Deathloop Hands-Off Preview

May 21, 2021

For the better part of a decade, Arkane Lyon has largely been known as the Dishonored Studio. While they also assisted with development on the forgettable Wolfenstein: Youngblood, their bread and butter has been in the stealth-oriented Dishonored franchise. Now, for the first time in an age, they’re shifting scope to a new IP, Deathloop. Releasing in September exclusively for the PlayStation 5, Deathloop looks to continue the stylish action we’ve grown used to from Arkane Lyon. There’s been a little confusion on just what structure the game will take, but after having the opportunity to take part in a hands-off preview opportunity, I feel like I know just what form the game will take; and that form has me excited.

The gameplay demo I was shown of the game covered the beginning of the game, before jumping forwards a bit, giving me a good glimpse of what to expect from the end product. While I can’t go into too much detail on the story, the demo began with Colt waking up with amnesia, with no idea who or where he is. This serves as part of the game’s opening tutorial, meshing seemingly seamlessly with the world to create an opening that looked to be both informative and interesting.

One thing that stuck with me through the story segments of the demo were just how chatty Colt and the other inhabitants of Blackreef were. I’m used to a lot of first person games having their protagonists remain relatively silent for large swathes of action, but Colt was quipping and commenting on what happened around him frequently. Couple this with enemies having conversations between themselves, just go about their lives as normal (which largely involves attempting to murder Colt), and the world felt lived in, leaving me desperate to explore it for myself.

The main thrust of Deathloop comes in the form of its Groundhog Day-esque looping day. Don’t expect the game to be a roguelike though, as game director Dinga Bakaba spoke to their emphasis the game’s story campaign. A loop in Deathloop refers to the full day on Blackreef, which is broken into four locations and times of day the the eight Visionaries move between. While you can definitely die and end your loop, or even end it prematurely if you so decide, it isn’t a linear progression like what you normally see in roguelike games. Instead, the goal here is to complete missions and explore locations in different orders and times of day, gradually learning more about the Visionaries and the specific actions to take and order to perform them in to murder them all and break the loop. It sounds like more of a puzzle that you gradually learn the solution to through repeated loops and completing missions, as opposed to simply bashing your enemies down as you gradually grow in strength. There’s also no time limit, so you’re free to explore to your hearts content in a loop.

As you solve the puzzle, you’ll do a few different things – kill Visionaries to unlock their Slabs (Colt’s very Dishonored-esque abilities), collect Residium to unlock benefits for future loops and gain as much knowledge as you can. Visionaries are the cream of the crop on Blackreef, the elite who effectively rule those below them and therefore have special abilities. Killing a Visionary allows you to unlock a new Slab, which can then be utilised in future loops. You’ll also gradually find and unlock new weapons and trinkets, which can be used along with Slabs to create a personalised loadout for each loop. Beyond combat, which can be completed by going into encounters loudly or quietly, you’ll need to collect intel to learn all you can about your targets. This can include listening in on conversations between Blackreef residents, finding documents in the world and more. The intel collection aspect, tying into the larger puzzle, feels like one of the more unique aspects of the game.

In combat, it looks like Colt has one hell of an array of weapons and abilities at his disposal. Shotguns, machine guns and automatic pistols were some of the more standard weapons I saw, but there were plenty of weird weapons as well, such as a nail gun that was perfect for stealthily killing enemies from a distance. You’re also able to chain Colt’s abilities together, like linking enemies together and then throwing them off a cliff. There was a dynamism to combat that was fun to see and has me excited to play the game myself. Get close enough to a mission objective and audio que kicks in notifying you that the strongest enemy has entered the field- Julianna. Julianna’s sole purpose is to hunt you down and she can be controlled by AI or another player (be that a friend or a random player online). It was mentioned that creative kills as Julianna will be rewarded, although I didn’t see an example of that during the demo. Also confirmed was Julianna’s own fallibility, with Colt finding special rewards himself if he is able to kill her during a mission. This also means that she isn’t an ever present threat in game, allowing you to spend large patches of time without worrying about the looming spectre of death.

Visually, the build of Deathloop I saw was running on a PlayStation 5 and looked just as stylish as the early trailers for the game. The 60s retro-futuristic style looks to have been absolutely nailed, with art director Sébastien Mitton mentioning that this was his dream style for a video game. The weapons looked interesting and some were pretty weird looking, while the visual effects linked to Colt’s abilities were great. Animations seemed extremely fluid in motion, which was another great thing to see given the speed that combat can sometimes reach here.

Overall, the glimpse I got of Deathloop has me extremely excited for the future of the game. I got a better understanding of just what the game is, something that wasn’t made too clear from previous trailers, with the structure and emphasis on exploration and knowledge specifically interesting parts for me. There’s still a ways to go before the game releases in September, and now I’m more eagerly awaiting that release than ever.

Deahtloop releases for PC and PlayStation 5 on September 14th. For more information, check the official website.