Loop Hero is a lot of things: an RPG, a roguelite, an auto-battler, a card game, a city builder, an evocative visual novel. It’s also excellent, and I can’t stop playing it.
Developed by Four Quarters (maker of 2015’s brilliant behavioral experiment Please, Don’t Touch Anything) and out today on Steam, the appropriately titled Loop Hero sees you shepherd a warrior along a circular path as they fight various creatures, collect upgrades, and earn crafting resources. Plagued by memory loss, you’re trying to rebuild a world thrown into chaos by an evil lich. Each expedition out into the randomized loop helps you unlock more stuff and accrue more materials to rebuild a village, whose survivors, in turn, provide you with more bonuses the next time you venture out into the void. It sounds simple and repetitive, and on a very basic level it is, but it’s extremely satisfying and full of interesting trade-offs to navigate. There’s also a twist: You’re the one who gets to decide how each new loop will take shape.
The enemies you fight drop cards. These are placed onto the map to add new locations as if you were playing a traditional city-builder, except instead of trying to create a thriving community the aim is to craft a dungeon that will maximize the upgrades and resources you can earn without outright killing you. You can play cards like mountains and meadows to increase your health and collect crafting materials, while an aristocratic mansion will summon vampires for you to fight. The tougher the monsters, the better the rewards, until eventually you’ve built up your loop enough to summon the boss. You can either fight it to progress the story and unlock the next loop or retreat to your village with the stuff you’ve already earned.
Either way, everything you’ve earned in the current loop outside of crafting materials will disappear. Being forced to start anew each cycle might sound like a drag but in my experience it’s liberating, allowing me to experiment with new strategies and amend past mistakes. Progress is a fickle thing. Sometimes it happens in fits and starts. Sometimes it’s wiped out entirely. In Loop Hero this means slowly backsliding toward death only to furiously rebound after lucking into a powerful new item or getting a timely level up that unlocks a new skill that happens to synergize just perfectly with your existing loadout.
It’s all of a piece with Loop Hero’s larger story about humanity trying to claw its way back from oblivion. No one in the game is quite sure what’s happening, how many times it’s happened before, or how many times it will happen again. Time can feel like a flat circle in a lot of games where you spend much of your time completing variations on the same few tasks over and over. In Loop Hero it feels especially evocative.
An ominous chiptune soundtrack imbues its minimalist, pixelated world with a grim but whimsical energy. The music ramps up and starts rocking out when you get toward the end of each run, but then resets during narrative interludes as your amnesiac protagonist tries to figure out what is going on as all-consuming darkness threatens to erase meaning and existence. “Eternity will grind you to dust, and I’m just a small gear in that process,” the lich says to you at one point. I’ve felt this way about a lot of loot-based games, but not Loop Hero.
While Loop Hero is an apocalyptic game, it’s as much about rebuilding in the face of depression and despair as it is surviving. Rather than simply trying to make the numbers go up, or grind the loot necessary to grind for even better loot, I’m eager to enlist in this war against the abyss to help its characters break out of their cosmic malaise. There might not ultimately be some deep philosophical treatise on nihilism hiding in the loop, but as we round the bend on the one-year anniversary of the pandemic I’ve already found Loop Hero’s depiction of people lowkey struggling to overcome their ennui and despair surprisingly affecting.
After playing for several hours I’ve only beaten the third boss. I’m eager to see it through to the end though, both to find out what new combinations of cards and abilities I can use to survive the loop, and to see if the conclusion of Loop Hero’s story lives up to the intriguing mysteries it lays out at the start.