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Deathloop review: You only live once

What will it take to end the loop? (Image via Bethesda)
What will it take to end the loop? (Image via Bethesda)
Sampad Banerjee
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Deathloop is an interesting game in the immersive sim genre. It is made by Arkane Studios, the guys responsible for making the stealth adventure immersive sim Dishonored series and the sci-fi immersive sim Prey. Deathloop takes the good elements of both the series, adds and refines them, and asks a very simple question:

What if the time loops while another player joins the game to annoy and ruin plans?

Time is your friend Julianna's loadout
Time is your friend Julianna's loadout

While easier compared to its immersive sim siblings, Deathloop certainly allows a lot of liberty in the way a player wants to play it, while also simplifying a lot of things for newcomers to jump in and enjoy. Players can expect a lot of new things to discover and have fun in, while certain aspects of the game might feel annoying.

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Stuck on Blackreef with murderous intents

Stab and kill to escape the island
Stab and kill to escape the island

The game is set in 1960s and follows Colt Vahn, an assassin stuck on an island called Blackreef, which experiences a time loop. This happens over the course of a day and keeps repeating while erasing Colt and island inhabitants’ memories every time.

How many times will I loop ?
How many times will I loop ?

Considering the island to be a prison, Colt sets out on a mission to kill eight Visionaries, a group of eccentric individuals responsible for protecting the loop, so that he can end the loop and leave the island. But to stop Colt’s attempts of breaking the loop, Julianna Blake, the head of security for the AEON Program, stands in the way. Her job is to protect the loop on the island, and she is allowed to use any means necessary to do it while also not experiencing the memory loss from time loops.

Image via Bethesda
Image via Bethesda

In terms of characters, Colt and Julianna have to be the charm of the game. Every time a player starts a new loop, both the characters will have some form of back and forth banter going, which is really fun to listen to and adds a lot of personality to both of them. The banter also sometimes reveals key story points, which are otherwise not outright told to the player.

The chemistry between voice actors Jason E. Kelley and Ozioma Akagha is top-notch and puts Colt and Julianna right on top as good video game characters.

The duo of Colt and Julianna is easily one of most well written characters (Image via Bethesda)
The duo of Colt and Julianna is easily one of most well written characters (Image via Bethesda)

Apart from the main cast, every visionary is voice-acted and has their own distinct personality. Aleksis Darcy is a visionary who enjoys throwing parties at night, hence he is someone who is lively and easygoing. Egor Serling, another visionary, is a paranoid scientist, so players will mostly see him being distressed and scared inside his small lab.

Arkane Studios took a lot of time and effort in fleshing out each and every character and made them one of the key appeals of the game.


Only a day to live

To finish off the visionaries, Colt can go into four parts of the island on Blackreef to find them and take them out. Each part of the island is a separate level in itself with its own themes to it. For example, Updaam is a town square with bakery and housing buildings in it, and Complex is a military installation base with open nuclear bunkers and research halls.

Image via Bethesda
Image via Bethesda

Every section of the island is handcrafted to look different and emit that 60s Jazz blue aura from it. Players have different ways to approach the levels; they can use rooftops, alleyways, and tunnels to reach their goal and have the option to go to the parts of the island four times of the day: Morning, Noon, Afternoon, and Evening.

Depending on what time the player goes to a part of the island, new pathways open up and item placements change. This adds a lot of replayability to the game as each run can give players a different experience. Overall, sections of the island are open for players to explore, letting them approach however they want and cause chaos.


Knowledge is powerful

Image via Bethesda
Image via Bethesda

Part of the gameplay feature of Deathloop is about figuring out how to kill the visionaries off within one single day. To do that, a player needs to know their pattern of movement, behavior, and key information. After all, each information gives leads towards setting the perfect plan in motion.

Deathloop has a lot of documents scattered throughout the maps that contain the backstory of the game, key details, or minor details which can give certain trinkets to help in planning.

Image via Bethesda
Image via Bethesda

The player is encouraged to explore the island as much as possible so they can gather the information which will help them to be more successful in achieving their goal in the next loop. Information changes based on the time of day, incentivizing players to visit all four of the sections of the island to gather information.

Every information you gather is saved up (Image via Bethesda)
Every information you gather is saved up (Image via Bethesda)

Compared to other immersive sims where players have to memorize each new path they encounter, Deathloop does it for the player. Every document and key information gathered from a run is saved for future runs under the investigation tabs, which can then be used to plan out future runs, making them much more safer and effective. After all, there is no quicksave and quick load, so players gotta plan it with the available information.

Planning plays a huge part in Deathloop, and the exploration for information certainly adds a lot of replay value to the game and adds a more rogue-like element to it.


