Is Returnal Worth It? Gameplay Review

Is Returnal worth it? Gameplay Review

Returnal is a rogue-like game with a high-risk high-reward situation in which a single mistake can cost hours of progression making you wonder, Is Returnal worth it? Well, there is more to the game than just rouge-like gameplay. It is an action-packed game that has a difficulty somewhat similar to souls-like games. The basic concepts of platforming, mystery, shooter, and storytelling are there. It borrows these concepts but yet the execution is different. Returnal integrates all these concepts in the story to make it more appealing to players. Every aspect of it will try to keep you in the game for as long as possible.

It is challenging yet fun at the same time. Survival is an important part of the game and it wants you to survive despite throwing you in difficult situations. Returnal encourages you to take risks for better rewards. Even though the risks are high in the aggressive play-through, the reward is also good. Enemies produce sparkling effects through their attacks. Their attacks are as dangerous as they are beautiful so don’t get fool by them. The combination of action, story, and rouge-like mechanics makes it a refreshing experience. Players can lose hours of progression when they die and this dread keeps them motivated to do their best.

The random environmental generation and rouge-like gameplay do not sit well with each other. It is a difficult game and the lack of a save feature makes it even harder. Returnal requires time from players due to its long session and completing these sessions gives you a sense of achievement making you wonder, Is Returnal worth it? Let’s find out.

Premise of Returnal

Returnal takes place on an alien planet called Atropos. Players take control of Selene Vassos who is an astronaut that has landed on the Astropot in search of a strange signal that is broadcasting from it. During the landing, her ship crashes on the planet this is how the game starts. Every loop starts from the ship crash and the game resets at the exact point. When Selene dies she will return back to the moment of the crash and the loop will begin.

Selene’s quest revolve around breaking the loop that she has been stuck in. During this quest, she starts to make strange discoveries. Selene also finds the bodies of her former self from the previous cycles. These discoveries will slowly lift the veil and reveal what’s happening to her. Some of the mysteries need exploration and won’t be solved even after the story is complete. So the story of the game has repeatability value.

When you start from the crash you will lose most of the items you have and will only retain a few of the upgrades. There are two in-game currencies and death will only leave you with one of these two. Everything else you pick up including weapons, consumables, and even artifacts that provide upgrades would disappear upon death.  Dying sends you to the beginning of the loop in all of the aspects making you wonder Is Returnal worth it? Well, there is more.

Planet Atropos

As mentioned earlier, the game takes place on a planet called Atropos. The planet changes with every loop even though the level remains the same. New paths can appear that were previously not available. The main section would remain the same even if it looks a little different but branching paths can be different. Each loop changes the map drastically despite revolving around a core structure. A loop might open the new optional locations that were not available before. The order of the map will keep on changing which presents a new experience each time.

There are 6 different environments in the game and each of these environments has a different core structure. So there are 6 maps in the game that keeps on changing to present a new experience each time. Every atmosphere is rich with good art design and looks good on the PlayStation 5. The game shows different art designs through the environment and creatures. Different environments have different creatures and they act according to their surroundings. Depending on the surrounding enemies would react differently even if they are in the same environment.

Loops not only rest you but everything in the game as well, forcing you to think on your feet. The game has rich surroundings with a detailed structure of the environment. The constant changes in the environment make it even better. Is Returnal worth it for you based on the setting? Well, there is more.

Returnal is Brutal

Returnal has amazing combat that and it is one of the best aspects of the game. Combat sits in perfect integration with the rouge-like mechanics making it an amazing experience. The combat is difficult and you can even compare it to souls-like games. However, in reality, the combat is not as hard as it might seem but rouge-like mechanics make it hard. In a souls-like game, there are save points but that’s not the case with Returnal making it harder. You have to play longer sessions to progress in the game and a single mistake could send you back to the beginning. The high stake combat makes it as much harder as a souls-like game if not more. Despite its difficult nature, it is still fun if you don’t mind playing challenging games.


Combat of Returnal is brutal as mentioned earlier. Enemies would attack you from all directions. All enemies throw glowing colorful projectiles at you. The number and type of projectiles that enemies throw are different for each enemy type. The path and form that these projectiles take vary depending on the enemy throwing them. In intense combat scenarios, the screen can sometimes be full of enemy attacks leaving little room for you to avoid getting hit. You have to acts quickly or the projectiles will hit you.

Enemies would sometimes throw projectiles at your face, unlike other combat-driven games. Good reflexes can help you a great deal during combat. Sometimes it is too much to keep up with all the attacks that the enemies are throwing at you. Some enemies would even throw energy layers at you blocking the path both horizontally and vertically. Split-second decisions along with hit and run tactics are the perfect way to dominate the combat. Is Returnal worth it? For its intense combat. There is more to combat than this.

