DEATHLOOP is what you get when you give talented, creative people the freedom and space to deliver.
Every element comes together beautifully, from the combat to the traversal, to the expertly paced mystery of Blackreef unfolding.
Arkane Studios are a studio at the peak of their powers. As one of the darling developers for so many gaming enthusiasts, there is such an immense sense of satisfaction seeing all their evident talent culminating in this murder symphony of a game.
Fundamentally, DEATHLOOP is fun and offers such a gratifying experience as you build your skills, knowledge and arsenal to become a powerhouse assassin.
In its opening hours, playing as Colt, you will take considered and measured action. Anyone familiar with Dishonored will be familiar with the routine here, go stealthy, execute enemies and complete the objective.
But as you start to complete your first few loops, you begin to feel the game slowly push you into using your growing arsenal to take out everyone around you, even if things get loud.
This realisation was the moment I truly fell in love with DEATHLOOP, as I realised that all my past habits from Dishonored, where I felt the constant pressure to be stealthy, could be put to one side. The shackles were off, and I could get creative as I took out pesky Eternalists.
One note on the Eternalists, these are not your trained guards from Dishonored. They are party-goers who have been given a gun and orders to protect the loop. They are here for a good time. It’s you, the player, that is crashing the party. Sure, the AI feels a little dumb at points, but it fits the narrative perfectly. But don’t expect them to go easy on you. You will quickly lose your lives if you underestimate Blackreef’s locals.
You vs Julianna
Speaking of the locals, you’ll also have one highly skilled assassin to worry about while you explore – Julianna.
Julianna is a constant presence in DEATHLOOP and is a wildcard element during your investigations. At any point, she can appear, at which point the game kindly notifies you, and you will have to adapt your strategy to survive.
The real kicker here is that Julianna also acts as the games multiplayer element and can be controlled by an invading player. If you’d instead not go up against a human-controlled Julianna, it can be turned off via the game’s settings, leaving you with an AI version of Julianna to worry about (you’re not getting off that easy!)
These moments serve up some real challenges in DEATHLOOP but never feel like blockers to your progress. Every time Julianna starts hunting you, the music kicks in, which often results in a thrilling battle.
After the first couple of fights with Julianna, she went from a nuisance to a welcome test of my skills and arsenal. She keeps the game from getting stale and injects just enough chaos into your approach.
As the game opens up and you take out your first few visionaries, you will unlock more supernatural and fantastic powers via Slabs. There are many Slab powers, but I primarily stuck with two throughout my playthrough, Shift, which allows you to teleport and add some verticality to your approach, and Nexus, which will enable you to connect and take out a group of enemies by dealing with one.
It is entirely up to you how you build your loadout and use your powers. The game invites players to experiment and get creative, as with every passing day, the loop resets. Any weapons or powers you have found will be left behind unless you infuse them using Residium – effectively a currency you can gather during your time in the loop.
Residium can be used to infuse and retain your favourite weapons, slabs or trinkets that give your character and loadouts additional perks (such as extra health). At first, you have to be selective, but it doesn’t take long before you have built and tailored a loadout you are confident with.
It’s a clever system that rewards exploration and is the real secret sauce to creating a sense of empowerment the longer you play.
The last time I could remember a major release delivering this power growth fantasy so well was way back in 2012 with the excellent Far Cry 3. Arkane goes a step further here thanks to another incredibly clever and tight design choice – the loop.
Break the Loop
The whole premise of the game lives and dies (again and again) on breaking the loop. To do so, you need to take out all eight Visionaries (the game’s chief adversaries) in one loop.
This simple but incredibly effective premise is the foundation for feeling your progress and skills grow over time. Because as each loop starts again, you will come away with something more every time, whether it’s a weapon, a lead or adapting your approach.
Initially, I was worried that it would all get incredibly repetitive, but I quickly learned that it isn’t the case here. There is a real addictive quality to the game as you build on your leads and start to piece together how you will approach your final run.
There are four main areas on the isle of Blackreef for you to explore and takedown leads, but of course, this is no ordinary place. With the loop progression split over four times of day, the terrain will change depending on the time. The environmental storytelling is subtle but does a fantastic job of fleshing out the world and, more importantly, preventing things from feeling repetitive.
DEATHLOOP is happy for you to take things at your own pace, and the game encourages experimentation at all times. There is no absolute set path for you to take, and after the opening act, you can choose to chase down whichever lead you like, whether to obtain rare weaponry or take out a Visionary. It is up to you.
Again, this is liberating and feels like a refinement on what made their Dishonored series so special. Arkane is applying what they know works confidently, and it shows here.
Unwrap the Mystery
In terms of story, well, it is best to leave things to discover on your own. The central premise of breaking the loop and your intense rivalry with antagonist-in-chief, Julianna, is the mystery that you have the pleasure of unwrapping.
Without spoiling any details, I will say that I was left intrigued and a little disappointed when I reached the end of the story. I felt that things wrapped up a little prematurely and felt a little anti-climatical after the hours of excellent build-up that came beforehand.
I want to see more from these characters, though; I want to spend more time in this world. I hope we do get another chance to do so in the future.
Alongside its excellent gameplay and worldbuilding, DEATHLOOP oozes style. The whole 60’s spy thriller aesthetic is a vibe, and it is presented beautifully here.
It was a brilliant choice to ditch the more muted, nautical tones they championed with Dishonored’s ‘Whalepunk’ and go in favour of the DEATHLOOP signature style.
Also, I need to give a shoutout to the excellent music in this game. The dynamic score kicks in perfectly when combat starts to kick up the adrenaline and cool factor. Still, there is also some unbelievably catchy original music that fits the period well. You will be singing along in no time.
All in all, I think that DEATHLOOP is an exceptional game.
If you currently own a PS5, you need to play it and experience it for yourself.
Arkane Studios have succeeded thanks to their masterful approach of game design and worldbuilding. Breaking the loop is genuinely one of the first must-play experiences delivered on the new generation of consoles, and it has been worth the wait.
Ultimately, Deathloop is what you get when you give talented, creative people the freedom and space to deliver. More of this, please.