By Jason Quinn / April 5th, 2021
|Release Date||March 4th, 2021|
Loop Hero is a hard game to really define. It has rogue-like elements, and it’s certainly billed as a rogue-like, but that doesn’t adequately encompass the whole experience. I’ve adopted the term “reverse tower defense,” but I doubt it’ll catch on. The premise of the game is that the world has been consumed by darkness by an evil Lich. For some reason, you, the hero, have survived and now have the chance to rebuild your reality. This comes down to walking down a road that loops back on itself, building things as you kill monsters and collect cards from them. The game is fairly light in its story, though there’s some lore that I’ll talk about later. For now, we gotta dive into the complex mechanics of this game.
As your hero travels around this road, he fights monsters, gets cards, the cards can build things like vampire mansions, groves, cemeteries, all sorts of things that cause even more and stronger monsters to appear. You might ask, well what’s the point of doing all of this? Why do anything at all? Well, you wanna rebuild your world, right? The world has bad and good in equal measure, and everything you build in this game gives you benefits but also puts some kind of obstacle in your way. Groves are necessary for getting wood, but they cause ratwolves to come out and give you a hard time. Villages can heal you, but as you build them, you also cause bandits to show up beside them.
If you simply never build anything and just do nothing but kill slimes that randomly populate the road, you’ll never accomplish anything. So, you have to intentionally put danger in your hero’s path to get anywhere. It’s a pretty fascinating concept. You’re in complete control over everything the hero has to deal with. In addition, you also have a base camp of a handful of survivors, and for some reason only the hero seems to be able to make any lasting impact in terms of building anything that could provide food, shelter, or other amenities. So, you also have the futures of others to worry about. Throwing yourself into danger is just the only way to make any progress.
What you can build is also determined by cards, and you can customize what you have in your deck. This allows you to customize exactly what sorts of things you want to fight, what resources you can get, and your overall approach to playing the game. The deck building aspect of this is fairly simplistic, which I think is a good move. The effects of each card are very straightforward and direct, so it’s easy to think up ways to synergize the cards to get something you want. For example, forest cards will increase your attack rate, and river cards double the effectiveness of whatever tile is right next to them.
Where and how you build things is also a large consideration. Should you put certain things at the beginning of the loop, where your hero will be more refreshed? Or would it be better to put it near the end where you’ll have had the chance to get better equipment for that particular loop? Field cards like meadows, mountains, and forests are all placed around the road rather than on it, but even then you need to consider where to put them and how much of it you want. In the early chapters of the game, you’ll never fill up the entire screen, but by chapter 4, you’ll have the screen jam packed with things. Forests increase attack rate – should you stack them as much as possible? What about deserts that can lower enemy health? It’s a tough balance, and figuring this all out is part of the experience.
In each chapter of the game, your goal is to build enough to make the boss of that chapter show up. You also want to make sure you’re fully prepared to fight them. It’s important to try not to stock up on too much of one specific card. Field cards provide great buffs, but if you’re not fighting enough enemies, it’ll be much harder for you to get equipment that’s good enough. This leads into actually fighting monsters. It’s the only thing in the game you have no control over. You can control exactly what enemies the hero fights, but not the actual fights themselves. Though to say it’s purely a stats game doesn’t do it justice. How well your hero fights is a direct result of how well you’ve prepared them. While it is possible to simply be unlucky, if your hero is struggling to fight, it’s generally because something in your “build” is amiss. “Build” here refers not only to your hero’s equipment but also your deck and how exactly you’ve placed your cards on the field. All of it is important.
The learning curve to this game is fairly large, but also gradual. Every attempt you make, you’ll have learned something. You’ve also probably gained some resources that you can use to purchase upgrades that make your life easier. I’m always a little wary about upgrade systems in rogue-likes, I often find that it takes much too long to make any real progress, but progress is pretty smooth here. It’s rare that you end a run and aren’t able to get something that can help you out.
Some of the biggest features that can help you out are additional classes. You start off with the knight, and it’s pretty straightforward. Hits decently hard, but not too fast, and is reasonably defensive. Personally, I find it to be the hardest class to get winning runs with, as it can be very easily overwhelmed by certain enemies with a bad build. The second class is the rogue. As a trade off for not having much in the way of defense, he gets two weapons and is very fast. Also, the way the rogue gets equipment is a little different. Rather than enemies dropping equipment, they drop tokens that get turned in at your camp, and you get equipment then. So you only get them at the start of each loop. This is important to consider when it comes to how you play your cards.
The third class is the necromancer, and for me it was the class I beat the final boss with. It can feel very weak at first, as it lacks any defensive equipment, and its own attacks are also weak. It’s entirely dependent on its summons to do damage and protect you, which is also dependent on your equipment. If you find yourself struggling with it, focus on max summons and skeleton level over summon strength. Skeleton level is a mysterious stat, but it affects how often you’ll summon advanced skeletons, which you want, even at the cost of them being technically a little weaker.
The gameplay loop is incredibly satisfying, as each run tends to be fairly short. The great thing about this is that when you get to camp at the end of each loop, you have the option of ending the run, and you keep every resource you’ve gotten. So, it’s totally possible to just focus on collecting resources to get upgrades rather than every run being explicitly trying to kill the boss. My favorite aspect about the game is that you really are in control of everything that happens to your hero. If your hero dies, it’s because you constructed a scenario that he couldn’t handle. It’s a game that requires careful consideration and a lot of learning by doing and messing up, and realizing that you messed up. It’s not an incredibly hard, impenetrable game though.
The visuals of the game are simplistic, but charming. Overly detailed visuals in a game like this would turn it into an unreadable mess, so the simple visuals are a good call. Music is a good assortment of chunky chiptunes that starts out pretty lowkey early in a run but ramps up pretty hard the closer you get to a boss.
I mentioned there’s not much of a story, and it’s true, but you can unlock lore about the game’s bosses, enemies, even mundane items. You do this by expending a particular resource, so you might even find yourself specifically farming for items just to get more lore. I’m not gonna say this game has particularly excellent world building, but I had a fun time reading through some of the little short stories about certain enemies. Also worth mentioning is that when you go back and fight bosses again, you get brand new dialogue. The final boss has the most dialogue, so you can find yourself still going in after beating the game just to get that. That for me was most of the replay value. Once you’ve beaten the game, you’ve sort of cracked the code and most runs after that will look much the same. This is pretty unlike most rogue-likes where there’s still more to do and see after hitting the end. I can’t really complain though, as I spent nearly 50 hours with the game.
Loop Hero is a lot of fun, and gives you that “one more run” feeling that great rogue-likes tend to do. It’s incredibly unique also, there really isn’t anything out there like this. If you like rogue-likes, if you like strategy games, if you like card games even, I think each of those are vectors that one could take to find enjoyment in this game. For $15, you can’t go wrong with this.
Review copy was provided by the publisher.
Devolver DigitalFour QuartersLoop HeroPCroguelitestrategy