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Returnal has only been on the market for one week, but it’s been a hell of a seven-day stretch of ups and downs. Despite the hot topic surrounding its saving functionality, players seem to enjoy going through Atropos’ looping world. That loop is designed to keep players coming back and it does, but Housemarque can make a few key additions and changes to ensure that Selene’s Groundhog Day scenario stays fresher for a longer period of time.
This one is obvious, but still worth mentioning. Many players have appropriately made a stink about how it holds players hostage for the entire duration of the run, be it three minutes or three hours. Combined with the possibility of sudden updates or crashes and Returnal can overly stressful in a way Housemarque never intended.
According to a feature on Vice, other roguelite and roguelite developers say that it’s probably a difficult process that will take some time so players should probably be ready to wait. But having a way to save and quit during a run would be instrumental in bringing new people on board and satisfying those who have already jumped on. Some may find a way to cheat the system and save scum it all to Tartarus, but that’s worth it for all the headaches it would avoid, especially in a single-player game where getting ahead in such a way doesn’t come at the cost of someone else.
It’s absurd that a first-party Sony game in 2021 doesn’t have a Photo Mode as Infamous: Second Son, a Sony game, was the title that spurred the trend. Returnal is a beautiful game but it can be easy to overlook its beauty because of the frantic gunplay and deadly world. Seeing as though many games like God of War, Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, and more, get their nonessential modes like Photo Mode after launch, it’s probably coming down the line. But it’s still disappointing that it couldn’t make it in time for launch.
A harder difficulty
Returnal can be a difficult game, but can also be rather easy with the right rolls as some builds can feel nearly indestructible. A wider pool of upgrades, hoarded Ether, and upgraded weapon traits can further take the edge off future runs, meaning those who player for a long time will eventually beat the system.
These players deserve to be put on their toes, too, which is why a harder mode would be ideal for extending the game’s life. Faster bullet patterns, more punishing malfunctions, and fewer saving graces would amp of the tension in a way that makes the 100th feel like the second. Returnal has the fluid controls to support high difficulty so it would be great if Housemarque could push those boundaries even more.
Arcade and permadeath modes
Daily challenges are a decent start, but Returnal has so much more potential. Currently, these daily runs runs only apply to one biome, but this should be just be the beginning. Applying this format to runs of the whole game or platforming challenges or wave-based survival matches would bring enough variation to this mode and make it more than just an easy way to score Ether.
Returnal is a roguelite, but what if it was a roguelike? Dying and losing literally everything might not sound appealing to many, but it would be the ultimate challenge for the hardest of the hardcore. Of course, Housemarque would have to change some things around and probably unlock some more items from the get-go, but this would be the biggest way to cater to sadists who want to achieve the ultimate accomplishment.
Better accessibility options
And even though some want that ultimate accomplishment, some just want to experience the game. Returnal has some accessibility features like being able to remap the controls, implement colorblind modes, and change the reticle size, but is lacking in areas that could bring more people in.
As Steve Saylor, also know as the Blind Gamer, said on Kinda Funny’s PS I Love You podcast about Returnal, the game could use some sort of dynamic or adaptive difficulty or like an Assist Mode like Celeste that would allow people to customize their runs to fit their needs or disabilities. This wouldn’t take away from players who want to put through the meat grinder — Celeste and The Last of Us 2 were still plenty hard and satisfying with those options — but would enable more to experience Returnal’s atmospheric world and tight gameplay.
More room variations and surprises
Roguelites and roguelikes thrive off changing up their layout and Returnal’s rooms aren’t all that different after a few runs. It’s not to say that the stages repeat every run or every other run, but the variety in the level design can’t keep up with the variety in the consumables, artifacts, and weapons. Creating a handful of different rooms and throwing them into the mix would do wonders and inject more danger into the game.
Housemarque said it crafts every room by hand to have authorship over the lighting and mood so these likely can’t be procedurally built and would take time, but more layouts would only make this great game even greater. The team should also look into mixing around the rooms that are already there since chests, secret rooms, “hidden” locks, and other aspects seem to be in the same places every single time, which shouldn’t be the case.
And these rooms should come with more random surprises. The game already has some of this like the bright octopus aliens that yield Obolites and Scout corpses, but there needs to be more of these types of events. Imagine malignant Fabricators that randomly appear and offer malfunction-prone good deals, time-sensitive secret doors, elites that track players down after spending too much time in a biome, or enemies that spawn in rooms that previously safe rooms (but only right after the player walks in so they aren’t blindsided at a terminal). Mixing up the variables in small ways like this would further ensure that players would stay on their toes.
More parasites, artifacts, and consumables
There is a trend here of adding more of what is already in the game and this approach speaks to the game’s quality as well as how it is predisposed to be exponentially more replayable with just some simple touches. There are already a whole host of parasites, artifacts, and consumables and adding more items to the game’s toolbelt would be more of those simple touches that would have big rippling effects. There would be more room for synergies as well as unique runs, both of which are factors that help make this genre so addictive and worth returning to over and over.
More suits and cosmetic customization options
There are already a couple suits in the game, but they’re for those who pre-ordered it. Outside of that and the fashion accessory quality of parasites, there are not many ways for players to choose what their Selene looks like. Returnal would benefit if it had some sort of persistent element that didn’t impact the gameplay and cosmetic customization is the perfect way to realize that. However, selling these skins wouldn’t be ideal as they would obviously work better as ways to keep playing instead of ways to keep spending.
DLC… whatever that means
Housemarque has had DLC for all of its major games since Super Stardust HD, which means Returnal is likely to get some paid content one day in the future. But it’s not clear what that DLC will be and this freedom means Housemarque can do a ton of interesting things with the game. Super Stardust HD had a multiplayer expansion while Resogun’s final DLC let players control the humans they were so used to saving.
Housemarque is used to changing up the game with its expansions so hopefully it’ll apply those same ideals to Returnal. And while adding more focused biomes might seem tough given the narrative focus of the game, it isn’t out of the question and could lead to even more twists on its open-ended, bizarre tale.