Heroics on Loop
Imagine everything you know just disappearing — your home, your family, your friends, your cat… everything. Now imagine your memories of these treasured people and things disappearing along with them. How would you know they’ve gone missing? How would you figure out what it means to fight for them? And, once you do remember them… how would you even bring them back? These are the questions Loop Hero aims to answer in a fantasy pixel art setting full of action, adventure, mystery, and more.
Developed by Russian dev team Four Quarters and published by Devolver Digital, Loop Hero is available on Steam for $14.99 (with an introductory price of $12.74). The game’s Steam page invites players to “wield an expanding deck of mystical cards to place enemies, buildings, and terrain along each unique expedition loop for the brave hero,” in this roguelike adventure with some card-based mechanics intertwined with passively emergent elements. Its simple premise hides deeply addictive gameplay that will surely please any gamer with varying familiarity with the genre; those unconvinced are more than welcome to take the demo for a test loop to try it out for themselves.
Players will take on the role of a brave hero as he strives to defeat the Lich King and put the world back in its proper place. As he tries to make sense of the world after its destruction, he traverses the only path available to him, which loops indefinitely. Full of low level monsters at first, the hero finds battling the enemies relatively simple; as he completes each loop, the monsters get tougher and more populous along the path. The hero will hopefully get tougher as well — by picking up equipment the monsters have dropped, such as shields, weapons, armor, rings, and more, the hero can gear up to defeat all who stand in his way and make his way back to the refugees waiting for him, ready to assist him in the next loop to defeat the Lich King and get back to normal.
Equipment isn’t the only thing dropped by monsters in Loop Hero; the enemies will also drop cards that are used to dictate the battlefield on which the hero must fight. Placing a spooky graveyard will cause skeletal fiends to populate the path, while haunted mansions will yield vampire lords waiting to suck the hero’s blood. It sounds counter-intuitive to place cards on the path, but it’s how the hero progresses — after all, this is key to piecing the world back together, warts and all. After a certain amount of cards are placed on the field, the level’s boss is summoned, with hope in the hero’s heart that he can defeat the evil before him.
If it sounds like I’ve been speaking about Loop Hero’s protagonist passively, that’s because it’s intentional — players don’t really control the hero, rather his environment. Once the hero starts moving on the endless circuit, he won’t stop until he heads back for base camp, either victoriously or licking his wounds. He takes every step himself, fights all manner of foul fiends and creatures on his own, and even takes on quests villagers give him without player input. What the player does control are the armaments he equips, the environment he traverses, and the skills he can learn each round after leveling up. It’d be easy to think this passive, emergent gameplay would be boring, but it ends up being really enjoyable because there’s still so much to do while he traipses across the screen. Equipping found items and placing cards in optimal locations ends up becoming the player’s core loop while the hero makes loops of his own; no need to try to keep up with the hero, either, as players can pause his actions while working on their part.
Although I had a lot of fun with Loop Hero, I think there were two areas that needed improvement: the resource collecting and base camp area. Every time I got my ass handed to me by a boss or band of goblins, I’d dump the resources I’d collected into the base camp area and look up the facility tree to see what I could build. Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear exactly which enemies dropped specific resources, and the resources themselves were hard to identify, so I would never remember exactly what I’d be missing or even how to look for them. This makes progression rather slow, as some of the base camp buildings are pretty much necessary since they give boons that toughen up the hero enough to survive the later loops. Additionally, when placing the buildings it wasn’t clear what was the best orientation for the facility until it was already on the map and therefore too late to really optimize. If these two areas of gameplay were better explained and less disjointed from the main loop, I daresay Loop Hero would be a ground-breaking, near-perfect game; if the dev team can figure out how to better communicate these mechanics to players in future updates, I can absolutely see this being an addictive addition to the rogue-like genre that will please both newbies and veterans for years to come.
Loop Hero is a fascinating roguelike that will excite fans of the genre and entice those burned out by it to come back and fall in love all over again. Its beautiful art style and addictive core loop will cause players to lose track of time, not realizing hours have passed between loops as they slay the day away. Loop Hero could use a few tweaks to make certain aspects more understandable, but in its current state, it is absolutely worth your time and money. Still unconvinced? Download the Loop Hero demo from the game’s Steam page. Don’t make me keep talking in circles — be sure to check out Loop Hero as soon as possible!
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Devolver Digital; Developer: Four Quarters; Players: 1; Released: March 4, 2021; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Loop Hero provided by the publisher.