survive and get through, but if you have to try again the (mostly useless) mobs have lifted their game.

Deathloop Retrospective

Dylan: That locked window is pretty cool. I also noticed that they burn your apartment down later in the day. On the one hand, this feels like it could have easily fallen apart at any point of production. It seems an impossible sell: to replay the same four maps across different periods of the day, and there is a lot going on here. I’m still not sure how to keep weapons and perks across death.

I’m fairly sure you need to infuse residuum into every little thing to keep them. When I woke up after one loop I had about four guns I could equip, so I’m still experimenting with the limits there. I also don’t know what slabs are, only that you have to infuse them too if you don’t want to lose them. You also don’t keep them unless you make it back to your bunker before you die.

Richard: Yes, after a few nights at my pace, and with life in the way, I was at the point of seeing the Residium thing in action. I get it now, and while it’s just a mechanic to level you up I kind of love/hate the Souls effect of running back to your corpse to grab the Residuum left behind.

Dylan: I actually keep forgetting to do that!

Deathloop Retrospective

Richard: Managing your inventory and working out what to trade and what to infuse tickles my fancy. Once you get over the risk vs reward, it’s a nice way to build your arsenal and loadout. I also obsessively keep carrying turrets around. I probably don’t need them. It’s just in my nature.

Dylan: That turret hack (literally) does feel overpowered really early on. But yes, I think that as you gain skills and better weapons, they won’t be as needed.

There are a couple of things I want to say from just two hours in. The story seems to be all about NPCs enjoying immortality in the loop. So far, their A.I. appears to not be enjoying anything other than patrolling set routes. Or having conversations loud enough for me to overhear. From a gameplay perspective, this creates the tight puzzle box of Hitman crossed with Dishonored, but I’m not feeling any reality to this fiction. There’s a lack smart kills like in Hitman at all, and if I kick up an ants nest I can just hide for half a minute and everyone goes back to normal. It breaks the immersion completely for me. 

Richard: Truth be told, the whole “Boss Level (the movie)” approach smells like smoke and mirrors. More of a hindrance and purely to keep you playing. It’s absolutely modernised Dishonoured in many ways. While 100% tastes like Bioshock, with the powers, vending machines, aesthetics and NPCs. I spent the first 20 mins trying to remember what the hell I was doing and what the hell residuum is, or the difference between a Visionary or the other one. While all the time happily sneaking out nail gun headshots with a bit of breaking and entering.

Dylan: I think it will all come with repetition. It seems dense, but I’ve heard that as you settle on a loadout and perks, the focus shifts to upgrading them. There’s a lot of gaming DNA in here, but I’m not convinced it’s going to result in a viable child. I’m also having a lot of trouble reading the explanatory and menu text. It’s just too small (a large problem of this generation, not just Deathloop). This becomes an issue when so much of Deathloop’s systems are presented via written explanations. It also makes tracking clues and targets more of a chore because I know I have to sit forward in my chair to try and work out which elements I want to track next.

Deathloop Retrospective

Richard: I like the worldbuilding a lot, especially as a playground where I can get on rooftops and sneak through open windows. It’s great. As a ground breaking AAA experience, I’m wondering what I missed. The gunplay just feels a bit, well, loose. Granted, the starting weapons are rusty as, but aiming is wild even with a few tweaks to sensitivity. I also struggle with the timing on the machete, which is a bit cumbersome to wield.

Dylan: My main feeling is that I am on the cusp of ‘getting’ Deathloop. I can feel that it will deepen as I keep playing and learn repeated routes and events. I’m keen to dig in and get to the 5 hour mark, where we will check in once more. . . 

Loop Two: 5 Hours

Dylan: I’ve learned a few things. Slabs, infusion, residuum, Visionaries, Eternalists – there’s a lot going on. Given my lack of time to play this in long sessions, the morning/noon/afternoon/evening breakup of levels means that I can get a good 30 minute play in and feel that I’ve accomplished something. This also pushed me towards going loud – and this has completely changed the game (I’m not sure if for better or worse yet). Going loud means killing on sight, making a mess, running around like a mad chook and scrounging for health refills. It’s quite a bit of fun.

In this way, I am assaulting Visionaries directly, eschewing stealth. Sweeping a wave of death through each area and then taking time to explore (read: get completely lost – the level design is something else). What this has done is expose the absolute inability of the enemy AI to behave in any way that is believable. It is incredibly easy to cause a major ruckus – including exploding grenades – and then simply run away and hide for a bit and everyone will go back to normal. It’s no problem to funnel them into an area and sit around a corner as they present themselves one-by-one for slaughter. While going loud is enjoyable and easy, it’s also kind of ruined the game for me a bit. There is no incentive to explore beyond just discovering all the awesome nooks, crannies, corridors & access puzzles that Arkane has generously designed into each level.

Deathloop Retrospective

Richard: I’ll agree, the fun factor is there, but there is that nagging doubt that I’m not across or engaged with the overarching theme. I’m treating it as more of a modern Dishonored sandbox to be honest. Just like LEGO Games, puzzles that require me to come back some other time for reasons tend to annoy me.

I have been offing a few Visionaries, and they each have interesting well played out scenarios around them. Gaining traction on Slabs and Trinkets et al is nice to see too. My struggle is deciding where to go next for the sake of the story. What I like about your going loud and issues with the enemy A.I. – I can sense a Viva La Dirt League video taking shape as we write.

