BETHESDA’s latest game, Deathloop, is set for release on September 14 for both PlayStation 5 and PC (the PS5 console exclusivity agreement was signed before Microsoft bought Bethesda last year) and there’s understandably a bit of a buzz about the game due to its interesting premise.
Deathloop is set on the fictional island of Blackreef (which apparently draws inspiration from the Faeroe Islands) and involves your character, Colt, waking up on a beach, stumbling his way to a bunker, finding a gun, and discovering everyone on the island (known as Eternalists and wearing masks, for some reason) has been ordered to kill him on sight.
Things get weirder when, after Colt inevitably dies, he wakes up again on the beach the next morning with everything reset, Groundhog Day style – and the only way out of the loop is to track down and kill eight “Visionaries” who are somehow responsible for the situation.
Just to make things even more interesting, a woman named Juliana – who appears to have some sort of history with Colt – is trying to kill him so he cannot reach his goal.
The developers recently held a behind-closed-doors virtual preview of the game, which I was able to attend and get some insights into what we can expect when it launches in a few months.
The game is being developed largely by Arkane Lyon, and the Dishonored DNA is pretty clear in Deathloop from what I saw in the demo – right down to having special powers like being able to teleport short distances and make enemies levitate.
Indeed, game director Dinga Bakaba summarised the core gameplay as “Dishonored with guns” – which pleases me, because while I really enjoyed the Dishonored games, it frustrated me no end that the games said “Here’s a bunch of cool weapons and attack abilities. Don’t use them or you’ll get the bad ending.”
While there were guns in Dishonored, you weren’t supposed to use them – but this time around, Deathloop appears to encourage you to get shooty. After all, you’re stuck in a time loop, so anyone you “kill” will be back tomorrow no worse for the wear (unless they remember you killing them, which they don’t appear to based on what I saw in the preview).
Stylistically, the game has a cool late 1960s/1970s “Spy-Fi” vibe I found very appealing – I was put in mind of We Happy Few in the “groovy, funky dystopia” kind of way. I was impressed by the dialogue between Colt and Juliana too – a combination of tough-people trash talk and lover’s quarrel raising some interesting questions about their relationship (doubtless more will be explained in the game when it releases, though).
In keeping with the setting, the soundtrack I heard in the preview was well done too.
The island is divided into four and can be tackled at different set times of the in-game day – an important factor in tracking down the Visionaries who are your targets, as some areas within a district can only be accessed at certain times of the day – although once you are in an area, time does not advance (ie, if you tackle a district in the morning and spend several hours of real time there, it won’t be lunchtime in-game when you finish). The developers have said that repeating levels to learn the layout and find the clues to track down the Visionaries is part of the experience, which initially had me worried since I hate grind in video games.
Fortunately, the developers have explained that you can (with the right luck or skills) retain some of your abilities and potentially weapons between lives/days, and that you get multiple ‘tries’ per area before the day resets. This aspect has certainly made me a lot less concerned, as keeping (at least some) of your stuff between tries will make a big difference to the “Try, Die, Repeat” formula.
One of the other interesting ideas is that Juliana can be either AI controlled or controlled by a drop-in human player (you can disable this element so she is AI only), which will certainly add to the challenge when you’ve got a highly capable opponent throwing a spanner in the works of your plans.
My big concern is the central hook of the game – that you have to play over and over to work out the patterns of the targets, learning a bit more each time and developing your skills – will essentially be rendered moot within a few days (at most) of launch, when highly skilled players work out the Visionary schedules and start posting ‘Assassinate all targets in a single day’ walkthroughs.
Obviously that happens with all games – there’s plenty of assassination guides for the Hitman games, for example – but the way Deathloop’s mechanic is being pitched, I can see it being affected more greatly by this.
The developers have said there will be multiple ways to eliminate the eight Visionaries – and the demo I saw confirmed this – so it will be interesting to see how the game plays out when it releases in September.
I’ve been very impressed with Arkane’s work in the past – Prey is grossly underrated, in my opinion – so having had more insight into Deathloop I’m very much looking forward to jumping in when the game launches, and seeing what sort of time-loop chaos I can cause in the process.