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.

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