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11 things Returnal doesn’t tell you

A handful of tips and tricks to help you survive longer

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Returnal ps5 housemarque game Image: Housemarque/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Returnal is a challenging roguelike that requires patience and a drive to persist. If you’re new and frustrated, check out our beginner’s guide. In this Returnal guide, we’ll dive deeper, explaining a bunch of things that the game doesn’t.

We’ll explain how to use hidden features, confusing items, and special terminals throughout Returnal so that you can learn the complex nature of the game and survive longer.

Use the grappling hook on orange lights and orbs

At the start of Returnal, you may notice orange lights and orbs off in the distance of the Overgrown Ruins. You won’t be able to climb up to these areas at first. To reach the places, you have the beat the game’s second boss.

An orange light in Returnal
You’ll need the hookshot for these
Image: Housemarque/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Defeat the second boss, and you’ll get the grappling hook, which you can use on those orange high points with the press of a button.

How to open stone gates

Throughout the game, you’ll come across stone gates that have item boxes or resources behind them. To open these gates, look for a hidden switch nearby.

A yellow switch in Returnal
Shoot these to open gates
Image: Housemarque/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Keep an eye out for triangular switches with a yellow light in the center. You’ll know you’ve found one when the light on the switch becomes red as you point your gun at it. Shoot these switches, and the nearby gate will open.

Look for yellow orbs

When you find yellow orbs of light, walk into them. The ground below you will break, and you’ll enter a hidden chamber.

A yellow orb in Returnal
Step onto the yellow orb for a surprise
Image: Housemarque/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

In most cases, these hidden chambers have resources like obolites, consumables, artifacts, and (in rare cases) a difficult enemy. Regardless, it’s always worth taking a detour into these rooms hidden behind glowing yellow orbs.

Scan rooms

One of the most useful features in the game isn’t explained early. Press in the R3 button, and you can scan the room you’re in.

The area scan feature in Returnal
Scanning reveals the area’s topography
Image: Housemarque/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Scanning a room gives you a clearer sense what’s around you, notably the location of the doors. This is a great tool to use if you don’t know where to go next. Using the highlighted doors in conjunction with the minimap at the bottom right of your screen will help you navigate.

The astronaut is about resurrection

After your first creepy encounter with the odd 20th century house that appears in the Overgrown Ruins, you’ll find an item outside the home: an astronaut figurine.

The item’s description in your databank …

A standing effigy of some unidentifiable being. Its pose appears to be one of readiness or resignation.

… doesn’t offer clues for what it actually does.

Once the toy is in your possession, it will sit in your inventory doing nothing — until you die. If you have an astronaut figurine on you and you take a death, you will actually respawn right where you stand. This figure is one of the few ways you can revive yourself instead of starting all the way back at the beginning of the game.

If you have a lot of ether on you, you might want to go to an Obolite Repository and grab extra obolites to purchase these at a fabricator.

The Reconstructor also revives you

Another way to revive yourself in Returnal is through a special terminal called the Reconstructor.

The main character of Returnal stands in front of the Reconstructor
This creepy device will revive you
Image: Housemarque/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

If you find one of these creepy devices, you can pay a small fee in ether to respawn back at the Reconstructor when you die. While you will lose whatever parasites you’ve attached before reviving, the Reconstructor is still a convenient way to get back in the action without resetting completely.

How to break orange barriers

Before you make your way to defeating the game’s first boss, Phrike, you’ll come across the Crimson Gateway. There you’ll find a sword that allows you to perform melee attacks. While this sword is great for hitting enemies, it can also break red barriers. However, you’ll also come across orange barriers that the sword can’t break.

The Blade Balancer in Returnal
Buy this to break orange barriers
Image: Housemarque/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

To break through orange barriers, buy an artifact called the Blade Balancer. This item periodically shows up at the various fabricator locations throughout each biome. Since this is an artifact, it will be lost when you die and reset your progress.

With the Blade Balancer equipped, you can melee strike orange barriers to open side path doors or free items behind them.

Dash toward danger

Enemies in Returnal shoot dozens of bullets at once. At times, the amount of danger you need to dodge can feel overwhelming. The bullets that enemies arrive in predictable patterns. Use this knowledge to your advantage, and you can avoid damage.

Press the Circle button, and you’ll dash. You can perform this action again after a short delay. A short tap will perform a short dash, and a longer button press will extend its length. But here’s what Returnal doesn’t tell you: Your dash can go through any attack because you’re briefly invulnerable while dashing.

Your instinct may be to dash away from enemies. However, if you do this, you might back up into their bullets. Instead, dash forward through attacks toward you enemies.

There’s a few reasons to do this.

  • Unlike you, enemies don’t have the ability to attack constantly, While they may shoot big waves of attacks, there are always a long pauses between assaults.
  • If you dash toward their attacks, you’ll have a large window of opportunity to shoot them or even get in close to use your sword to slash at them.
  • Use their predictable attack patterns as an advantage.
  • Pay attention and dodge toward them, through their attacks, and blast them before they have the chance to attack again.

You don’t have to fight every fight

You’ll be venturing through the same biomes over and over as you play Returnal. Thankfully, you don’t have to engage in every fight you come across. In fact, if you have a weapon you like and good buffs, it might be in your best interest to disengage from most fights and focus on making progress, not killing enemies.

You’re not obligated to fight through most of the rooms you enter, so if you’re trying to reach a boss or continue further into the game, don’t fight. Instead, just dodge enemies and head through the doors that take you deeper into your run.

Occasionally, you’ll encounter rooms that go into lockdown. A room with a large, red, pulsating orb or two in its center is the lockdown giveaway. On those rare occasions, you have to defeat the powerful enemies that spawn from these orbs before you can leave. The upshot is that once you do, get a powerful weapon. You also won’t need to dispatch the rest of the enemies in the room to lift the lockdown.

Using headphones has its ups and downs

Returnal not only makes great use of the PlayStation 5 DualSense controls, it also has some interesting 3D audio effects. Whether you’re using a pair of Sony’s own Pulse 3D headphones or a wired set tether to a controller, you’ll experience immersive sound. The audio will make you feel like you’re surrounded by the creepy environment and the sound will also help you identify where enemies are located.

The downside is you’ll miss special audio cues coming from the PlayStation DualSense controller. One of the most valuable chirps you’ll want to listen out for is when your Alt-Fire recharges. As your special attack builds back up after use, you can actually hear it building strength from your controller’s built-in speaker.

Once it’s ready to use again, an audio cue plays from your gamepad letting you know it’s ready to use again. This notification is hard to hear with headphones on. So keep that in mind when immersing yourself with a headset.

Returnal spoiler image Image: Housemarque/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

How to get the secret ending

Just because you got the credits to roll doesn’t mean that the game is over.

To completely finish Returnal, you need to get the secret ending in Act 3. We will spare the details here but if you want to see how the story truly ends, you’ll have to adventure a little further to see it through.

The next level of puzzles.

Take a break from your day by playing a puzzle or two! We’ve got SpellTower, Typeshift, crosswords, and more.