Deathloop Review (Xbox Series X)

Deathloop Review: Prepare To Die

 

Deathloop

It almost feels strange sitting down to write a review for Deathloop in September, 2022. Having originally released for the PS5 a year ago, Deathloop was a bit of an anomaly in that despite technically being developed by a studio that was, by that stage, under the Microsoft umbrella, it was a title that had to release on Sony’s platform first due to contractual obligations that needed to be honored. So here we are then, a year later, and Arkane’s classic has finally hit Microsoft systems, and, with that in mind, we decided to jump back into the Isle of Blackreef for a bit of a refresher on the joys of Deathloop. Spoiler alert – it’s still friggin awesome!

 

Groundhog Day

 

Deathloop

Set on an island named Blackreef, protagonist Cole Vaun finds himself waking up on a small beach, with no recollection of how he got there, or where he even is for that matter. After a bit of digging around, Cole, being guided over a radio by the mysterious Julianna, winds up dead, only to find himself washed up on the same beach on the same day all over again. Our friend Cole, it seems, is stuck in a time loop, a loop which he realizes must be broken by taking out the eight mysterious Visionaries who appear to be heading up the secretive experiment that Cole has found himself caught up in. Making this a whole lot trickier? The fact that all eight Visionaries need to be taken out in this one single day that Cole finds himself trapped, with each of them having their own dedicated routine that needs to be manipulated until the perfect string of assassinations is lined up.

 

Truly Unique

 

A year removed from its launch, Deathloop’s creativity and overarching structure still leave me in awe. See, Blackreef consists of four separate regions, with the Visionaries all occupying various areas at differing times of the day. Rarely (if ever in the early going), do the Visionaries ever cross paths, and so it becomes clear, with immediate effect, that it’s going to take a lot of scheming and interference if Cole is to stand any chance of carrying out his objective.

After a couple of short tutorial sections, the freedom offered to the player can be initially overwhelming. With Cole free to investigate any region, subject to having enough time left in the day, it can be tough to know where to start. Adding further to the confusion is that should Cole die, he’s right back to the beginning of the day, the loop and its targets having been reset, and any equipment or weapons that were accumulated having been returned to their original locations. In truth, the opening couple of hours of Deathloop can feel like a bit of an aimless roguelike.

Dig a bit deeper, though, and the beauty of Deathloop’s myriad systems soon reveals itself. Knowledge is power in Deathloop , and after your first few unsuccessful tours through Blackreef, you’ll start amassing a wealth of knowledge that can be used to alter the behavior of each Visionary so that they start showing up in different locations at different times, giving you access to new areas, and, most importantly, it becomes clear that certain actions will cause the Visionaries to start spending more time in the same regions This allows you to take a couple of them out without having to travel to another area, wasting precious time that could be spent better mopping up clues and information on targets in other regions.

Despite this being my second tour of Blackreef, the way in which the Visionaries can be manipulated is no less impressive the second time around. Even more impressive is that despite the wealth of options available at any given moment, Arkane has set things up so that everything is expertly tracked in your menu. Clues, information, and anything else that can be used to manipulate your enemies are all tracked neatly as objectives in your menu, as are suggestions as to what your next steps should be. During the original launch, this objective system didn’t sit well with some, with Arkanebeing accused of handholding and simplifying the freedom that was usually a huge feature of their games. And, I can sympathize with those arguments to a certain degree. However, so wide in scope and ambition is Deathloop, that I think had they not offered this level of assistance, the concept simply wouldn’t work.

 

Fresh, Yet Familiar

 

Whilst Deathloop’s overarching structure is like nothing else I’ve played, the moment-to-moment gameplay will feel very familiar to anyone who has spent time with the Dishonoured series. Each region, much like the intricate maze-like levels from Dishonoured, is a sprawling web of various means by which you can approach each target. Sneaking across rooftops or through tunnels underneath the island, to engaging with the more spectacular set-piece style assassination opportunities that present themselves upon manipulating a Visionary in a certain way, Deathloop’s level design feels like the nigh-on-perfect culmination of the years’ worth of lessons learned by Arkane.

And, whilst you can go pure stealth, as I suspect many Dishonoured fans will do given how many of the special abilities that cater to stealth carryover from that series, refreshingly, going full-on gun-toting maniac is also an option here as well. Ranged weapons feel great in Deathloop, something I was never able to say about my time with Dishonoured, and once you hit the point where you can spend currency to keep your loadout upon death, going loud becomes a hell of a lot of fun, with shotgunning everything in sight whilst blinking between rooftops becoming my favorite way of clearing a region all over again.

 

Dodgy AI, Nailbiting PvP

 

Deathloop

If there is one area that I think Deathloop lets itself down, it’s in the AI department. This isn’t so much of an issue at the outset, as you’re learning the ropes, and each of the four regions still feels fresh and unfamiliar. Still, once you become familiar with enemy layouts and the way in which a region fits together, it becomes woefully easy to carry out any given objective. Enemies will stop searching for Cole in the blink of an eye once alerted and are pretty inept when it comes to engaging in ranged combat. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t break the immersion somewhat towards the endgame, especially as by that stage, you’re running with a souped-up version of Cole with maxed abilities and a full suite of rare weaponry.

The same can be said for Julianna’s AI, who invades Cole’s loop from time to time. She can be prone to just hanging around awkwardly in the open, free for the player to pick off from a distance, and never really goes to any lengths to try and outsmart Cole, which is disappointing given how thrilling the invasion encounters with Julianna initially seem.

Helping alleviate the poor AI somewhat is the PvP portion of the game, which, if enabled, can see your loop invaded by a player-controlled Julianna instead of the gormless AI. These PvP battles provide some of Deathloop’s finest moments, and even a year after having first played it, realizing that I had been invaded just at the moment that I was about to take out my mark never failed to provide me with goosebumps.

 

Conclusion

 

Deathloop remains Arkane’sbest work, and it’s fantastic that Xbox players can finally get in on Cole’s deadly groundhog day. Its unique structure and sheer scope, coupled with the signature Arkane gameplay that has been polished to within an inch of its life, feels like the work of a developer finally fully realizing a vision that began many years ago with the original Dishonoured. Despite the lacking AI, Deathloop is a modern-day classic that should not be overlooked by anyone, something that should hopefully now be made easier by having its audience extended to the Xbox.


Final Verdict: 4.5/5

Available on: Xbox Series X/S (reviewed) PS, PC; Publisher: Bethesda Softworks; Developer: Arkane Studios; Players: 1-2 (online); Released: September 20, 2022; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $59.99 (Also available via Game Pass)

Full Disclosure: A review copy was provided to Hey Poor Player.

Shane Boyle
Shane's passion for gaming began many moons ago upon receiving his first console, Sega's Master System. These days, he games across a variety of systems, though he primarily sticks to his PlayStation 5 and Series X. Despite enjoying a wide variety of genres, he has a huge soft spot for RPGs, both Western and Japanese, whilst also being a self-professed Destiny 2 addict. Outside of gaming, Shane enjoys live music (as long as it's rock or metal!) and going to stand-up comedy shows, and is also Father to a little boy who he hopes will one day be raiding alongside him in Destiny!

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