That One About Loop Hero

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.

5 thoughts on “That One About Loop Hero

  1. Good overview of it all, I think.

    It is such a weird mix of feelings I have toward this game too. I loved my time with the game to start. Even considered 100%ing it briefly, as you know, but honestly? By the time I could actually close out Ch 4 — it was a relief to do so. I put the game down and haven’t looked back.

    But even though that’s true — up until that point, I found it really hard to put down for long. I’d quit out with the intention to take a break, play something else, and invariably end up back in Loop Hero again in pretty short order.

    I think ultimately the cost:value ratio is right, and thus worthy of recommending, but ending on the down note of a grind just to finish out the game certainly dampened my enthusiasm for the game overall.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I mean…yeah I’m in the exact same boat.

      I ultimately decided to give it a thumbs down with the portion of the review I posted over on Steam because I thought to myself “if the game had been longer would I have been as conflicted”? The answer to that was: no.

      I think there are ways to address the issue without entirely breaking the experience. Maybe slightly uping the resource cost of a few key buildings while increasing their base stats and decreasing their total number of upgrades would help. Also having a few other buildings to work toward would be nice as those often more exciting to get than simply making the numbers go up.

      The devs are planning on doing some post launch updates, but I don’t know to what tune. Maybe this will be something to play again a year from now on a fresh file and give it a second eval.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s amazing how precision-engineered this game is to thoroughly deter my interest! Pixel-Graphics, Top-down/Isometric view, resource management, semi rogue-like progression, deck building, brown-grey colour scheme, a general JRPG feeling.

    None of these things alone would deter me from anything, but are only a slight malus point. But together…man, not a single thing says “Quietschi, come play me!”
    Of course, that is not to say that it is a bad game or that I wouldn’t enjoy it. It’s just that a quick look at it completely destroys any interest I might have.

    Amazing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll be honest, if I hadn’t played the demo I wouldn’t have bought the game.

      I looked at it and thought it was similarly unappealing. But Devolver Digital publishing the game and Steam repeatedly throwing it in my face during that particular run of demos wore me down. And to its credit, I did enjoy the game to a point, but ho’boy did it entirely run out of ways to keep me invested once I ran out of upgrades to focus on. I feel like a lot of games run into that problem…

      Ah well. As always, thanks for reading. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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