Offering a unique mixture of card based strategy, auto-combat and resource management all dressed up in a distinctive low-fi pixel style, Loop Hero was one of the highlights from my Steam Games Festival marathon and I couldn’t wait to see more. Thankfully, the wait wasn’t that long and (as a nice bonus point) my progress from the demo carried over to the full game. Given the title’s focus on Groundhog Day style repetition and cycles of looping gameplay in which every attempt provides some degree of incremental progress it was a nice bonus to be able to hit the ground running this way.
As you start Loop Hero, you find yourself in an empty world where everything has been erased and forgotten by a mysterious evil Lich. All that can be seen is a looping path which you must endlessly proceed along whilst fighting off enemies and collecting loot for all eternity. The inevitability of your destiny is exacerbated by the fact that your avatar moves automatically around the loop, stopping only to fight or when you pause to make strategic changes. This mechanic is a great example of a title where the gameplay and the setting fit perfectly and the overall effect is compelling.
The extreme minimalism of the pixel artstyle may not appeal to everyone but, again, it feels appropriate to the atmosphere and narrative of the game rather than an arbitrary choice and is incredibly distinctive. The simple graphics really contribute to the idea of a barely remembered world in which forgotten structures and characters are weirdly brought back to life. Whether you are a fan of the aesthetic or not, the presentation is bold and manages to remain clear whilst also offering a feeling of continual threat and uncertainty.
As mentioned, your character automatically moves around the procedurally generated loop when you venture out from the safety of your campfire. The notion of procedural generation is a little misleading, however, as this only affects the basic shape of the loop. Everything else that happens is controlled by the cards that you play.
Your first loop will generally see you fighting generic slime enemies, but defeating these will provide you with the land and structure cards that you can place around the loop and the surrounding map. These range from rocks and forests that provide you with resources and character buffs to enemy-filled tiles that include swamps and vampire castles. These all have specific effects and many can be combined to provide new and interesting environments. With the theme of a forgotten world, however, these combinations can only be discovered through trial and error. Even after 20 hours with Loop Hero I was still finding new combinations that offered up different enemies or bonuses.
You begin as a warrior and the loot that drops, alongside or instead of land cards, is used to increase your HP, defence, and provide a multitude of buffs and abilities. The gameplay loop thus revolves around fighting, checking your loot, playing land cards, and gathering resources before eventually fighting a boss in each of the game’s four chapters. This may sound short, but I am still struggling to beat the second boss after the many hours I’ve put into the game.
To increase your chances of survival. the resources you collect can be spent to build a settlement around your campfire and unlock further abilities and cards to use in your expeditions. The mixture of game styles here means that there is always something happening and new goals to work towards, with the result being a game that can become dangerously addictive. I’ve found myself playing into the early hours frequently which led to some coffee-fuelled home schooling the morning after.
As you progress in your settlement development you’ll eventually unlock other character classes which play very differently. The Rogue focuses on evasion and critical damage whilst the necromancer summons skeletal minions to do the fighting for them. This again offers welcome variety to prevent any potential feeling of repetitiveness and is another aspect that adds to the ‘just one more loop’ feeling.
If I had to complain about any aspect of Loop Hero (which is partly why I’m here), then it would be the constant spectre of RNG in almost every aspect of the game. While you have control over the cards that you place, you don’t know which ones will drop. You can customise the deck to some degree as you unlock more options, but the loot you find can be the difference between a successful run and an abject failure.
That being said, there is immense satisfaction to be found in stumbling upon an optimal loadout and watching your character loop around and collect lots of lovely resources to upgrade your settlement. This also adds a layer of strategy in whether you carry on placing cards to bring about the boss fight or let your character continue looping with the knowledge that each loop will make the eventual confrontation more difficult. Of course, finishing a loop does allow the option to return and keep all of your resources, but that’s the coward’s way, right?