Loop Hero Preview: An Addictive Existential Nightmare

Describing Loop Hero is complicated because it feels like so many genres smashed together. If I had to sum it up, it’s like an idle game mixed with a roguelike along with elements of real-time strategy, turn-based RPG battles, card-collecting, resource management, and base-building. It’s a bizarre concoction, which makes sense since it’s coming from the masters of publishing uniquely bizarre titles, Devolver Digital.

Also, I’m pretty sure I love it.

The story of Loop Hero is more existentially horrifying than I was expecting. Your hero character awakens to a world that’s been completely erased. Not just destroyed or ruined. Everything is just gone. All that’s left is you, some monsters, near-endless darkness, and a lone circular path of land (a loop if you will.) You have nothing to do but wander around this stretch of wasteland and try to recover whatever you can of the world that once existed. It’s quite eerie.

You spend your time in Loop Hero either going on expeditions around the loop or building up your campsite. Battles look like classic Final Fantasy-style JRPG fights with turn-based combat. Except instead of controlling your character and deciding their actions, they move completely on their own. You have no agency over who they attack or how they attack. They just continue around the loop and attack whatever or whoever they want. But that’s ok since combat is the least interesting part of this game. The actual gameplay is more focused on strategy and decision-making about your character’s gear and the way that the world is rebuilt around you.

As you circle around the loop you’re constantly gathering new weapons and gear. Each piece of equipment gives you different stat bonuses. There’s the standard attack, defense, and max HP stats, but there’s also vampirism, life regen, critical damage, attack speed, and so on. You have to manage your gear and decide which stats will be the most effective in ensuring your survival. The enemies you encounter will get stronger every time you pass your campfire, so you have to make sure your hero can handle the challenges ahead.

So, how do you rebuild the world? During the loop, you’ll also receive various cards that can be played. You can pause your hero’s movement to go into a planning phase and place them on the board. Once you use a card a new location will pop up that will have unique effects on your character.

For example, playing the grove card will create a small wooded area on the loop that spawns a wolf for you to fight. While adding tougher enemies to the loop seems counterintuitive, it’s necessary since crossing over certain spaces will give you resources that you’ll need to build up your base. There are also other cards that will give you buffs although they usually have a downside. The rock card will place rocks or mountains around the loop that increase your maximum health, but if you put too many of them down a goblin camp will appear. And trust me, the goblins suck.

This leads to you having to make tough decisions about what cards to play and what spaces to create. You may need some stone to help craft a watchtower, but that means creating a cemetery that spawns skeletons. You might want to lay down some desert cards to reduce the HP of your enemies, but it reduces your HP as well. There are quite a few different cards that all have negative and positive sides to them, so you have to figure out which ones work best for you.

As for the resources that you’ll gather while out on the loop, they’ll be used for building structures around your campsite. You start out with a small bonfire that heals a bit of your health, but eventually, you’ll be building farms, taverns, watchtowers, and other pieces of the environment. Creating these structures affect your character in different ways. Some of them will unlock new cards to play during your expeditions, while others will unlock entirely new gameplay mechanics such as the ability to craft jewelry or brew potions. Some buildings even unlock new playable classes such as the Rogue.

I was initially skeptical that this kind of gameplay loop would be able to hold my attention for long. Well, after having put about 20 hours into this thing I can safely say it’s highly addictive. The strategy of placing the right locations in the right places while selecting the proper weapons and armor to survive the battles is remarkably satisfying. It takes a bit to get the hang of things, but soon I had figured out which stats I cared about and what locations yielded the best rewards and resources.

There’s also a risk and reward element to Loop Hero as you can choose to retreat back to camp. Doing so lets you keep all your resources, but it ends your run and you lose all the gear you’ve accrued. However, if you die while out on the loop you lose a majority of the resources you’ve gathered. It’s almost like gambling as each loop gets tougher and tougher and you find yourself saying, “can I handle one more run around, or should I cash out with what I’ve got?”

There a few things in Loop Hero that could use a little tuning up. The game doesn’t explain how everything works, so you have to experiment with some cards and stats to see what they do. There are two stats for summoning skeletons that involve the skeleton level and the skeleton quality. I’m still not sure which of these is more important or how they differ. Considering that this game has its own encyclopedia, I wouldn’t mind if a section that covers gameplay mechanics and gives a little more details about how certain things function was added.

Like a lot of games with roguelike elements, Loop Hero is beholden to the fickle gods of RNG. There have been runs where I had amazing gear and powerful perks and runs where I had nothing but trash and perks that were borderline useless. That’s not a dealbreaker, but when you’re halfway into a loop and you realize that your current build is not going to be enough to survive the upcoming battles with vampires and giant spiders it can be pretty disheartening.

It’s not hard to see why this game was given the prestigious Devolver Digital Game Of The Year award. This is currently the alpha build of the game and I’ve already played a ton of it. I find myself loading it up at least once a day just to do a couple of runs. Even in its current state, this feels fantastic and practically ready to go as is (minus the couple of times it crashed on me, which is something that hopefully doesn’t happen once it’s finished.) I’m looking forward to the full release of Loop Hero as it could wind up being one of the sleeper indie hits of 2021.

NEXT: The Incredible Saga Of Devolver Digital’s E3 Presentations

  • Game Previews
  • Devolver Digital

Jamie Latour is a writer and actor based out of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. From his hyperactive childhood to his….Well, still hyperactive adulthood, he’s been writing and performing in some capacity for practically his entire life. His love for video games goes all the way back to the age of 4, playing Mega Man 3 for the first time on his NES. He’s an avid gamer and can be found nowadays either messing around in Red Dead 2, or being cheap as can be as Reaper in Overwatch. He’s still starting out when it comes to making online content, but aside from his writing he can found on his Twitch page under the handle SpontaneousJames. You can also find him on social media as @SpontaneousJam on Twitter (because Spontaneous James was too long apparently).

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