Round and round and round we go…
In game dev, the term “core loop” is thrown around to refer to the repetitive actions that players will do over and over again in a seemingly never-ending cycle of (hopefully) fun. Kill enemies, gain treasure, level up, next level — lather, rinse, repeat. But what happens when a game developer takes the word “loop” quite literally? As in, players are stuck in an endless loop with no other path in sight? Can that be designed in such a way that it’s not only fun, but new, fresh, and rewarding? What would that even look like?
Turns out, it looks like Loop Hero, the pixel art rogue-like where players play half-passively yet become completely addicted. Developed by Russian-based dev team Four Quarters and published by the infamous indie publishing powerhouse Devolver Digital, Loop Hero touts itself on its Steam page as an “infinite adventure” with the promise that no two expeditions will be alike. With a slated release date of “TBD 2021,” Loop Hero remains a highly mysterious, hotly anticipated rogue-like this year. Of course, we’ve heard such boasts from plenty of rogue-likes this year; does Loop Hero do enough to set itself apart from the rest? Long preview short: absolutely!
The premise of Loop Hero teases a deep lore summed up succinctly: the Lich has plunged a medieval world into a timeless loop, its inhabitants lost in a never-ending chaos. Only you, a lone hero, remember that something isn’t right with the world; by continuing on this circular path of chaos and darkness, you can slay enemies to gather helpful equipment and mystical cards that will slowly piece together the missing fragments that once defined these lands. Are you strong enough to enter the ever-changing circuit to restore your home, gather your people, and claim your memories from the Lich?
So how does this translate into gameplay? Simple — players will take on the role of the hero who walks automatically around a track, only stopping to battle or if the player pauses to plan. There’s no controlling the hero as to where he walks, when he battles, who he takes aim at, or when he heals. What the player can control are indirect things like weapons and equipment, perks, when (if ever) to eject back to base, and where to place collected cards on the empty space surrounding the loop. With that taken into account, Loop Hero may seem like an idle or passive game, but it only takes a loop or two to be absolutely hooked by the addicting gameplay.
What makes Loop Hero so addicting is the strategy players slowly learn on this endless circuit. With limited space on the hero’s path, players are supposed to place enemy nests or helpful facilities in his way. This may seem counter intuitive, but the more placed on the path, the more our hero remembers, which lures the Lich out from whence he came to do battle with our hero, trying to finish him off (hopefully) in vain. The first few attempts will be spent fumbling around, learning the hard way which cards are best placed where; over time, players will learn the ins and outs to get a little bit farther, eventually defeating the Lich and restoring the world to its rightful state.
The experience of playing Loop Hero in terms of controls, UI, and player expectations is an absolute triumph. Every last detail is made with the player in mind from first run-through to later levels. Obviously point and click controls are simple enough on their own, but how information is not only conveyed but how the player takes it in was taken into consideration. For example, if the game is running and I’m comparing stats on items, the game self-pauses so I can make decisions in the heat of the moment without missing anything. Only pertinent information is shown, dense enough for me to be able to find everything I need in one place while still being able to read a decent-sized block of text in one place. Make no mistake — other developers will be taking note of what was achieved here.
Loop Hero’s aesthetics must of course be mentioned as well — fans of both the pixel art look and the retro feel will be elated with the sights and sounds of Loop Hero. There seems to be at least three different styles in Loop Hero — the Atari-like sprites on the loop map almost feel misleadingly simple, giving the impression that a loop might be able to be played in the background or completed quickly. The campsite/base area is highly reminiscent of the first Civilization-era games, something I remember fondly staring at for hours. Finally, the characters themselves when speaking to each other have such depth and shading to them, their beauty absolutely mesmerizing. And the music! Perfectly atmospheric in that nostalgic way with just enough to make it feel new. Visually and audibly, Loop Hero is a charming ode to the classics with a fresh vibe.
If I have one suggestion for the developer at this time, it’s to possibly list out the specific resources dropped by enemies, landscapes, facilities, etc. I would love to be able to build out my base in a more timely fashion and feel like it would happen naturally anyway, but to know which cards to keep in my deck would be of immense help, as some enemies I would rather not fight as a baseline but would be more inclined to do so if I knew what they dropped. Other than that, I am absolutely ready for Loop Hero’s Steam release and await with bated breath to see the finished product.
Be sure to Wishlist Loop Hero on Steam today!