It’s all about getting trinkets and guns

Image via Bethesda
Image via Bethesda

Deathloop is a more in-your-face shooter immersive sim as compared to previous games by Arkane, like Dishonored, which was a stealth action-adventure immersive sim focusing a lot more towards stealth.

What it means is players can be as loud as possible throughout the game and are not confined to knives. Each run allows a maximum of three guns from the map to be taken away for future usage.

Image via Bethesda
Image via Bethesda

Gun quality depends on how well they will behave. For example, gray weapons are readily available throughout the map and get jammed easily, whereas Golden guns are the rarest ones that come with unique stats to counter the enemies. What’s more, players can follow arsenal leads, which can get them ultra-rare weapons with a lot of helpful perks.

Image via Bethesda
Image via Bethesda

But what about Colt and his ability? What if a player wants to jump higher or wants guns that are more accurate? Deathloop doesn’t have an upgrade tree with the abilitiy to purchase. Instead, players can find something called “Trinkets” during their runs, which helps in improving their build for a particular run.

Trinkets are mostly available throughout a map, and just like guns, have qualities based around them. Gray ones are the basic trinkets, giving players additional stats and improvements, whereas green trinkets are the highest tiers, having a variety of additional stats in them.

The loadout screen (Image via Bethesda)
The loadout screen (Image via Bethesda)

The whole game is about how efficiently a player uses trinkets to make their loadout the most efficient one. Some ability trinkets will allow Colt to double jump, while others will help him sprint faster and tackle at the same time. Similarly, trinkets in guns can make them behave better, like increased accuracy, or deal bleed damage onto the enemies.

At a time, Colt can equip four ability trinkets and a maximum of three weapon ability trinkets on a gun (depending on how many trinket slots a gun has).

Image via Bethesda
Image via Bethesda

However, the trinkets and guns collected get removed from the inventory when a loop happens. To prevent that, players can gather a material called Residium throughout the maps. Residium helps players infuse their gears and trinkets with it so that they can keep what they need even when a loop happens.

Residium is collected when a player kills the NPC enemies on the map, the eternalists, or from special items in the world which let players extract them. The material, however, doesn’t carry forward to the next loop, so it is advisable to use as much of it available in the inventory as possible. After all, nothing in Deathloop is useless and can be used efficiently in any run.


Use the slab to save lives and end the loop

Even though Deathloop is not exceptionally hard, getting overwhelmed by the NPC enemies on the map will certainly get Colt killed. Top that with Julianna existing to ruin the plans, and it can get annoying and difficult. To counter this, Colt can collect magical items called Slab throughout the game which give him some power-ups to even the fields.

Use slab effectively to be efficient (Image via Bethesda)
Use slab effectively to be efficient (Image via Bethesda)

Each visionary carries a slab with them which has different power-ups attached to it. Collecting and equipping them in loadout will allow Colt to perform various movement or strength feats.

For example, Shift lets Colt teleport around the map immediately, letting him climb and move to unreachable areas. By default, Colt has one slab that is permanent and can’t be swapped out. Called Reprise, it allows Colt to rewind time to a few moments after dying, letting the players correct their mistakes. At max, Colt can reprise twice; the third time will kill Colt and trigger the loop. Otherwise, Colt can equip two slabs to assist the player.

Image via Bethesda
Image via Bethesda

Collected slabs can be swapped out before each run, so players can swap and mix their desired slabs in the loadout. That is not all, as each time a player goes back and kills a visionary, they will drop the slab upgrade for the respective slab they had.

Slab upgrades will add unique abilities to the slab, improving it. At max, a player can equip two slab abilities into a slab. Just like guns and abilities, Slab and Slab ability will disappear if a player dies or if a loop happens. To prevent this, players can infuse their slab to stay in their loadout even if the loop happens.


JULIANNAAAAA!?!?!

To prevent Colt from ending the loop, AEON security head and visionary Julianna goes on a hunt, killing Colt and making sure the loop exists. Deathloop lets another player play Julianna and enter either their friend’s playthrough or a random player’s playthrough.

The goal of playing Julianna is simple: prevent Colt from killing the Visionary and prevent him from hacking the antenna which opens up the exit door.

Julianna's out to save the loop (Image via Bethesda)
Julianna's out to save the loop (Image via Bethesda)

Like Colt, Julianna also has a loadout that can be tweaked. However, obtaining items is a bit different, as instead of collecting guns and abilities from the map, Julianna has a tier system. The more a player plays online and successfully takes out a Colt or prevents their plans, the more points they get.

