Revealed first back in E3 2019, Arkane Studios presented to the world a brand new original adventure with a snazzy cinematic trailer, called Deathloop. As a long-time fan of both Arkane and the immersive genre as a whole to say I was excited was an understatement. After two years of wait (and avoiding all the many previews of the game), Arkane’s newest game is here and it has been worth the wait.
Arkane has crafted a world that gets under your skin: characters and lore and intrigue that makes you want to turn over every stone to learn more Blackreef, the fictional island in this universe. Even after my 16-hour playthrough and some time to digest everything I experienced, there’s so much more to do and see that it may warrant a second play-through.
The creators of Dishonored have another compelling masterpiece on their hands.
Time after Time
The story of Deathloop is quite simple: you wake up on a beach without knowledge of how you get there, who you are or what’s going on. As you progress through the intro of the game you realize that the island is stuck in a time loop where everyone relieves the same day over and over again which seems like a bizarre but seemingly effective take on immortality. Stepping into the shoes of Colt Vahn, you have one day to figure out how to break the loop: luckily for you, a day lasts an eternity.
While the game’s story on the surface is quite simple, the complexity and scope of the game begin to grow exponentially when the game initially holds your hand and guides you through Blackreef uncovering its many mechanics, stories, and characters. This now simple façade starts to melt away and give form to Arkane’s genius in crafting one of my favorite fictional worlds in recent memory. But what’s an island without its people?
Deathloop’s characters are as memorable as the mysteries to uncover on the island. Your primary goal is to assassinate 8 targets or “visionaries” in order to break the loop and let time flow as it’s intended to. Each of these visionaries is unique in their own way, and not just in their “powers”. Through lore documents, eavesdropping on conversations, or just confronting one of the visionaries on a run, you learn about each of their unique facets and realize how well crafted Arkane has made these characters.
For example, Aleksis “The Wolf” Dorsey, Black Reef’s resident self-proclaimed Alpha Male who loves to throw parties with some rather “unique” dining options. Characters like Aleksis are fleshed out in many ways, but my favorite has to be his absolute anger when he realizes he was being blocked by certain visionaries in a text thread on the computer. Small touches like that breathe so much more life into characters that you’re trying to eliminate.
Colt Vahn himself played by Jason Kelley is a loving realized character with fantastic dialogue and passionate performance. As you start to uncover the secrets of Black Reef you get to know Colt more and how he’s connected to the visionaries in surprising, albeit, somewhat predictable ways. Whether you figure out some of these moments earlier or not, the performance that went into each story beat made you feel as shocked as when our characters first discover something.
Welcome to Blackreef
Each day of Deathloop is essentially, well, a loop that repeats every single day: each day is divided between morning, noon, afternoon, and evening. Black Reef itself is broken up into four, vast districts for players to explore but at which time they actually go to these districts matters as well. You could have a nice evening stroll through Updaam, a city-center location, but realize that you’ve walked into a huge party where enemies are either more alert or drunk; going in the morning you can see these same enemies putting together stages for the festivities later in the day.
This change in time of day and the denizens present at those particular moments highlight a gorgeous world crafted by Arkane. From the art style to the visuals and audio design, Deathloop is a gorgeous game in every aspect. Each of the four districts and their time of days have something interesting that sets them apart from each other.
For example, The Complex in the daytime is filled with soldiers and scientists walking around through huge facilities and the grounds outside, but at night time the grounds feel abandoned and quiet, filled with other threats, all covered in a blanket of snow.
Through my playthrough I did notice some frame-drops and inconsistencies in visuals, but nothing that severely hampered my playthrough. In fact, at the time of writing this review, Arkane addressed some of the frame-rate issues with a patch that adds DLSS for the PC version of the game and so much more to make the experience even smoother.
All of this is supported by fantastic sound design and a world that feels lived in with its attention to detail in each room, street, alley and so much more. Speaking of sound design, Deathloop has a fantastic soundtrack including a great original song all of which comes together into a funky, supernatural-fueled James Bond-esque soundtrack.
Please listen to this absolute banger.
While the time of day impacts how each beautiful district looks, it also impacts who’s there as well. Ultimately your mission is to figure out where these visionaries are in each of the four locations, during each time period and somehow eliminate all eight in order to break the loop. Confused yet? Don’t worry!
My rather convoluted explanation of it is avoided when the game guides you through the process with a fantastic mission and clues tracker that allows you to navigate these web of events. In fact, I almost wish it was a tad more difficult to track the many complex events unfolding.
