Returnal was made intentionally difficult, but the game lacks any sort of autosave feature, which adds another layer of artificial difficulty.
PlayStation 5 owners have finally gotten their hands on Returnal, the latest exclusive from Housemarque. The third-person roguelike shooter features main character Selene crash-landing on an alien planet called Atropos. A time loop has her resetting at the crash site every time the hostile lifeforms on the planet manage to kill her, and the terrain changes to make every attempt unique. Although Returnal garnered mostly favorable reviews, the game’s difficulty has been a point of contention.
Returnal is intentionally designed to be difficult. Dying can have severe consequences, especially when a loop has been going for an hour or more and almost all of the progress made will be reset upon death. As a roguelike, the threat of losing progress is inherent to the game design, and the difficulty of surviving in Returnal was clearly a purposeful development decision. However, the game is made artificially more frustrating by the lack of a regular autosave, a quality of life feature that is nearly universal in the video game medium.
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No matter what, if Returnal is closed, all progress on the current run will be lost. A few permanent equipment items like Returnal’s Ether will remain, but restarting the game and loading a save will result in the player beginning at the crash site with a new, randomized map ahead of them. The game suggests players put the PS5 into rest mode to take a break, but that solution isn’t very helpful to people who play multiple games, happen to have Returnal crash, or experience a power outage that shuts off the PS5.
Other Difficult Games Like Returnal Save Progress
The Dark Souls games are notorious for their difficulties. They are not roguelikes, but the gameplay loop is comparable to that of Returnal. If the player dies, they lose all the souls they collected, return to the previous bonfire, and all the enemies respawn. However, Dark Souls and the other games in the Soulslike sub-genre made popular by FromSoftware recognize a player’s progress and let them indefinitely suspend their game. All it takes is a few clicks through the menu to get to the “Quit Game” button, the autosave symbol pops up in the corner of the screen, and the game goes back to the main menu. Next time the game is loaded, the player is standing in the exact spot they left from.
Allowing the player to quit to a menu in order to suspend a run in progress doesn’t make Returnal any easier, it just makes it more flexible for people who have busy schedules, want to play another game, or share a PS5 with others. It also avoids the now common problem of Returnal players bringing their PS5 out of rest mode to find an auto-updated patch has closed the game in the middle of a run. The hours-long runs are fine because that is just how the game is formatted, but having no autosave feature creates non-diegetic difficulty, which is simply bad design. Returnal relying on the PS5’s rest mode feature is woefully obtuse when it’s the software that should be responsible for allowing players a break.
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