Loop Hero speeds up, compresses, and automates some of the best parts of playing RPGs, resulting in a a fantastic, compelling experience for folks who don’t have a lot of time for the genre. Smashing monsters, fussing with equipment, wandering a bleak countryside, and delving into a dark story are all distilled down to a game you can play when you’ve only got a few minutes to spare. Not that you won’t likely spend dozens of hours on it, though.
The world has been catastrophically consumed, leaving little left besides a lonely hero wandering a looping path through the remaining land. Anyone who felt blown away by a certain dramatic turn in Final Fantasy VI will likely feel themselves instantly drawn into this hopeless place. While it may seem pointless to be a hero when almost all the world has faded away, you can still rebuild it bit by bit.
Loop Hero runs largely on autopilot, which sounded dull when I first read about the game. It actually frees you up to make the important decisions without worrying about little things. Your hero will constantly move along the path and will clobber whatever monster they see without your input. Your job is to look at the loot that drops from each monster and decide what will help you out the most. You can equip new toys on the fly if you find something that boosts your counter rate, offers health regeneration, or adds a little more HP, and enemies generously drop a lot of goodies. So, you’ll be continually shifting your gear around as your hero handles all of the other stuff.
The beauty of this is that, as things get harder on each successive loop, you can shift your strategies quickly by shuffling your equipment around. (And you often need to.) Things go bad fast throughout the game (ask me how I did against the Lich on my first try), so a quick shift might be the only thing that saves you. You need to make high-speed tactical decisions through your gear, rather than the moves you use. Thankfully, combat pauses as you fuss with your equipment.
As Loop Hero is designed to be played in quick bursts, danger and loot values all rise quickly, giving you this continual drip of further tension and greater reward. Those ever-increasing risks gave it an almost horror game-like atmosphere, as you never knew when some ghastly undead might end your life. You also didn’t know when some amazing spear or piece of armor would tumble into your hands from fighting a basic slime, making every encounter exciting. That these fights played out so fast made for this constant feed of precise battles and fabulous treasures, making it hard not to want to do just one more battle.
What adds to this is that you’re also in control of the map in front of you. Enemies drop cards that let you make little additions to the world, slowly repopulating its lost mountains, forests, battlefields, and graveyards. Certain tiles will give you items you need to bolster your camp, while others add greater dangers to the world or passive tools you can walk by. These all tweak your experience to your taste, while encouraging you to add greater dangers to get better rewards.
Roguelike elements tend to make me lose interest in a title, as I despise losing progress, but Loop Hero does an excellent job of making it easier to start anew when you die. You build up a stockpile of crafting tools as you wander the map, and if you stop into your camp as you loop around the map, you can use these to build various handy stations that can give you better starting gear, healing items, and more as you go. Even if you died, you’d still bring back thirty percent of what you collected, so it always felt like I had something to show for my hard work.
What I couldn’t get over was how well the game fed me its story in little snippets, despite the fast-paced play. A vampire I ran into down the road (whose mansion I foolishly added to the map myself) divulged some gruesome details about how the world used to work. New townsfolk would relay chilling information about my mental state as I used crafting items to make their workstations. There is a grim tale being told in this game that drew me into the world as much as its sharp, refined play, adding yet another thing that kept me coming back. It’s carefully doled out in small dose, so as to not get in the way of the game, but done carefully so each new piece of information made the game that much more interesting.
With its mysterious story comes some mysterious mechanics as well. Loop Hero does not explain much of what’s going on, relying on you to tinker to figure it out. Do certain lands work better when played near one another? What happens when your inventory fills up too much? What actions am I taking that create nasty enemy encampments? It’s filled with nuances that players will only discover if they’re paying attention, as well as many new play elements that continually enrich the experience after hours of playing.
Loop Hero is a game you can play for only a few minutes, yet every time I picked it up, I spent hours with it. It’s so easy to get caught up in its deceptively-deep play loop as the game plays quickly and rewards/dangers increase quickly. It gave me the kind of increasingly-challenging RPG experience I love, but in a timeline that worked very well for a busy parent working multiple jobs. That it doesn’t rely on that speed to be its only good feature, offering some fantastic secrets and new elements after hours of play, means it rewarded me no matter how long I had to play. I went into this game with little expectations of it, and now I can barely stop playing it.
Loop Hero is available now on PC.