A year after its initial release on PlayStation 5 and PC, Deathloop is out on Xbox and the Windows Store. It feels like a culmination of every Arkane game before it. From Prey to Dishonored, and even the good parts of Wolfenstein: Youngblood you can feel the studio’s mastery over the game’s systems. Stuck on an island & trapped in a daily time loop, you’ll slowly uncover dozens of mysteries as you piece this clockwork puzzle of a game together. If you’re anything like me it’ll be one of the most satisfying things you’ve ever done in a video game. Deathloop is an incredible achievement, so let’s break down why.
Awakening on a beach with no clue who or where you are, you stumble into a fallout bunker and find a radio. Almost immediately an unfriendly, but seemingly familiar voice on the other side starts berating you. The dynamic between Colt and this mysterious person on the radio name Julianna is the heart of Deathloop. Once you’ve completed “The Longest Day”, aka the game’s tutorial mission, you’re met with the two sides of the game, Destroying vs. Protecting the Loop. Most of your time will be spent as Colt as you work your way through the narrative and try to destroy everything, but we’ll get into what Protecting the Loop means later.
To describe just what the gameplay loop is I’ll have to get into some extremely minor and very early-on story spoilers. You are stuck on an island in the Antarctic with no way off. The only way, you’ll quickly learn, is to dispatch every “Visionary” of Project Aeon. If they all die in one day then the loop will break once and for all, so you’ll be tasked with figuring out the perfect day in which every visionary meets their demise at your skillful hands. The structure of Deathloop is unique, innovative, brilliant, and overall incredible. Days are broken up into four playable areas each with four times of day. It doesn’t sound like much at first but with all the variation on hand, especially as you follow the surprisingly linear quest path, the clockwork nature of it all is genius to behold. The day cycle is morning, noon, afternoon, and night. After each night you go back to the previous morning with the game world fully reset, but Colt retains any and all knowledge gained during the last run. Die enough each run and it resets back to the morning as well.
While you can technically choose to go to whichever district you want at each point of the day or skip entire time periods when you want, the narrative always makes it clear when and where you need to go to progress. I saw talk before and around launch that the game is a roguelike but it really isn’t. There is a run-like nature to each day but that only holds to your weaponry and gear. Every day works the same with people in specific locations, performing specific actions at the same times. It feels unfair to spoil the clockwork nature of it all anymore, it really is something best experienced with as little knowledge as possible going in.
For the residents of this game world, it’s still the “first day” in their minds. The only two people that can retain information between days, and eventually gear and weaponry, are Colt and Julianna. The mystery behind why that is along with dozens of others had me hooked from the moment I had completed the tutorial missions. Early on you unlock the ability to infuse weapons, slabs (more on that in a bit), weapon trinkets (mods), character trinkets (mods), and slab upgrades (slab mods!) so that you can keep them even after a full day cycle ends or you die. To do this you use an in-game, per-run currency and the system and power ramp feel well balanced. Let’s get more into the gear, weaponry, and how it all feels to use.
Almost Excellent Combat
Deathloop retains the power-based type gameplay of Dishonored, but it feels faster, controls better, and is far more forgiving than any of their previous titles. After a dozen or so hours I felt like a killing machine, capable of taking out groups of dozens of people easily as long as I used my various Slab-based powers well. The slabs are your selection of superpowers, each tied to a respective visionary and Julianna. They drop every time you kill one of the “big bads” and any drops after you’ve unlocked and infused a slab will gain you “slab upgrades”, which are incredibly powerful modifications for the abilities. One familiar power is Shift, which works similarly to the teleport in Dishonored, and one of the upgrades for it allows you to perform an incredibly powerful kick while using the ability. Powers operate off of a generous and quick-to-refill power meter. The other left-hand items are your grenades and the hackamajig. The latter is a brilliant addition that lets you hack doors, antennas, and more to even the odds in your favor. One of its main uses is unlocking the tunnels you use to enter/exit each level whenever Julianna invades your play session.
The weaponry on hand isn’t the most varied but between the different rarity levels and intrinsic perks you can find the guns that best suit your style. You have three weapon slots and I always made sure to have a silenced gun for ranged assassinations, a powerful shotgun for close-range fights, and a rifle for long ranged battles. There are multiple legendary weapons you can unlock through various side quests or that drop from visionaries that are both incredibly powerful and stupidly fun to use. To help you out with your shooting shenanigans is the weapon trinket system. These are a decent number of modifiers that can add extra zoom to any gun, reduce recoil, or even lower damage done by any target hit.
