Developed by Housemarque Studios exclusively for the PS5, Returnal is a next-gen roguelike third-person action bullet hell game. In my full review of the game, I emphasized that it’s hard as hell and extremely punishing in difficulty. I don’t want to resort to cliches but it does sort of feel like the Dark Souls of Roguelikes.
I don’t claim to be an expert Returnal player, but I can share several tips that helped me on my own journey through the perilous alien planet of Atropos:
Whatever You Do, Keep Moving And Keep Dashing
The first piece of advice that I have for Returnal players is to always keep moving and never to stand still. That may sound obvious, but it’s an easy mistake to make especially if you’re used to playing third-person cover shooters. There are a lot of covers in Returnal, but most of them can break (like pillars) so it’s always a good idea to keep moving.
The folks at Housemarque have done a great job in ensuring that Selene has great mobility. Take advantage of traversal items like the Icarian Grapnel grappling hook to increase your mobility. Plus, dashing is probably the most important single action in the entire game (next to the trigger buttons, of course).
Oh, and that actually relates to my next point:
You’re Invincible When Dashing
The dash in Returnal has an incredible amount of I-frames. I-frames (or Invincibility Frames) are the period of time (measured in frames) during which a character cannot be damaged. In some games, this happens directly after respawning, allowing for a brief ‘safe’ moment. In other games, this happens when dodging or rolling, which usually applies to action-heavy games like Dark Souls and yes, Returnal.
It took me a while to realise this but after playing for hours, I was finally able to fully exploit the dashing mechanic in Returnal. This is extremely important to keep note of and essential to survive. My first instinct in Returnal was to keep dashing and thereby dodge every enemy projectile hurtling towards me.
That’s not exactly the best approach. Why? In a lot of cases, it’s simply better to dash into the enemy projectile instead. This is also much easier to pull off than trying to dodge every single projectile. This is especially true when the enemy projectile is more laser-like and not the usual orbs.
It’s not just during combat either. The I-Frames applies when trying to complete platforming puzzles and challenges in Returnal too, as most of these involve moving or static lasers. The only way to avoid taking damage sometimes is to dodge into the lasers. Don’t worry, time your dashes right and you won’t take any damage whatsoever.
One last important thing to note is that while you can pretty much dash through almost any enemy projectile or laser, there are a few exceptions. You should always dodge the blue-coloured lasers, not dash through it. You’ll still take damage if you dash through the blue lasers.
There’s Only One Way To Dispatch Enemies With Red Shields: Up-Close Melee
I don’t remember if the game told me to do this or if I learnt this myself. Whatever it is, you can’t kill enemies with red shields without using the Atropian Blade melee attack. It’s annoying, sure, but you need to get up close and personal for enemies with red shields. Melee attacks can be performed with the Square button.
Of course, you’ll need the Atropian Blade first, but you’ll obtain this quite early in the game.
The Only Item You Keep After Death Are Ethers
Returnal features several obtainable items, resources and materials. Quite a lot of them, actually. They include:
- Obolites: (in-game currency used to purchase Artifacts and items, or as the game calls it, to ‘fabricate’ them)
- Atropian Keys: (used to open locked doors and chests).
- Ethers: (used to open chests)
- Artifacts: (one-off items that offer special bonuses and benefits).
- Parasites: (can be equipped, each parasite offers a single buff and debuff or a positive and negative effect at the same time).
Of all these, only the Ethers will carry on after death. If you die in Returnal, the only thing that you keep are Ethers (but there’s a cap limit of 30, so you can’t exactly hoard them too much). Technically, there are a few other Artifacts that carry over after death, but these are just traversal items like the Icarian grapnel grappling hook that you obtain through the narrative.
The Most Important Artifact To Get In Every Cycle? The Astronaut Figurine (And The Watch Too)
Every time you complete a cinematic House sequence in Returnal, you’ll obtain a special memento Artifact. These aren’t actually permanent (they’re gone after the Cycle during which you first obtain them, just like any other Artifact). However, there’s an Artifact that has saved my bacon so many times and allowed me to defeat impossible boss battles.
That Artifact is the Astronaut Figurine, which is unlocked after the first House sequence. If you die with this Artifact in your inventory, you’ll immediately be brought to life in the exact area you died. It’s essentially an extra life, which is a godsend in a game like this.
However, it’s important to point out that the Astronaut Figurine has to be purchased or fabricated in each Cycle. It costs 300 Obolites, which is quite a big sum to accumulate. If you’re lucky, you might even find one in a chest somewhere. I’ve tried to find out if I can stack more than one Astronaut Figurine, but so far it hasn’t been possible to do so.
In another of the House sequences, you’ll unlock another Artifact (a watch) that has the same function as the Astronaut Figurine. Still, it’s the same case. It either has to be fabricated or found in a chest. Still, my point is that the Astronaut Figurine is perhaps the most valuable and sought-after Artifact in the game. I always feel much better with one in my inventory.
Trust me, with how hard the game is, you’ll definitely need the Astronaut Figurine/extra lives.
Stop By The Shop (Fabricator) Hub
Unlike other roguelikes like perhaps Hades, there’s no central hub where you can upgrade your character in between runs or Cycles. Fortunately, there is a safe room with a shop hub of sorts in the game. It’s always located in the first biome of each Act in Returnal. In Act 1, that’s the Overgrown Ruins. The shop hub won’t pop up at all in other biomes like the Crimson Wastes.
This shop hub will always have four fabricators with randomized Artifacts. The Artifacts are randomized for each Cycle so don’t expect to see your favourite Artifact there in every Cycle. Remember the Astronaut Figurine I mentioned in the tip above? The shop hub is where you are able to fabricate it. However, since the selection is randomized, it won’t always be available in every Cycle, so it’s up to luck and the RNG gods.
Besides the four randomized Artifacts available to fabricate, there’s also always on fabricator that’s available to immediately increase 25 percent of your max Integrity (max health). This also costs a lot of Obolites too, by the way.
Silphium And Resin
There are two green-coloured resources in Returnal, indicated via the health cross on the minimap. They look the same, but they have different effects.
Silphium restores Integrity (health) while Resin increases Selene’s max Integrity (max health). Just make sure to pick these up whenever you find them.
Do Not Jump Into The Water, Unless…
Even in the very first biome in Returnal, there are sometimes small bodies or pools of water in certain rooms. I learnt firsthand that you should NOT jump into them, even if you can see Artifacts or items waiting for you in the water.
Returnal has Metroidvania elements, which means that certain areas can only be explored later after you’ve obtained the necessary item to reach it. One of these is the Icarian grapnel grappling hook, but the one required for underwater exploration will only be available in the sixth biome in Act 2 of Returnal, which is quite far and late into the game.
Keep Using Weapons To Unlock More Traits, Don’t Just Switch Weapons
You’ll be switching between weapons a lot in Returnal, due to how the Weapon Proficiency system works. However, sometimes it’s better to keep using the same weapon for a while, even if you’ve increased your Weapon Proficiency and discovered weapons with better stats. As important as weapon stats are, Weapon Traits (ie: those unique modifiers like adding extra lasers, exploding shells or life-leeching shells) can be extremely helpful against powerful enemies.
To unlock Weapon Traits, you need to use the same weapon until those Weapon Traits are unlocked. Look out for more interesting and powerful Weapon Traits that fits your playstyle. If you need to find out what exactly a Weapon Trait can do before putting in the time and energy to unlock it, just head into the menu (by pressing the touchpad) and head to the Equipment tab.
Just scroll down to check out what each Weapon Trait can do. Some of them can have vague names that don’t really tell you what they can actually do.