General Aspects of The Combat

There is no waste of resources in the game, picking up health at max health will increase the max health capacity. Traits are locked and can only be unlocked through kills as you level up weapons. You can pick weapons with better stats and traits in exchange for another weapon. Part of the advantage that weapons offers also depends on items in your possession that can complement the stats and traits of weapons. Certain traits work best with certain skills as they complement each other’s abilities. There is no ammo but there is still reload system that works similar to Gears 5. In intense combat scenarios, you might not be able to do a perfect reload. It is better to wait for the perfect chance of reloading than to take a shot.

The more you play Returnal the better you will become at it. You will find weapons that will help you do more damage and artifacts that would give you passive upgrades. There are assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, energy weapons, and all other kinds of guns. For close combat, you have a sword that can also help you break shields. You have to understand your build and know how it would work with the items you have. Knowing what to do and what not to do is crucial in combat. The game has good control making it convenient to dodge on time. You won’t die just because the controls were not smooth enough. Is Returnal worth it for you? based on its general combat.

Evolving Combat

The combat of Returnal constantly evolves with each loop. The basic structure of levels will indeed remain the same but the changes are so profound that they can change how players approach the combat. When a loop changes it resets everything, including all the weapons and gear. You only keep melee weapon, teleportation, and grappling hook along with ether which is one of the two types of currency. Every other thing is lost and when you start the next loop. Is Returnal worth it? for its constantly evolving nature of combat.

Loot is random so success also depends on the items you find during a loop. You might find items and weapons that support each other or find one that opposes each other. No matter how good you play if you don’t have good items then the chances of success can be narrow. So a large part of your success also depends upon the random generation of items and weapons in a loop.

The changes that the loop brings also impact how the combat works. Even if you start the same level in another loop then there would still be a lot of surprises waiting for you. Enemies would spawn in different locations making it hard to make a prediction. You won’t know what to expect giving you a new experience each time. Enemies would act differently depending on how the level is formed. The behavior of enemies would change with each loop due to the difference in the structure of a level. The constant evolution of combat makes each loop unique.

High-Risk and High-Reward

Returnal is a fast-paced game that rewards aggressive moves. The higher the risk the better is the reward and the game will give some type of buff for taking the risk. At the same time, it wants you not to take any damage. Dodging and shooting is the best way to deal with such a situation. When you kill enemies but don’t take any damage then it will build adrenaline making you more powerful. Adrenaline will help you do more powerful melee attacks and grants you more visibility. The moment you take damage all of the adrenaline stacks are lost. Is Returnal worth it? for you for its high-risk and high-reward combat. Let’s discuss more.

There is a lot of enemy verity in the game and their behavior changes according to the surrounding making the combat quite diverse. The combat for each enemy type is diverse, so you have to learn how to fight each of them. The evolving nature of combat would force you to come up with new strategies on the go. Boss fights are good and have a souls-like feeling to them. Bosses are big and their attacks can fill the screen leaving little space. Dodge and attack mechanics are prevalent even in the boss fights.

General Gameplay

You as a player will also evolve with each loop. As you travel the planet you will upgrade your weapon and gear. The more you play the game the better you will understand how to tackle the challenges that it throws at you. Your weapon and gear will keep on changing with each loop. You will learn how to adapt to different situations on the go. There is no save feature in the game and runs are longer. Dying will reset everything you have and you will need to start from scratch while retaining only a few of the selected abilities. At times you might need to grind for gear in a loop just so that you can gain enough caliber to progress. Doing so would give you better chances of clearing a level.

Selene will battle the strange-looking creatures of the planet. Every creature on the planet wants to kill you and you have to take them down before they can take you down. The efficiency of weapons you find depends on your weapon proficiency but weapon proficiency won’t depend on your progression. You will achieve weapon proficiency by killing enemies and picking up certain items. The higher is your weapon proficiency the higher would be the level of weapons you find. Death can be frustrating, you will lose weapon proficiency upon death and would need to build it up again. Think of it as weapon level that you have to start from scratch each time you die. General gameplay makes you wonder Is Returnal worth it? there is more to it.


Returnal has decent customization options that can help you make a build as per your play style. It does not go crazy with customization unlike other single-player games but it has as many options as it needs. You will find different upgrades in the world. These upgrades are random and you will lose them upon death. Upgrades include items from chests that will also apply malfunction to your character. It can be slow Selene, make her weaken, increase cool down, etc. To eliminate these malfunction you will need to complete certain generic objectives.