At a point, the game becomes a bit too explanatory going from an intriguing mystery to a checkbox you mark off when you’re in the final run of the game. Another caveat which I wasn’t too thrilled about was the limited ways to do the “final run”. Deathloop is an immersive sim right till the final moments of the game where players are corralled to complete the game not the way you want to want to, but how it’s been dictated.
But don’t let the linearity of the final run of the game fool you: Deathloop is all about choice.
An Assassins Needs
While you’re getting to know the world of Black Reef, it doesn’t hurt to go in well prepared. Much like Dishonored and Prey, Arkane arms players with the ultimate weapon: choice. That’s the beauty of immersive sims: the plethora of choices available players to be armed when going in guns blazing (or not).
Much like Arkane’s previous entries and immersive sims as a whole, Deathloop features a host of ways to be the ultimate hitman, rambo, ghost, or anything in between. The game features a host of weapons that are divided by rarity (your standard grey for common all the way to orange for exotics) and each weapon and its corresponding rarity comes with its own unique flavor.
The Strelak Verso for example is an exotic set of pistols that has something most guns don’t: the ability to go all fusion dance on you and turn into a quick-firing SMG. Weapons can go a step further with trinkets, a mod system that allows you to add things like the ability to reload faster, move faster while aiming down sights and so much more.
Apart from guns, being an Arkane game and all, you have access to a host of supernatural abilities. Like Dishonored, you have access to powers like teleportation, a rage buff that makes you really hard to kill, invisibility, and much more. But there’s a catch: during each “run” during a time period, you can only have two equipped at one time. On top of that, you can only get them when you kill a visionary.
This restriction of abilities in combination with your weapons allows you to craft a unique style built more around necessity than gluttony. These abilities, or “slabs” also come with upgrades that can be obtained by killing the visionary (again) that originally carries it.
Apart from the visionaries you have to target, you’ll be facing off the other crazed citizen of this time-looped island, but don’t worry they’re (unfortunately) not that tough. Deathloops A.I. is not the brightest bunch compared to the enemies you faced in Dishonored or Prey. Enemy behavior is pretty spotty ranging from challenging to downright dumb. Remember that patch I mentioned above? Luckily for new players (and those like me who want to jump back in), the new patch addresses the A.I. issues with varied results.
But what happens if you do end up dying to one of these enemies, bright or not? Well, that sweet exotic sniper rifle you picked up is gone, unless you infuse it with some good ol’ residuum. During a run, you may come across strange, glowing objects that you can absorb for the aforementioned material: between each run, you can use the same material to infuse weapons, items, and slabs that you want to keep between loops. This is a great mechanic for those who don’t want a permadeath style game, but also want a challenge.
My advice? Use your residuum often and without hesitation, or you may just end up losing everything to the lovely (deadly) Julianna Blake.
Protect the Loop
Meet Julianna: deadly, hilarious, and one of the visionaries you’re trying to take out. The only issue is that this one not only fights back, but she also goes on the hunt. At any point on a run, you can be invaded by Julianna that, *surprise*, is controlled by an actual human player! That’s right, Bob420 running around as Julianna just killed you and ruined your entire run and the reason you lost all your loot.
While death can be a frustration it’s not the end: as Colt, you have your own unique slab that allows you to reverse time long (and far away) enough to get a second (and third) shot at a successful run. But Julianna doesn’t leave till all of your days are numbered, but she can also be killed by the player dropping valuable loot and a stack of the always useful residuum.
Note: For those who don’t want to be invaded, you do have the option to turn it off and enjoy your single-player experience but with an A.I. Julianna.
If you’re tired of trying to break the loop (or you’re done the game and want to ruin your friend’s night), jump into Julianna’s shoes and invade players! This has been a surprising feature that I thought I wouldn’t use much, but have been quite frequently (just unsuccessfully because I suck apparently). Julianna’s items and costumes are an entirely different progression system that you can unlock by going up in hunter ranks. This is a fun mode that deserves at least a chance to run around Julianna, another wonderful character lovingly brought to life by the talented Ozioma Akagha.
What else can I say about Deathloop that I already haven’t over the course of this nearly 2,000-word (I’m so sorry, editors) review? Arkane is at the top of their game with Deathloop, a devilishly clever, confident immersive sim that pushes players to utilize their creativity and invites them to an interesting world to explore and experiment went.
Deathloop is Arkane at its most creative and boldest and have given us something quite unique: they’ve also given us a game of the year contender and my favorite game thus far.
- Incredible world brimming with character and style
- Immense level of choice that rewards player freedom
- Visually stunning with amazing sound design
- Enemy A.I. aren't the brightest
- Inconsistent frame-rate (patch issued)
- Ending "run" could use more variations