This post was going to be last night! But then a fresh COVID related lockdown happened. World media wasn’t altogether kind regarding the NZ decision to go into lockdown on the basis of a single case. However, come less than 24 hours later and there are 10 confirmed community cases of the Delta strain, with yet more to come given some of the places of interest involve the Sky Casino, a Church, and one of the biggest Secondary Schools in the country.

As it is, the numbers are expected to rise before they fall again — but I can only imagine how much worse it would be, given what we now know, if the decision to lockdown was made even just a few days later.

Not fun.

What has been fun though, is Returnal.

Map of a nearly completed run of the first area of the game

I jumped into the game again, with the intent of just checking the ship computer for my ‘played’ time. But… well, then I was already there. So why not another run to keep my impressions fresh? An hour or so later, I realise I still really need to get this post done.

Early Returnal Impressions

If you’re unfamiliar with Returnal already — it’s a PS5 exclusive, action rogue-lite with a sci-fi story backdropping it all. Each death finds the landscape shifting around you, and Selene — who you play as — resetting back to the point of crash landing your ship. Time isn’t looping completely, however. As you explore out into the wild again there is evidence of your deaths — past and future.

I’m a little over 3-hours into my time with the game so far, and already a semblance of an interesting narrative is forming, including what happened to the sentient race that left many of the artefacts and ruins you find behind… And piles upon piles of bodies, here and there.

So far, all very mysterious but seems like it has potential.

Why is my house out here? There better not be a smoke monster in there… I don’t want this to all turn out like Lost.

The gunplay so far seems fairly basic with three main weapon types — pistol, assault rifle and shotgun — which can then be modified with various alt-fire modes and characteristics. You can permanently unlock the characteristics if you manage to use the weapon in combat enough but honestly, I haven’t worked out what that actually means yet.

Does it mean every unlocked characteristic is working at all times? Or does it mean a given characteristic on a weapon will never work until you’ve managed to unlock it?

I dunno! I hope it will become clearer soon.

Simple gunplay or not though, it meshes well with combining jetpack assisted jumps with the zippy short- and long- dodges you can perform in order to navigate your way through the near-on bullet-hell looking combat arenas.

There isn’t much in the way of unlocks from one run to the next that I’ve seen just yet, so learning to play better is your primary means of progressing further. So far this seems to be balanced out fairly well. Each run I got a little further and in the last two I’ve made it up to the end-of-zone boss without feeling overly pressured.

Phrike – The Act 1 boss, I haven’t beaten him yet — but have gotten him to the second phase both times I’ve encountered him.

I say without feeling ‘overly’ pressured, but I will admit there are some mini-bosses that terrify me still. And I’m more inclined to ignore the past-me-bodies I encounter. You can activate them to try and gain revenge on the enemies that killed them.

Those enemies are generally much tougher, corrupted versions.

And for now… No thank-you.

I am starting to get more comfortable engaging the corrupted enemies though from when they’re thrown at me elsewhere in a run, so perhaps I’ll start using the bodies for a shot at extra Ether1… But they can do so much damage! D:

I’m having fun with it so far, to say the least.

Things may change with more time invested but for now at least, in these very early impressions, it feels like the balance on expectations between player skill and adaptation to the game and in-run power growth through relics, weapon power-ups and the like is about right.

Horizontal Barrage is one of my favourite alt-fires, but it is on a pistol base rather than the assault rifle I was already carrying.

This was posted during Blaugust 2021, the annual blogging event hosted by Belghast. Blaugust is an event aiming to welcome new blogger blood into the fold and revitalise those who’ve been at it a little longer.

The Blaugust Discord is still available to join in, year-round!

Footnotes

  1. Ether is a permanent, but rare, resource. Unlike the other resources, you can carry what you pick up with you between runs.