Review: Is Loop Hero Even Fun?

The appeal of Loop Hero is that it’s an idle game with more interactivity. Instead of an arithmetic calculation simulator, your job is to take care of a tiny warrior walking in circles. There are two points of interaction: the equipping of items and the laying of tiles.

Loop Hero is a grinding RPG where the hero will walk along a loop and fight the monsters. A loop is completed when they reach the camp after making a full circle, and then you choose for them to return to camp with the materials he has scavenged or continues on for another loop. As the hero slays monsters, they will collect equipment which you will need to equip, but otherwise they goes along the murderpath with no involvement from the player.

As the hero walks, your job as the player is to lay tiles around the path. These tiles are things such as forests, mountains, rocks, villages, and other locations and pieces of terrain. Each terrain card has a specific effect, and depending on which tiles are places next to each other, they can have different effects or become an entirely new piece of terrain. These tiles will change the stats of the hero, the monsters, affect which monsters spawn, and a bunch of other interactions.

Lay enough tiles, and the level’s boss appears on the camp tile. Beating the boss gives you some dialogue, uncovers a little bit of the story, and gives you passage to the next level where monsters are tougher, items are better, and you can hoard more resources. These resources are then used to build up your camp and craft items which give you passive advantages on the next loop. Rinse. Repeat.

Loop Hero Battle

Loop Hero is Too Interactive For an Idle Game

When you begin playing Loop Hero, its pretty interactive. You are checking the gear, equipping it, placing tiles, testing combinations, seeing how different monsters work together or even against each other in battles. This starts to wear thin pretty early as the progression of mechanics and content does not keep up with the progression of the story. Like a lot of RPGs, Loop Hero is a very grindy game and it is needlessly extended, and the story isn’t deep or that interesting. The back half of the game is an endurance test to finish with very little payoff.

Yet, when confronted with the grind, I couldn’t stop. It was easy to set up a run, turn on the option to pause it between loops (every time the hero reaches camp) and run it in the background while working. The more tiles you place, the monsters you create, the longer the loops get. It was really easy to take five or ten minutes to set up a good run, and then check back in between tasks and make sure the hero was ready for another loop. I kept at it because it was easy to, but I am not sure I was ever really having fun with it.

I came across this a lot in the various gaming podcasts and media. Loop Hero is interesting, its addicting, but no one was sure they were enjoying the experience. On the surface it sounds like a lot of variety, but it gets exhausted pretty quick. Once you figure out the interactions between tiles and which ones are best for the class you like, equipping items becomes trivial, and placing tiles becomes busy work. Its not interactive enough to be a compelling experience and its too interactive to be an idle game. Yet, there is something that pushes you forward to do another loop.

Videogames are escapist ventures, where we as players can imagine inhabiting characters and worlds we would never have the chance to in our real lives. They are also great achievement simulators where we can feel empowered. This isn’t just about typical male power fantasies, though there’s a lot of that too. The input-output loops in games give us feedback on our actions faster, clearer, and easier than most things we do at work or in our personal lives. I could plant my own garden and nurture it over a season, or I can do it in My Life in Portia in 20 minutes. If I fail in a game, I can usually find out why in clear terms.

Loop Hero provides the roguelike RPG experience with the least amount of effort. In a year of self-isolation, lockdowns, and global stress, I’ve found myself more exhausted while I’ve been the least active. Loop Hero, asking for so little of my attention and energy but still providing a roguelike RPG experience, was a good fit. Its a twist on a genre, and I appreciate that it exists and that I spent so much time with it. It is a truly unique game.

But watching that little hero walk around in circles fighting monsters, non-stop, also hit close to home. During this pandemic, days melt together when they aren’t marked with scheduled activities. Working from home just means work all the time. So you wake, work, eat, sleep. Loop Hero wasn’t an escape, but a reflection. It wasn’t fun, but I also couldn’t stop. Maybe if the hero broke their loop, I could break mine too.

Review: Not Tonight – The Best Post-Brexit Papers Please

Not Tonight bouncing at the tiki bar

Not Tonight is a game set in an alternate history where the nationalism behind Brexit went completely unchecked and brought in a fascist state in denial and decline. Released two years ago, it was made at a time when there was great uncertainty and fear of what Brexit would bring. Critique of Brexit and nationalist political ideals are at the forefront of the game. Some may think that the England of Not Tonight is an exaggeration or a parody. However, I felt it was a realistic imagination of one potential natural conclusion of unfettered nationalist political ideals.

