Game Recs

Loop Hero Is an Absolute Must-Play on Xbox Game Pass

Try, try again.

Originally Published: 
loop hero lich art
Devolver Digital

What is it about seeming endless time loops that we find so fascinating and even comforting? Whether it’s navigating the depths of hell in Hades or watching Bill Murray be silly in Groundhog Day, it’s the king of timeless (pun intended) conceits that never gets old. It’s a big part of what made Devolver Digital’s indie darling Loop Hero such an instant hit upon its initial March 2021 release — and why it’s made its way to Xbox Game Pass two years later.

Set in a grimdark medieval universe where an undead wizard obliterated all of existence and even the memory of all that did exist, Loop Hero puts you in the armored boots of an androgynous hero wandering around in circles somewhere in the abyss. The whole thing is deceptively profound, delving into complex questions about the nature of memory and morality. There’s some rich lore if you want it, but the gripping gameplay loops are rich enough without it.

Transcending genres, Loop Hero is an auto-battler, a procedurally generated roguelike, and a deck-builder with elements of base creation. But the way these systems integrate and overlap is a stroke of intuitive brilliance that’s easy for gamers of all skill levels to pick up. Couple that with some seriously cool lo-fi grimdark design aesthetics and a soundtrack that absolutely slaps, and you’ve got an enchanting little game.

Your amnesiac hero emerges from the abyss through sheer willpower and begins their endless cyclical trek through a misty road in the dark, ending a day when you get back to the campfire starting point. From there, you can retreat to a base that you can expand with collected resources, eventually creating a flourishing little village with NPCs and even more playable characters.

While you’re out in the field your hero automatically encounters and fights enemies. With every victory comes a random assortment of equipable gear and Landscape cards you can play to remember and rebuild the world bit by bit. “Manifestations of the mind made tangible and physical,” the lore reads, “these Cards are Pieces and Fragmented Memories of the Old World before it was destroyed by The Lich.” And each comes with a specific effect.

Reshape the abyss as you see fit.

Devolver Digital

Among the 34 different cards are things like “Vampire Mansion,” which adds Vampires to nearby battles. Or there’s the “Village,” which heals your warrior and doles out quests. Though you can pause the game to play cards or equip items, everything keeps going around and around. The escalating intensity is a thrill, especially because Loop Hero increases in complexity the longer you stay on an active run. The rarity of your gear spikes randomly, and you’ll eventually encounter unique features like Vampirism (your damage output heals you) or Regen (a consistent heal over time), so build construction becomes essential.

The game doesn’t spell it out for you, but where you place specific cards on the grid can also generate some drastic tile combo effects, which is essential to mastering the game’s zenlike flow. Alone, Rocks and Mountains each give you a modest percentage boost to your HP, but if you build a 3x3 grid mixing the two, then they transform into a Mountain Peak that grants a whopping +120 HP and +5 HP for any additional adjacent Rocks or Mountains you place. But every two days (or loops), they also generate a dangerous Harpy.

Like the Vampires you encounter, the Harpies are intelligent humanoids that seemed to coexist peacefully with mankind before the end of the world. Vampires even governed and protected humans. The Hero remembers this and asks for help restoring the world, yet these monstrous beings and their kind suffer torment in this hellscape ... and they’re hungry. “Save yourself while you still can,” the first Vampire you meet says. “I don't know how long I will be able to keep my head straight!”

This Harpy is too hungry to help you save the world.

Devolver Digital

The first Harpy encounter is nothing short of heartbreaking: “I can't feed my children with your beautiful words!” We default to seeing these beings as monsters because that’s how they’re always represented. But Loop Hero subverts our expectations by humanizing them. They may be our enemies, but they are not monsters by default. They’ve merely succumbed to despair, which makes your will the hero’s real superpower. As you uncover more of the secrets of this universe, Loop Hero’s lore becomes a nesting doll of cool twists bordering on the cosmic and metaphysical.

Loop Hero arrived almost a year to the day from the start of the lockdown, and it made for a deeply resonant — and ironic — experience. For all the darkness and evil on display within its fantasy world, you’d think the bleak setting would be more of a downer. Yet the ultimate message about perseverance in the face of unending despair and finding hope in the darkness is uplifting and inspirational.

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