The second types of upgrade item are parasites. Using parasite give both buffs and debuff but advantages of parasite out shadows its disadvantages. The use of parasites also depends on the playstyle. Its buff might complement every aspect of your build or its debuff can make other abilities less effective. Certain weapons and upgrades can make debuff so weak that it almost disappears. So in the end, the use of a parasite depends on the items you have and your playstyle. The only way to change or remove the parasite is through the use of special items or devices found throughout the map. Returnal is not an RPG game but the customization is good for the types of game it is.


There is a lot of mystery in the game which impacts both the story and the gameplay. Selene will find audio logs of herself in the world. These logs are from her previous attempts while she was trying to break the loop. Little by little logs and other evidence that you find in the world will shed light on the mystery surrounding the game. Some areas will show you images and mysteries that won’t have any connection with Selene but these images will reveal some aspects of the planet.

Certain rooms and areas can trigger cut scenes. These cut scenes will reveal mysteries about Selene. You will enter the first-person mode in such story sequences. Such sequences are focused on revealing the backstory and mystery of the loop. Returnal would feel more like an interactive drama when the first-person mode is active. There is no hardcore action but you will need to interact with your surroundings to unlock mysteries. You will also see Selene’s home back on earth and explore it in the first-person mode. The random generation of each loop spans mystery across every aspect of the game. In a sense, Returnal is capitalizing on the mystery to make it a new experience each time. Is Returnal worth it? to you for its reliance on the mystery.

Mystery Gives It Repeatability Value

Objectives will keep on changing on the map so you won’t know what to expect on the way and location of the objective. If you want to explore all the maps and mysteries then you would need to run more than one successful run in each area since some paths might not even be available in a loop. Randomization impacts every part of it giving it a good repeatability value. If you are into challenging games then Returnal can be your cup of tea.

The Loop Mechanics

Returnal’s flagship feature is its loop mechanics. Players respawn to the crash site after death. This resets everything, including the map and character progression. Randomization has a huge impact on every aspect of the loop. The mystery of the loop propels you to find answers and complete the loop without dying. It’s Selene against everything on the planet. You are a new character each time you are in a new loop. The only abilities you retain even after dying are grappling hook, sword, and teleport. The loop mechanics also remind me of Re:Zero and Edge of Tomorrow.

You will come across barriers in your first run on the main path. To open these barriers you would need ability or key. Once unlocked during the earlier loop, these paths would remain open. These barriers help you reach new locations and bosses stay unlocked. Completion of an area will lead to another location and advance the story so you won’t need to repeat it. There is no save feature so you have to complete an area to progress.

A loop can take somewhere between 3 to 5 hours depending on your proficiency in the game. The lack of a save feature makes it a tiresome experience if you don’t prefer long sessions. You will need to start from the beginning if you die before the cycle is complete. Depending on the type of player you are, loop mechanics and lack of save feature might make you ask Is Returnal worth it?

Exploration Is Rewarding

You can go back to an area to visit and complete areas that you missed before. Doing so can help you unlock more mysteries and even trigger a secret ending. You can see different rooms on the map that are protected by lasers or platforms. These rooms contain good weapons and items that you can use in combat. You need to carefully enter these rooms without falling or being hit by the laser. Returnal rewards you for exploration and has great repeatability value which is a good combination for a rough like game. It makes you wonder Is Returnal worth it?

Returnal On The PlayStation 5

Returnal is not a visual masterpiece but it does look good. With the type of graphics it has, it could easily have been playable on the PlayStation 4 at 30FPS and general setting. On the PlayStation 5, the game runs at 60 FPS Dynamic 4k similar to the RT Performance mode of Spiderman: Miles Morales on the PS5. Retrunal utilizes the hepatic feedback and adaptive trigger to provide an immersive experience. You can even feel the raindrops through haptic feedback. You can feel attacks and dodges making it one of the first games to fully utilize the DualSense Controller. It is fast paced-game so I would take high FPS any day over visuals.


Now let’s answer the question “Is Returnal worth it?” It is a difficult game that rewards you for taking risks but yet it shows no mercy if you are not careful. It’s rough like mechanics constantly keep you on edge and death could mean losing hours of progress. It is a hard game that can create a cult following due to its unforgiving nature. Returnal might even push some players away due to difficulty. Runs are long and the constant dread of death can even frustrate a dedicated player. There is no save feature so you are expected to complete a session without dying or closing the game. Even a simple crash can cost you hours of progress which can make you angry since it won’t even be your fault. Despite all that, progress is achievable and you will feel a sense of accomplishment after completing a session.

The game is not just action and loop, there is a decent story as well. Both the story and gameplay have a large amount of mystery. Returnal wants you to learn from your previous loops while still keeping you in the mystery in each new loop. Though the main structure of each area remains the same there are still enough surprises to keep it new for each run. The location of enemies, items, and weapons would be different for each run.

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