Seeing Deathloop in action last week, I was (perhaps naïvely, but pleasantly) surprised at how similar the upcoming game is to Dishonored, developer Arkane Studios’ series of supernatural stealth games. Deathloop combines magical abilities with stealth and gunplay, all in a highly stylized city from a bygone era.
When I mentioned that thought to Deathloop’s art director, Sebastian Mitten, he softly corrected me: This is a game with Arkane DNA, meaning it builds on the foundation of many of the studio’s games, including Dishonored, Prey, and The Crossing, the studio’s canceled shooter that attempted to blend single-player and multiplayer.
Deathloop, like Dishonored, is a game with “Arkane powers,” Mitten said. The game’s lead character, Colt, gains supernatural abilities that let him teleport, telekinetically throw his enemies, turn invisible, and rewind time. Colt is also armed with plenty of firepower: shotguns, SMGs, machine guns ... even a silenced nail gun. Combining all these powers and weapons in both combat and stealth situations is at the heart of Deathloop’s (and Dishonored’s) gameplay loop.
“‘Dishonored with guns’ was definitely something that informed the gameplay,” said game director Dinga Bakaba.
Oh, and Colt also has to deal with the whole time loop he’s stuck in. His goal is to “break” it, in the same fashion that Phil Connors of Groundhog Day and William Cage of Edge of Tomorrow had to do in their time loop movies. Colt has to solve the mystery of his loop, gaining knowledge and becoming stronger — and dispatching eight hard-to-kill bosses known as Visionaries — to escape his fate.
Making matters worse, Colt also has to contend with Julianna, another character who’s aware of his time loop curse and is actively trying to keep the cycle going. Julianna can be played by another player, in a Dark Souls invasionlike way, or controlled by the AI. Regardless of who’s in control, Julianna’s goal is the opposite of Colt’s, and players will have to deal with her mucking up the works. And in radio-based conversations inspired by Firewatch, players will also have to deal with Julianna messing with Colt’s head.
During each loop of Colt’s day, he’ll find new clues about his situation and how to get closer to the Visionaries who are keeping him trapped in time. He may listen in on a conversation about a key to room, which will unlock a pathway to his target. Information learned in one loop can be used in the next, and players will need to visit the game’s four locations across Blackreef (The Complex, Updaam, Fristad Rock, Karl’s Bay) during four time periods (morning, noon, afternoon, evening) multiple times to discover the clues they need to succeed. It’s all about plotting the perfect path and executing on it, a la IO Interactive’s Hitman games.
Bakaba promises that Deathloop won’t feel repetitive, however. He said that players will never hear the same conversation between Colt and Julianna twice.
When Colt’s loop resets, he’ll lose access to the weapons, powers, and trinkets — items that boost his aim, stealth powers, and traversal abilities — that he acquires during a loop. But players will eventually find a way to keep Colt’s earned powers, thanks to a resource called Residuum. Players can spend the Residuum they acquire during trips through the time loop to keep the abilities they prefer. And death during one loop isn’t necessarily a “game over”; Colt has three “lives” per loop. Die once or twice, and Colt can rewind time using a power called Reprise, then loot his own corpse to recover his stuff. Die a third time, and the loop will start again fresh.
Colt’s abilities and time loop-busting powers are fascinating to watch in action, just like a level-clearing run of a Dishonored game. Colt can teleport (Shift) from place to place, pick up and throw enemies off cliffs using telekinesis (Karnesis), and magically headshot three enemies at once, using an ability called Nexus that’s similar to Dishonored’s Domino power. In addition to magical powers, Colt has a tool called a Hackamajig, a piece of technology that gives him turret-hacking, door-unlocking, distraction-creating powers. As in the Dishonored games, all of these abilities will stack to let players kill and explore dynamically.
So yeah, there’s a lot of shared DNA between Dishonored and Deathloop. Bakaba said that “Dishonored 2 was one of the best experiences of our career,” and that he and Mitten wanted to bring back some of that series’ familiarity and abilities “with a twist” for Deathloop. But this is “a new world, with new characters, and an entirely new game structure,” Bakaba said.
Deathloop will hit PlayStation 5 and Windows PC on Sept. 14.