Returnal combines the roguelike genre with that of a third-person shooter, throwing in a time-loop plot that will have Selene die, awaken, and repeat runs over and over until she uncovers the mysteries of the strange alien planet on which she has crash-landed.
It's not easy to get into, so read on for some useful help before you get going!
Getting to grips with roguelikes
The roguelike genre has blown up in recent years, becoming one of the most popular used in new titles. From Darkest Dungeon to global smash hit Hades, they're almost all linked by a common theme — repeating runs over and over until you achieve mastery.
Usually, they also come with an autosave function, that doesn't allow you to load your saves in order to game the system. Roguelikes are often associated with difficulty and frequent death, and incremental improvement with each run.
In Returnal, this doesn't necessarily mean you lose everything — some items and upgrades carry on to new saves, helping you make progress with each attempt.
It's important not to rush through the game, as it's full of traps. Studying your terrain can be the difference between surviving and falling into a vacuum, water, or running headfirst into a laser.
Trying to maintain a high level of adrenaline tends to pay off well, too.
Make every death count
Even if you're exceptionally good at the game, death is an inevitibility. Pay attention to the following should you wish to make progress with your next run.
Ether is the main resource in Returnal, and carries over from one run to the next. It can be spent on buffs that last a single run, getting hold of Obolite, and unlocking the ability to respawn without losing your current loadout.
Finding it is quite random, so we recommend that you only use it to unlock new artifacts and to take advantage of the Reconstructor. There's little use to cleansing items you find of their malfunctions.
Permanent items and upgrades
Some items in Returnal are permanent and carry over with each run. These include:
- the Xeno-Tech Prism, which grants an additional Consumable slot;
- the Atropian Weapon Charger, which grants alt-fire mode to weapons;
- the Atropian Blade, which unlocks a melee attack and allows you to cut through environmental features such as vines;
- the Delphic Visor, allowing you to see invisible orbs that open up hidden platforms;
- Hadal Ballasts, which allow Selene to explore underwater;
- the Hermetic Transmitter, which allows you to use Translocators;
- the Icarian Grapnel, which will allow you to reach previously inaccessible areas;
- Promethean Insulators, which allow to to traverse the otherwise harmful red pools;
- Xenoglyph Ciphers, which unlock translation tiers;
- any Keys you find, such as Crimson, House and Fractured;
- Any Sunface Fragments you find;
- Ether, the currency described above.
Should you feel like you're close to death, try aiming for the next story item rather than continuing to explore dangerous nooks and crannies.
Weapon Traits are found on some weapons, and are special abilities you can earn progress towards. Equipping a weapon and using it for a set period of time will eventually unlock that ability permanently. Any future weapons in that category will automatically have this Trait, as well as a second to unlock.
It might be a good idea to change weapons often in order to unlock as many traits as possible, as they will come in useful in the long run. Also, be mindful that there can be two different variants of the same weapon, so you might not see the unlocked traits when you pick up a weapon on your next run.
When you find Data Cubes, returning them to a Data Cube Processor will allow you to unlock whatever is contained within — weapons, consumables and artifacts — that were previously unobtainable.
When you unlock a datacube, its contents will then become available randomly in subsequent runs.
Oh, and be mindful — you can only carry one data cube at a time. Processors are found in the same locations within a biome, so memorize their locations and make a point of heading there as soon as you pick a cube up.
You can exit almost any room, even after enemies appear. There are a few notable exceptions, including yellow-door rooms and some that contain mini-bosses.
Don't hesitate to flee if the situation heats up too much — and then use the door to your advantage. Enter, strafe a little, then back out into the previous room to keep chipping away.
In many cases, this will also enable you to run across the room to reach the next.
Based on our runs, we think the Electropylon Driver is currently the most powerful once unlocked. We'd recommend you equip it as soon as you come across it, although we expect a nerf at some point.
The Atropian Blade, coupled with the Blade Balancer artifact, can be used to break the red barriers you find around turrets — not to mention deal significant damage.
Manage your resources well, and learn to backtrack to restock
Unlike the majority of roguelikes, Returnal allows you to explore without constraint. Nothing prevents you from returning to previous rooms to pick up items you didn't need at the time.
A few obvious examples are weapons, healing items, and consumables, but this includes returning to spend your Obolite on fabricators. It's especially prudent to retreat in order to unlock equipment such as the Atropian Blade or Icarian Grapnel, so you can access previously blocked sections of previous rooms.
Naturally, this doesn't exempt you from thoroughly searching each room. There are items in corners, and even secrets to uncover.
Also, taking the optional exits (blue or yellow doors) is dangerous, but often very profitable. Remember that you can take a look after opening a door, without committing to moving forward, to see what kind of danger lurks.
If it's a large, empty room you can be pretty sure there'll be tons of enemies or even a mini-boss. Smaller rooms usually come with less risk.
In your runs you'll come across items and chests surrounded by a purple aura. These are malignant, and interacting with them can cause malfunctions in Selene's suit — acting as debuffs.
They can be mild, such as increasing a cooldown, or absolutely devastating, such as disabling a feature entirely.
It is important to know that you should never have more than two malfunctions at any one time, as picking up another will be critical.
It could lead to the destruction of the keys, Malignant Resins or worse — artifacts already in your possession, meaning your entire build could come crashing down.
Similarly, parasites are creatures that latch onto you and give you both a buff and a debuff at the same time. This could be increasing damage, but reducing healing, for example.
Managing parasites well can lead to fantastic boons on your runs, but be mindful to remove parasites at certain stations should your build need changing.
Some consumables allow you to automatically remove all malfunctions or parasites and keep them for later.
Take down the bosses
Before facing a boss, it's naturally best to be as prepared as possible. That usually means:
- having maximum life and to have healed as much as possible;
- having a good weapon (the Electropylon Driver is one of the best at the moment);
- having good consumables, such as Large Silphium;
- not being afflicted by debilitating malfunctions or parasites.
Exchanging Obolite for healing items and artifacts at a fabricator is recommended if you're feeling a little underpowered. Some weapons and parasites also allow you to recover life, and can prove useful.
Keep hold of as many safety nets as possible, whether a parasite that sacrifies itself for you, the Astronaut Figurine, or enough Ether (six) to use the Reconstructor.
This way, you'll have the luxury of being able to die to the boss without having to start the cycle all over again.
Almost all bosses can be taken on the same way — shoot sideways, and dash regularly to dodge projectiles or melee attacks. Remember to jump over the rings if necessary.
It may also be a good idea to lower the camera a bit during some fights so you can see projectiles coming from above.
In any case, you should never be still and you should always shoot. Put survival first.
Good luck in your adventures in Returnal!
Completing Returnal for the first time doesn’t mean it’s over – you’ll have to collect the secrets required to unlock the alternate ending, so that Selene can escape the cycle.