Deathloop: your first in-depth preview of Bethesda’s next-gen shooter

Originally announced as one of the PS5’s leading exclusives, Deathloop will now release on September 14th. In a closed preview event last week, Bethesda dropped some much-awaited gameplay details.

This September, gamers will finally be able to step into the shoes of Colt, an unfortunate assassin who has found himself stuck in a time loop on the mysterious island of Blackreef. Developers Arkane have so far kept their fans in the dark regarding the finer details of Deathloop, but today, the beans have been spilt.

Last week Clocked attended a special preview event and spoke to game director Dinga Bakaba and art director Sebastien Mitton following the stream, finding out a score of new information about the music, mechanics, and mayhem you can expect to find in Deathloop. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Time is a flat circle… I think?

Previous to last week’s preview, there had actually been very little revealed surrounding the core Deathloop gameplay. We knew it was a first-person shooter with supernatural powers, or “Dishonoured with guns”, as Bakaba put it. We knew there was a time loop. But what about the setting, the specifics?

You, as the protagonist Colt, are tasked with killing eight Visionaries scattered across the island of Blackreef. This will supposedly break the loop you’re stuck in, but you only have a single day to do so.

In Deathloop, Blackreef will be split into four areas; The Complex, Updaam, Fristad Rock, and Karl’s Bay, as well as four time zones; Morning, Noon, Afternoon, and Evening. This 4×4 grid of times and locales serves as the basis of the game’s central time loop, creating a roguelike experience of sorts.

You’ll be relieved to hear that can also save your progress between runs, rescuing you from some particularly lengthy playtimes like we’ve recently seen with Returnal. With the day split into four, you can take a breather between time periods or mission areas, once you’ve completed your objectives.

“Since we have periods, it’s a bit more forgiving”, Bakaba shared. “Should you die while you’re in Igor’s complex trying to find a clue about Harriet, for instance, you don’t have to go through the entire day. You can just skip the time periods to go back to the complex at night and continue what you’re doing.” 

“It is a time loop, but we didn’t want players to restart each time they die. It’s about Colt mastering this situation, mastering the space. And by the end, you feel like you have a mastery of time.” 

Time progresses in a linear fashion, meaning that if you switch off a camera in the morning, you’ll be able to sneak past that area undetected in the evening. The consequences of your actions range from minuscule to absolutely massive, with Bakaba promising not a “gazillion” interactions but that each one would be “intentional and interesting”.

A core idea of Deathloop is for players to gain “mastery over the loop”. On each run you’ll learn something more about each NPC’s schedule, or maybe a secret way into an area, and after enough times through the grinder, you’ll know where everything is happening, before it’s happening.

With this in mind, Arkane have distanced themselves from a morality mechanic like the prominent one found in Dishonoured. Far-reaching emotional choices are hard to carry throughout a storyline that’s only a day long, so the focus is on providing a score of different ways for Deathloop players to navigate their way through a time-locked game world.

Deathloop Juliana

Invasive manoeuvres

Now, who on earth is this Juliana character we keep hearing about?

Juliana, as it turns out, is the deadliest Visionary of them all. She’ll be an antagonistic force felt throughout the game, from story beats, to her literally hunting the player down to ruin their run. The best part? Sometimes, another player may jump into Juliana’s shoes. Yes – Deathloop has an invasion mechanic.

After completing the game’s introductory sequence, which Bakaba says will last a “few hours”, players will be able to go on the hunt as Juliana and rain on other players’ parades. Bakaba did note that while Juliana will have a few advantages – namely being “home”, meaning that NPCs and other inhabitants of Blackreef won’t attack you – the best invaders will be those who’ve already “mastered the island”.

“…the more you know the environment, the more you know the maps through and through,” Bakaba described, “the more scary a hunter you will be.”

Killing Juliana as Colt will earn you resources to spend on permanent upgrades, whereas killing versions of Colt as Juliana will earn players upgrades specific to Juliana. This and vanity items, such as new outfits for both characters.

Arkane chose to gate the unlocking of cosmetics behind Juliana on the basis that “if you care about how you look in a first-person game, it’s probably because you like playing with others.”

He also clarified that players will be rewarded for playing what the developers have deemed “the cool way”, which could be anything from particularly stylish play to maintaining your presence as a silent annoyance by damaging Colt without ever killing him.

In existing games with invasion mechanics, Dark Souls coming to mind as a prominent example, the notification that your game has been invaded can make for some of the most heart-stopping multiplayer moments out there. However this side of Deathloop plays out, it’s an interesting way to diversify the game and will likely make for some frustrating, fun, and totally unique interactions.

The music of Deathloop

As anyone who has seen the previous previews will tell you, Deathloop is stylish as all hell. This extends into the soundtrack, where Tom Salta (Halo, Wolfenstein: Youngbloodand Ross Tregenza (Timesplitters, Crysis, Cyberpunk 2077) are signed on as composers.

For Bakaba and Mitton alike, the game’s music needed to be an extension of the ’60s-inspired style that Deathloop wears visually. Bakaba shared:

“Something that was important was, can we make some ’60s-inspired music that young people still we still want to hear and play to? That was a lot of the challenge, and that was a lot of back and forth… between the composers.” 

The gameplay music is also “quite present”, a considered creative choice by the Arkane team. Bakaba mentioned that the combat music can become more prominent overall in the audio mix than other games, depending on where your character may be at each moment. While that leaves a lot up to the imagination without hearing the game audio, it sounds like while you’re in the full swing of combat, Tregenza and Salta’s compositions will be taking a front seat.

The diegetic music – songs created specifically within the world of Deathloop – will of course be featured through radios, or other in-game objects or characters.

A prominent example of this diegetic music is Frank Spicer, one of Colt’s ultimate targets, the Visionaries, in Deathloop. Bakaba described Spicer as “a mix of a folk singer and a crooner, he has several original songs in the game.” 

“And they’re hilarious! He’s just an asshole. All the targets are competing on who the is best asshole, and Frank – Rambling Frank, as his singer name is – is really fun. His songs are quite annoying, but really catchy.” 

Tools of the trade

And finally, some nitty gritty. In Deathloop, despite losing progress with each death, there are many ways for players to upgrade their Colt to be faster, deadlier, quieter, or more powerful.

These upgrades come down to weapons, supernatural powers granted by mysterious slabs, and trinkets that can alter how your character, weapons, or slab powers behave.

Weapons cover the familiar bases, with a machete, shotgun, rifle, SMGs, hand guns, and more on offer. Some more exotic weapons include a silenced nail gun and the Hackamajig – a tool you can use to hack electronics, distract enemies, and more.

Slab powers will be familiar to Dishonoured players, allowing Colt to teleport short distances, turn invisible, link enemies together to share damage, and even save him from death with a body-retrieval mechanic.

Lastly, trinkets are numerous, offering simpler upgrades such as reducing gun recoil, minimising fall damage, silencing weapons, or granting Colt a double jump.

Residuum is an item players will unlock a certain amount of time into the story, which allowing them to maintain certain these upgrades permanently. Love that particular slab power? It’s yours for life, if you’ve got the Residuum for it.

And, well, that’s all for now. Stay tuned for more information on Deathloop as we approach the release date in September. As it stands, it’s looking like one of the more inventive games to grace the PS5 in 2021. At the very least, it’s certainly one of the most stylish.


Deathloop comes to PS5 on September 14th.