Every level up unlocks new gears, new trinkets, new slabs, and new costumes. The more a player plays Julianna, the more items they get, making it easier for them to take out Colt. Julianna can also make the eternalists attack Colt by tagging him on the map.

However, this game mode has its flaws.

Julianna and her inventory (Image via Bethesda)
Julianna and her inventory (Image via Bethesda)

Deathloop’s Julianna playthrough is Peer-to-peer connection-based. What this means is that there are no ping or network filters or limits available while matchmaking with a player to invade their world. This can result in laggy matches amongst players if matched with a player living in a different country, as it will result in high pings.

Even though the concept of this game mode in an immersive sim is brilliant and the tools and execution are top-notch, network issues can ruin an otherwise amazing game mode.


Happy Eternalists can be a bit too happy

The island of Blackreef is riddled with enemies to stop Colt from reaching his objective. Called Eternalists, they are the enemy NPCs of the game who will shoot players once identified. Players can kill the Eternanists in the most unique way possible, or just sneak through a map, ignoring them altogether.

Image via Bethesda
Image via Bethesda

Eternalists don’t have any particularly distinct faces to separate them from each other, putting the point across that they are in the game just for players to toy with. However, they wear the most vibrant clothing ever, looking like they are ready to go to a party. Now herein lies the problem with the Eternalists.

Image via Bethesda
Image via Bethesda

Previous Arkane games like Dishonored and Prey had some of the most hyper-aware enemies available in a game, and those games also shipped with a Difficulty selector. So, the higher the difficulty, the harder the map enemies.

Deathloop does not have a difficulty selector since the game is heavily geared towards the PvP aspect rogue-lite elements, so eternalists are not hyper-aware like previous Arkane games.

They are just there to provide the necessary challenges to the player while not ruining the balance of the PvP. Regardless, the enemy AI certainly feels too easy and has tunnel vision problems, where they will notice only things properly standing in their line of sight.

The enemy AI can sometimes feel too easy to defeat, and even though the intention to make them easier is understandable, it can certainly be better.


Performance

Since most reviews of the game were done on Sony’s Playstation 5, a review copy for PC was requested from Bethesda, and they were kind enough to provide us with the same. The game has been tested on two different systems

  • Ryzen 5 3600(CPU)

  • 16GB DDR4 Ram @3000 MHz
  • RTX 2060 Super (GPU)
  • 500GB+1TB+2TB (Hard drive storage)
  • 240GB SSD

and

  • Ryzen 5 2600 (CPU)

  • 16GB DDR4 Ram @3000 MHz
  • GTX 1050ti @ 4GB Ram
  • 1TB HDD
  • No SSD

For the RTX computer, the game ran at full 60FPS in high-max settings and RTX on at 1080p. The shadow, lighting, and water of the game look exceptionally gorgeous, and during the evening moments of the game, lighting pops off even more.

However, no DLSS settings were available during the review of the game. The game was averaging around 80FPS with the RTX on. It's pretty clear that this game would benefit a lot with the DLSS option available. There is also a VRAM gauge in the settings of the game, and all the essential settings for a PC port are available.

Deathloop in RTX card looks beautiful
Deathloop in RTX card looks beautiful

For the 1050ti system, we went for low to mid settings at 1080p, with shadows turned down as much as possible and water quality kept to a minimum. The game ran at an average of 30 FPS with dips in highly detailed areas.

Since the game is meant for a minimum of 6GB VRAM card, we highly suggest against playing the game with a card like 1050ti. However, throughout the gameplay, no artifact glitches or game-breaking glitches were encountered and the game crashed a total of two times.

An image from the 1050ti test
An image from the 1050ti test

In both cases, no game stutter was experienced while playing through the game. The game was reviewed before the Hotfix for the stuttering issue was addressed, and even though there are a lot of complaints about it, we specifically did not experience the same.

Regardless, even in lower settings, the game certainly manages to look beautiful and the 60s jazz art style helps the game to do so.


Keep looping, baby

Will the loop be protected ? Or destroyed (Image via Bethesda)
Will the loop be protected ? Or destroyed (Image via Bethesda)

Deathloop is an interesting take on the tried and tested immersive sim genre. While having all the key essentials required to let players explore and approach levels in the most unique and creative ways, it certainly simplifies it in subtle ways and opens the door out for newcomers to the genre.

With rogue-lite elements like time loop and drop-in PvP like the Souls games, Deathloop has a lot to explore, uncover and replay for years to come, and is certainly a recommendation for everyone.

Enter caption

Deathloop

Reviewed on: PC

Platform: PlayStation 5, PC (Steam)

Developer: Arkane Lyon

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Release: Sept. 14, 2021


Edited by Ashish Yadav
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