Returnal is a tough game to crack in more ways than one. Housemarque does an excellent job at breaking down the game’s various systems and the pros and cons of different actions, but it can still be a daunting process trying to piece it all together and discern how to best conquer Atropos while unknown enemies are raining energy bullets down on you. To help with that, we’ve invested tons of hours into Returnal prior to its launch to help you prepare for the game with a few tips to take note of.
You could likely concoct an endless list of tips and tricks for Returnal to guide players through the game’s twisted story and the intricacies of its combat, but a lot of Returnal is honestly best left to be discovered on your own. Some of those decisions and discoveries you make can be costly ones, however, which could prove quite frustrating if the result is you being booted back several biomes thanks to the game’s roguelike structure, so our tips will largely be focused on keeping you alive and making sure you’re prepared for the threats ahead.
Check out our seven main tips for playing Returnal below, and be sure to drop some of your own in the comments to share with others after you’ve given the game some time and learned more about it.
Don’t Get Too Attached
Consider this more of a philosophy than a gameplay tip if you will, but it applies all the same to Returnal. The game’s about dying, both in terms of gameplay and in regards to its story, so it’s a necessary part of the process. If you didn’t die in Returnal, you’d miss out on key parts of the narrative, you’d become dependent on one weapon and would be absolutely lost whenever you do die and can’t find that one again, and you ironically just wouldn’t have a good a time.
All that is to say that dying is unavoidable in Returnal, so you may as well get used to the idea of it. This part of roguelikes can be especially frustrating to newcomers, so if this is one of the first games of that genre you’ve played, it’ll take some time to get used to. Don’t get too attached to the weapons and gear you’ve collected in any one cycle, because it’s (mostly) all going to be gone whenever your cycle begins anew. Focus on the things you got to keep from your last cycle and how you can use them better the next time.
High-Tier Guns Aren’t Always the Best Options
By leveling up your Weapon Proficiency in Returnal through shooting things and finding certain items, you’ll be able to find better weapons throughout the game. Even if you find three of the same weapon in a row, having a higher Weapon Proficiency each time will mean the latest one should be better than the first one you found.
That’s all well and good, but it’s not always a smart decision to pick up a certain gun just because a weapon has a higher level next to it. Weapons have unique modifiers attached to them that can be different between two of the same item, so keep that in mind when you’re trying to choose what fits your playstyle. It’s great to experiment with weapons since that’s the only way you’ll unlock their unique enhancements, but if you know you’re getting ready for a boss fight and you have a decent loadout, maybe that’s not the right time to pick up the never-before-seen weapon with no modifiers that’s two levels above the one you have.
Don’t Buy Cheap
Just like the Reconstructor itself, quality items don’t come cheap in Returnal. You can’t buy guns, so you’ll have to explore and fight powerful enemies to help yourselves out there, but you can buy plenty of other resources to help you out. Most of those resources cost Obolites, a scarce resource earned from enemies and certain other actions, so it can be tough to decide what to buy.
The easy solution for that problem is to not spend the Obolites just because you have them. When you find Fabricators that let you create different items, you’ll commonly be selected with two to four different options worth varying amounts of Obolites. Half of them will generally be cheaper than the others, but don’t be swayed by the lower prices.
Those more expensive items like valuable Artifacts and upgrades to your base stats are pricy for a reason. If you had the option between choosing an item that grants you a bit of health or gaining more max health overall and had money for both, the choice would be an easy one. It can be tempting to stock up on items before a conflict, but Artifacts and upgrades will last you much longer than a one-time consumable.
Save Keys for Doors, Not Chests
One of the items you’ll find in Returnal is the “Atropian Key,” a device unique to the planet Atropos that gives you access to areas and items you wouldn’t be able to get to otherwise. You’ll find enough of them to satisfy your need for loot as long as you do a fair bit of exploring in each biome, but that doesn’t mean you should use them every chance you get.
These Atropian Keys can be used on either chests or doors. Both will have a red ring around the key slot to easily indicate that they’re not to be bothered with unless you have a key on-hand. So if you’ve only got a few keys in your inventory, what should you use them on?
A good rule of thumb is to always keep at least one Atropian Key on you until you find a door that needs it. That connects to part two of our tips for Atropian Keys: Don’t waste them on chests. Opening a chest with a key is a serious and expensive gamble that’s more than likely going to give you a consumable you may or may not need, and you might not even be able to carry it if your inventory is full. Besides, between a room and a chest, which is bigger? You stand a much better chance at getting valuable loot and passive gains like combat experience by opening doors and exploring, so keep a key handy until you come across a door to use it on.
Power Up Those Reconstructors
Whether through exploration or normal story progression, you’ll eventually come across this funky-looking device called a “Reconstructor.” It’s clearly alien technology fashioned by the sentient species living on Atropos given that it’s shaped like them, but it’s also something that Selene can interact with.
But once you find one, you might experience a brief moment of sticker shock. It costs six Ether to use which is thankfully the resource that you keep even after you die, but six Ether is still no small fee. It says it’s a device for “accurate reconstruction of complex entities per environment,” but that doesn’t really explain what it does, and you don’t get an answer after paying either.
To alleviate that frustration, here’s what it does: It brings you back to life one time after dying. It’s a temporary method of insurance that costs a lot, but it can be worth it if you’ve got a prime loadout and you know you’re about to get into a heated battle. It’s true it’s best to get comfortable with dying in Returnal, but that doesn’t mean you have to go back to the beginning each time.
Amid all the chaos of Returnal, it’s easy to forget one of your non-combat abilities you have at your disposal: The scan Selene performs of her environment. You can scan the area around you by pressing down on the R3 input to send out a pulse that’ll highlight things of note around you.
This move is taught to you early on in Returnal, so while you’re trying to master combat and get a grip on your surroundings, it’s easy to forget it was ever part of the game. Using the scan will highlight enemies in your general area which can be helpful when you’re in darker settings and enemies blend in with the background, and it’ll show you things like doors and other elements you can interact with that you might’ve missed otherwise.
Take Chances with Negative Effects
Negative effects abound in Returnal to entice players to make poor decisions, but sometimes, you can come out the winner in those gambles. Things like Malfunctions and Parasites are the most common causes of these ailments that inhibit Selene’s actions, but what if you luck out and get rewarded with only minimal problems resulting from your actions?
The takeaway here is to take some risks with the items around you. Pick up that Malignant Resin, open that cursed chest, load yourself up with parasites to see what kind of buff and debuff cocktail you end up with once your loadout is complete. Negative effects in Returnal aren’t terribly difficult to remove if you plan your remedies accordingly, so don’t be afraid to experiment.