My biggest issue with the game, and it’s a familiar one for Arkane games on console, is how aiming feels. It accelerates far too quickly by default, and even with as much fine-tuning as I could muster it never felt great. You will have to rely heavily on the auto-aim that kicks in whenever you aim down sites with the left trigger. It’s a heavy amount and routinely pulls you right to an enemy’s head, which is great because you want to hit headshots whenever possible. I tried the game out with a mouse and keyboard on PC and while the movement felt far worse it felt like cheating with how easy I could pick everyone off thanks to the precision aiming of a mouse. Overall the aiming system isn’t up to the standard set by every other part of this incredible title.
The final main gear section is the character trinkets. These, much like the weapon ones, are a selection of mods to customize your run to your preferred playstyle. Some feel specifically there to help make certain quests easier, so it’s best to infuse powerful versions of ones like “breathing in toxic fumes heals you” because it made a couple of the main quests far easier to complete for me. While you technically have three slab spots one of them is always taken up by “Reprise” which allows you to return to life two times each run. If you’ve used up one of your Reprises and kill a Visionary you get a charge back as well. The only other issue I had with the game, and it ended up being a bit of a big one by the later stages of my playtime, was the sense of repetition if you failed at a task. I know it’s on me at times but if you fail and have to work your way right back to where you were after a loop-ending death, it can get frustrating. One of the visionaries initiates a stage-wide explosion with a short timer if you’re caught in their facility, and the few times it happened to me it just ended up being damn frustrating instead of feeling like a learning experience.
One Hell of a Port
Graphically I think the game looks fantastic. There are four visual modes available: First is one focused on giving the best visual fidelity along with some form of ray-tracing that runs at 30fps. Second is an unlocked framerate, high visual fidelity mode with no ray-tracing that works best on displays with variable refresh rate as it can hover anywhere from 40 to 60 frames per second. Third, and my personal choice is the Steady Performance option. This offers up a dynamic resolution with a rock solid 60 fps performance. Finally is a 120fps option that holds the resolution to 1080p. The game feels the best by far in this mode, but the visual quality and resolution hits were too much for me to play with.
This is by far Arkane’s best-looking game for me. While the number of areas available isn’t as many as previous titles their size and intricacy are stupefying at times. Character models look great, especially in the high-fidelity modes, and I adore the art style. It’s a weird mix of timeframes though with a mostly mid-60s aesthetic. It is all matched by some of the studio’s best writing and music to date as well.
Colt talks a lot, and he’s routinely hilarious. Julianna can be a bit off-putting at first but you quickly learn why she is as prickly and upset as she is, and by the end of the things I got it completely. Each visionary feels like a fully realized character as well, especially if you read through all the messages and listen to all the voice recordings they’ve left behind. There is a lot of swearing in the game, and while it felt a bit forced at times it’s another thing I warmed up to in the end. The music fits the weird, somber, violent mood of everything perfectly. This is a dark game with a faux-happy exterior. The combat tracks got my blood pumping, and the somber ones had me feeling empathy for those I had previously only seen as heartless monsters.
I ran into only one bug while playing, which was once when the UI in-between missions bugged out and was showing my inventory no matter what I did. A quick restart, thanks to the excellently short load times, and it was fixed and I never had it happen again. Reconnecting to the online servers while using Quick Resume was a breeze, and the game is online for that “Protect the Loop” mode I mentioned earlier. Sadly, as this was a pre-release copy I was unable to find other players to invade their games during the 4 days I had for this review. From what I’ve seen the hunter system while playing as Julianna should be fun to dig into, and the new crossplay functionality along with the game pass release should mean the player count stays up for a lot longer than it did back at the game’s PS5 and PC-only launch.
Deathloop is the best game Arkane has ever made, which is saying something. It is a brilliant culmination of their learnings over the years, and I absolutely love it. World-class writing, world-building, and story are matched with fun gameplay, great performance, and one of the smartest game worlds I’ve ever seen. It’s finally out on Xbox and it’s on Game Pass so do yourself a favor and play this near-masterpiece.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox Series X|S, PS5, PC|
|Release Date||September 20th, 2022 for Xbox|
|Rated||M for Mature|