In this world, the far-right wing parties have taken control and begun a program of deporting “dirty Euros” back to the mainland. Well, except if they can prove their worth by working gig jobs and “generate value” which is swiftly removed by special taxes and bills. Guess that is what happens when a country decides to rid itself of a large section of its workforce. In addition, the economy is collapsing, increasing the gap between the wealthy and everyone else, and things are just turning bad.

Welcome to Not Tonight.

Mechanically, the game draws heavily from Papers, Please to the point where it could almost be a reskin. Instead of checking papers at the border, you are a bouncer for hire in the ever expanding gig economy checking IDs. In this England, however, its not just spotting fakes and checking birth dates, but other factors come into play as well. Some establishments don’t want people from certain nationalities, or who dress a certain way.

If you have played Papers, Please, there is not much new here in this part of the game. Not Tonight has a slow mechanical progression and does not introduce new things to check or do during this process in every mission. I felt it was easier than Papers, Please in some ways but the core stressful experience differs slightly. In Not Tonight, accuracy is important but almost more so is volume.

If you don’t get the bonuses from letting a certain amount of patrons into the bar, you don’t get as much money. Later in the game, you need this money to pay bills that keep piling up, including such things as a work tax, and foreigner tax. In Papers, Please, I remember being more stressed that I was getting everything correct. Quantity was still important but the screens between days were not as involved as Not Tonight’s.

It is in this area that the game takes a departure from Papers, Please. Between your days being a bouncer and checking IDs, you have an apartment to take care of, neighbors to talk to, and English officials to be threatened by. These parts of the game work similar to a visual novel. Characters will introduce themselves and if you give them the right items or accomplish tasks, their narrative branches will open and the story will continue.

Not Tonight is Papers, Please with Story

This is probably my favourite part of the game. The dialogue is well written, the characters and design are charming, and with a few simple lines I found myself drawn in. It is also humurous in places, with quips and jokes coming out unexpectedly, giving a bit of lightness to the dystopian England the game is set in.

But I am not sure this is the best way to do it. I almost wish the story was added to a different game mechanic. You will spend a lot of time bouncing people from pubs, with very little variety in what you actually do, that these sections felt like work. Which means I lost concentration, which means I did not score high on some jobs, which means the story line I wanted to follow closed to me.

I don’t like it when games do that but I understand it’s sometimes a necessary evil. Perhaps keeping your concentration is part of the challenge, making this game a test of your endurance and concentration. Fine, if that is what it is, but I feel the game could be tighter, with less focus on the mechanical part and more focus on the story parts without sacrificing any of the gameplay.

There is a lot of care that went into this game. The pixel art is nice, the writing is for the most part superb, and the world is fully realized. I want to send a special shoutout to whoever is responsible for the music because each bar has a different musical style and the songs slap hard.

If you are undecided whether this post-Brexit world is for you, I’d say if you love the mechanics in Papers, Please and want more, then this is a must get. It is more repetitive, and the theme may be too close to home for some, but it takes what you like and expands on it.

If you thought Papers, Please was just OK, or if that game is enough for you, I have a hard time recommending this game. Not because the game is bad, it most definitely is not, but because so much of what you will be doing is checking IDs. While Papers, Please was tough, runs were short and restarting was not a huge deal. Not so in Not Tonight, which can be frustrating when you get to a situation later in the game where you lose if you can’t pay your bill, but you are not in a position to get enough money in time. If the theme and world intrigues you, it may be enough to see past this.

Despite being a mechanical reiteration, Not Tonight still is a very unique and lovingly crafted experience.

Which Witcher 3 Expansion Should You Buy?

The Witcher 3 has been out for quite a long time now, and often goes on sale on Steam and GOG, along with its expansions. If you are itching to dive back in but not sure which Witcher 3 expansion to pick up, have both and want to know which one to … [Continue reading]

Review: Stories Untold – Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid

Stories Untold is an anthology of 4 small games that draw on 80s nostalgia and technology. That, and old computer interfaces. Each vignette tells a small snack of a story, with the final one closing the thread by combining the previous three into a … [Continue reading]

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Prague, and Setting Games in Beloved Cities

The most exciting thing about Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is that it takes place in Prague. It is the first time a videogame with such a budget has been set in a place that I know very well. The excitement of to see and inhabit a futuristic, cyberpunk … [Continue reading]