Getting started in Returnal – 10 essential tips for beginners

Playing PS5 exclusive Returnal Review for the first time is sure to be an intimidating and bewildering step into the dark for many, with the game leaving quite a few things up to the player to piece together as they play. How the game world is pieced together is one part of the puzzle, how to survive the various enemies, what all this weird alien stuff you find does, it’s all shrouded in mystery.

So we’ve put together a set of beginners tips and tricks to (hopefully) nudge you in the right direction. Learn to Overload, experiment with weapons, and uncover the secrets of Atropos!


1 – Keep your distance (but not too much distance)

One of the first things to learn with Returnal is that you can really keep your distance from enemies that are sending waves of orbs in your direction. Many of the weapons are able to hit their target from the other side of a room, whether it’s the basic Modified Sidearm SD-B8 or the Tachyomatic Carbine you get early on. The Spitmaw is a closer range shotgun for those that like to get stuck in, but it’s riskier to get too close to some of the beefier enemies and not really the best weapon for taking to a boss fight!

The one thing we will say is that keeping your distance does mean you’ll be getting fewer Obolites dropped by enemies before they vanish.

2 – Learn to Overload

One of the fundamental things you need to learn is how to Overload your weapon in a Gears of War-style reloading QTE whenever you run your gun’s magazine empty – otherwise, there’s no manual reload or ammo to worry about and the gun refills over a few seconds without firing. All you need to do is release the R2 trigger and then pull R2 back in at the right time.

Displayed over the crosshair in the centre of the screen, a bar fills from left to right with a small indicator for when you should try to pull the trigger. Get it wrong and you aren’t punished, but will have to wait the regular length of time. Building up your Adrenaline level makes the timings much looser.

3 – Max out your Adrenaline! (And keep it there!)

This one’s “easy” to do. Kill enemies without getting hit, and for each three enemies you kill, you will go up an Adrenaline level. Each of the 5 levels brings a bonus, from relaxing the Overload timing, to highlighting enemies through walls, and firing off homing darts in addition to your regular gunfire.

You’ll miss it when it’s gone!

4 – Check the mini-map (and the biggie-map)

The 3D mini-map is a hugely useful tool for getting around Returnal’s environments, but it’s more than that. It will also show you where enemies are around you with a small red marker, letting you know that the area isn’t safe.

It will also show the location of known pickup types on the map (great if you need to find some healing after a tough fight), and easily highlights the main path through an area. Look for blue triangle door icons for routes off the beaten path that can reward you with extra pick-ups and weapons. Bringing up the full map is also pretty important for checking if you’ve missed an offshoot before you reach the area boss.

5 – Know your pick-ups

There’s an absolute ton of pickups and collectables in Returnal. It’s easy to grab everything you see and not really comprehend what the Silphium Resin or Calibrators do, if you don’t feel like stopping to read the description. Luckily we’ve got a handy Returnal items guide of all the pick-ups in the game!

6 – Look for secret rooms

Looking a lot like an Obolite cluster, these golden pick-ups are actually pits that you will fall down into a hidden secret room! They can include plenty of things, like a set of three weapon chests, just tons and tons of Obolites, some fabricators to create pick-ups.

Also, remember the way you had to shoot a light to open a door right after you get the pistol for the first time? You’ll encounter similar doors later on, but with better-hidden light switches. You’ll need to unlock your melee attack before you can cut through vines, though.

7 – Embrace the Parasites, Malignancy and Malfunctions

Returnal often gives with one glowing tentacle and takes with the other. Parasites have a buff at the cost of a potentially restrictive debuff, and you’ll have to weigh up whether the tradeoff is worth it for your particular run.

Malignany pick-ups, however, are less predictable. Firstly, they don’t always affect you if you pick them up, and secondly, you have no idea what kind of Malfunction they will give you. The suffering can be real, with Malfunctions that I’ve seen including stopping me from picking up new weapons, adding fall damage to the game, and worse. Also, if you pick up three Malfunctions, it will destroy an Artefact.

Despite that… just pick things up if you think you can handle it. It’s all a part of the challenge, and the reward is often worth it. Well, it’s sometimes worth it. Erm, maybe about 25% of the time.

We’d stick with the Hollowbeam on this occasion.

8 – Up your arsenal

You’ll almost certainly gravitate to some weapons more than others – the first point about getting a bit of range is a prime reason – but as your weapon proficiency goes up, and you find new weapons, they’ll often come with additional traits that are unlocked through use. The Spitmaw shotgun is greatly enhanced once you unlock the Slug Shot perk that adds a central, aimed shot to the weapon.

9 – Take the daily challenge

If you want to hone your skills, then try racing through the Daily Challenge. This is a computer terminal found back in the crashed Helios, to the right as you enter through the hole in its hull. They give you a particular weapon and perks, and task you with running through a single biome to take on the high score tables.

10 – Play online

Playing online doesn’t add a huge amount to the game, but it does add a neat little bit of interactivity between players. As you head through an area, you might find a shimmering hologram of another Selene, letting you watch her final moments before she died. From her corpse, you can then trigger a fight against a challenging mid-boss enemy in that room, which will typically drop a new weapon for you to mull over picking up.

Finally, as a final quick aside, we’d absolutely recommend playing Returnal with a decent set of headphones. The game’s soundscape really comes alive when you’ve got a good pair of cans, and even playing with regular surround sound headphones instead of the Tempest 3DAudioTech is great.

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