Dylan: What I do like is how the cycle of killing Visionaries is rolled into progress. Grabbing their slabs, weapons and trinkets and then determining which ones to keep and which ones to infuse or upgrade. Infusing costs a lot and you will rarely have enough to infuse what you’ve picked up in one area, which then brings into play the gamble of equipping and taking stuff into the next area, with the payoff being hopefully more residuum to then permanently infuse guns, trinkets etc. I’m still not quite across all the different levels of slots for weapons and so on. I have realised that absolutely everything needs to be infused, if you don’t want to lose it – either that or you must repeat loops to then regain them.

Loop Three: 10+ Hours

Dylan: Deathloop is losing me a bit now. I’m just running and gunning with no consequence or challenge. The AI is so easy to run rings around. I will give it credit that it is very easy to play in short spurts. However, I feel very little desire to invest time into any of the ostensible mysteries here, because it just doesn’t feel like the reward will be worth it. I’m already strolling death. What could possibly improve my experience? In the end, Deathloop is four massive, excellently designed maps with awful AI attached. As a result, I haven’t felt compelled to push much into the story missions as a) I don’t feel that I’m ready yet – I still need to fully upgrade all the slabs and b) there’s zero impetus pushing me to do so. 

I know there won’t be any new discrete levels, unless, I guess, huge new areas open up as I make discoveries, which is certainly possible and something I hope for as I continue to chip away. The strangeness of Deathloop’s design works against it for me in that I kinda feel like I’ve already seen most of what it has to offer.

Deathloop Retrospective

Richard: Regarding the AI, they sure are automatons on fixed routes. It’s a  big old distilled mix of classic titles, but missing the impact I was expecting.

Things are however falling into place, after a few big night sessions I’ve found secrets and sneaky ways around. That’s what I find exciting. Knocking off the rank and file bad guys isn’t hugely entertaining. You’re right Dylan it’s absolutely the path of least resistance just to waltz through them.

The limiting nature of the structured day is holding me back. Appreciating the aim of Deathloop and what the Arkane want it to be is fine, but if I’m on a run, why cant I just wander through a tunnel into the next area? Instead of waiting for time to pass.

Dylan: I think I much prefer the separate levels of Dishonoreds and the layers within those on repeat plays. I do have to give credit for pushing something new. Unfortunately, it isn’t the kind of thing that is going to keep me playing. I already came in late, so Julianna invasions hold no appeal, as players have already learned to run rings about expert invaders – so what hope do I have as a casual invader? Similarly, the thought of a truly invasive force ruining my run is such an annoying prospect that I’m glad that I’ve never had a real player appear in my game. I also can’t see why you would get hooked on protecting the loop when that mode will surely dwindle over time.

Richard: I feel the same about the invasions, happy to deal with her as A.I.

I’m not into getting invaded by actual players. It’s something that feels like it didn’t need to be there.

Deathloop Juliana

Dylan: Stepping away from my personal opinion. I do think that Deathloop presents an important outlier, creatively. It’s something that almost should not exist, that is a bit too crazy that most major publishers would not take the risk on. The non-white protagonist (and antagonist), the persistence to stick with a strange idea past the point of testing, and the idea that you can reuse levels in interesting ways. We do need more of this from studios for videogames to evolve. I’m more excited about what might come if it is successful over what is here right now.

The Loop Continues…

Dylan: I actually kinda, strangely, really enjoyed my 20 minutes with Deathloop last night. I uncovered some docs that will help me assassinate one of the Visionaries. I’m also impressed with how the maps can be quite different at different times of day, with previously safe routes blocked off by mines or lasers, or ice solidifying, opening up new areas. 

Richard: First I thought it was smart conceptually, but I was missing the drive to get excited. Something happened halfway through which changed my perspective. What was a myriad of clues, leads and open ended solutions suddenly congealed into something else. Deathloop dropped its world of opportunistic sojourns, it was suddenly linear. Where completing a Visionarie’s ‘story’ and getting them grouped together the evening is the goal. The daunting math early on that you can’t fit them all in was just a ruse, the game wanted you, needed you to keep replaying the day. Otherwise how else would Colt manipulate the outcome?

Dylan: I am quite torn on this one. It ebbs and flows. I fall away then come back as the familiarity is pushed one step more each short session. Maybe I will keep with it. Maybe the mysteries will deepen and be worthwhile. Perhaps the daft AI serves a purpose that can only be appreciated when all the pieces fall into place. I am hopeful, at least. And so I’ll keep looping away, even if it may not be the kind of title that I want to spend playing in one long stretch. It is easy to string out, progress slowly. It runs the risk of familiarity breeding contempt. 


Richard: I started out spending long times in each area, digging around being a nuisance. Now I’ve given in to the ‘short run’, get in, knock over an objective and get out. There’s no penalty for reliving the day a number of times, there’s just the irritation that Colt could have made his way around the whole island in one morning.

Dylan: Yet there’s also no denying the crafting that has gone into this, with written messages appearing during loops even after ten hours of play. There’s guidance here that I can appreciate even if I’m not fully connecting with it. How are you feeling after your time with it?

Richard: I’m still here and still looping. I can see the end taking shape and the playground combined with slab abilities are the main reason I’ll keep playing to the final curtain. That said, I can’t see myself seeking out multiple endings or the Platinum Trophy.

I certainly feel warmer on Deathloop than I did in the first few days. Something I attribute to the world building and range of puzzles or secrets to uncover. I find it quite amazing that some people would have cleaned house after a much shorter playtime. I accept I’m nosey in games, and take a more pedestrian approach.

I’ve taken my time over Deathloop, it’s absolutely a top shelf attempt at something new. It hasn’t followed through with its initial promise, which would have been a gargantuan task regardless.