So…Loop Hero. I’m sure you’ve all heard of it and if you haven’t it’s the latest hotness selling over half a million copies in its first two weeks. I’ve finished it and have some thoughts so let’s dive in.
Developer: Four Quarters
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: Mar 4th 2021
Available on: PC
I think trying to write about Loop Hero might be the hardest thing I’ve attempted to do. Not because I don’t want to write about it, but rather because it combines so many different unrelated ideas into a single package while actually managing to play well instead of feeling like a confused mess.
I suppose I can start by stating that it has a bit of rogue-like in there. You’ll send your character out on runs to collect loot and resources. The loot can be equipped to provide passive bonuses to your character, while resources are used to upgrade your base. Most of these upgrades provide large bonuses that dramatically improve your capabilities such as increasing your healing, or providing the ability to level up and learn powerful new skills. This gives Loop Hero a great sense of progression where each run, regardless of the outcomes, sees you moving a little closer to your next goal.
The next aspect of Loop Hero to talk about is the deck-building. As you unlock new structures in your base you’ll unlock new cards. You can only take a set number of these into a run so, as in all great deck-builders, you’ll need to select only a handful of cards that contribute to some kind of overarching strategy. There is also an element of synergy here as certain cards unlock entirely different effects when played in combination, so learning these combos and utilizing them is imperative to success.
Finally you have what you actually do on a run. Loop Hero plays like an idle game and your hero will run around the world map fighting enemies independently. As enemies are defeated they’ll have a chance to drop cards from the player’s deck. When played these cards flesh out the world map while also providing stat bonuses, stronger encounters, and additional resources. In this way, Loop Hero is a constant balancing act seeing how much you can add to the world map while still allowing the hero to comfortably move through it.
That more or less covers what Loop Hero is. The different ideas in play don’t seem like they would have any synergy, but they end up forming a fairly simple and compelling gameplay loop.
That gameplay loop is backed by one hell of a progression system and that is probably the reason why Loop Hero works so well. Each new structure you unlock at camp will provide a bonus that is big enough to be felt within a run. This leads to an intensely satisfying progression loop where you set goals, achieve them, and then have an easier time working toward future goals. In a lot of ways it reminds me of the macro level progression found in games like Stardew Valley where each new upgrade pushes you along an exponential growth curve. And just like Stardew, Loop Hero uses this progression to keep players engaged for the bulk of its runtime.
Unfortunately, while progression is Loop Hero’s biggest win it’s also its biggest failing. Loop Hero’s progression entirely runs out of steam before the fourth and final act. By this point, players will be out of new unlocks and will only have expensive upgrades remaining. These provide far less impactful boosts to your overall power which makes the high cost of acquiring the upgrades feel disproportionate. As such the final hours of Loop Hero reveal themselves to be a grind. That’s not to say the whole game isn’t a grind, but the loss of meaningful improvement diminishes the engagement of the whole system down to where I feel it is a lot more transparent.
Spoilerinos in the next paragraph. You have been warned.
What’s really unfortunate is that the story doesn’t help to alleviate the grind either. To explain the mechanic of filling the world in the story starts with the hero seeing a lich removing everything in existence replacing it with void space. It’s not immediately clear what motivation this character would have for doing this, so unraveling that creates a mystery to keep players invested from the word go. Unfortunately, when you meet the lich he tells you that God was responsible for erasing the world and the hero refuses to believe this. The rest of the game’s chapters repeat this formula with different characters, which doesn’t lend itself to any meaningful story progression causing the writing to fall flat.
So with all of that said: should you play Loop Hero?
I’m in a situation I don’t normally find myself with regard to Loop Hero. I think the game is compelling, to a point, and it would be disingenuous for me to say I didn’t have fun with it. The problem is that it completely runs out of steam before concluding. If I were to recommend Loop Hero it would be with a caveat to immediately stop playing once the game’s progression is no longer providing any motivation. For everyone else, while Loop Hero starts fun the last third of my playtime being a slog soured me enough to say that this might be one to skip. There is something to be said for understanding how to close out your game.