Returnal Guide to Exploration

Last Update: May 1, 2021 9:33 AM /


The entrance to the derelict citadel in Returnal

Chances are if you have a PlayStation 5 you are interested in Returnal, Housemarque's fast-paced bullet hell sci-fi action game. There is a lot to learn in this game, half of the game is just figuring out how everything works. While our Beginner's Guide will help you get started, there is another element of the game that will help you immensely, exploring the environment. This guide is to help you get more out of each of your runs.

Returnal Guide
Amazing what you find when you pay attention to your surroundings.

Returnal Guide to Exploration – Exploration Basics


The first obvious habit to get into is to keep an eye on your map. Whenever you are near an item of interest, a white question mark will appear. This is either an item you haven't discovered yet or an important landmark location like a fast-travel teleport pad or a fabricator pod. This seems on the nose and obvious to any ardent third-person action veteran, but Returnal's maps, especially their earlier ones, play a lot with verticality. This means it's entirely possible to speed through an area, kill everything in sight and keep going without realizing there was a chest one level below you the entire time that could be reached with a well-timed aerial dash.

A second slightly obscure tip: destroy statues you come across. As you explore the world of Atropos you will come across statues of alien figures that may have lived on the planet some time ago. Believe it or not, destroying them can yield surprises like hidden enemies, healing items, and even precious resources like obolite.

Another less obvious tip hidden on the map are how doors to other areas are marked. Generally speaking if a door leads to a regular combar arena, it will be marked with cyan arches. However, if the door leads to a vending area, challenge room, or other potentially helpful items, it will be marked with a dark blue “A” shaped arch.

Returnal Guide
My inner archeologist is crying but I need obolite dammit!

As you progress, you may also come across doors marked with yellow arches. These are to challenge rooms with absurdly powerful enemies but do hold rewards that might be worth the risk. If you're barely squeaking by with the starting sidearm and a bit of health however, you might want to avoid them. Finally, there are red arched doors. These are usually locked by a plot-centric key you need to find in the level and usually mark the entrance to a boss room. Only enter when you think you're ready.

Alternatively, if you just want to get to the next area of the game you've already gotten to before, look for a cyan arch marked with a blue horseshoe symbol. If you have the key or unique item needed to get there, you can skip the area completely and carry on.

Finally, if you see a place locked off by a wrought iron gate, look for a glowing red button. This is used once in Returnal's tutorial and never really brought up again which is why I'm repeating it here. Find it, shoot it, and the gate will raise giving you access to the goodies inside.

A hidden treasure room marked by a statue
Alright, now to see how this will help.

Returnal Guide to Exploration – Hidden Rooms and Secrets


Now that the basics are out of the way, time for the interesting stuff that the map doesn't tell you about. Even if you scan rooms and look for icons, there are hidden nooks and crannies tucked away in Returnal's levels which can pay off massively if you know where to look. The first and most obvious of these are hidden treasure rooms. These are usually found in stone niches tucked away on parts of the level, marked by smaller statues. If you see a glowing yellow dot in front of the statue, run up to it and you will fall through a trap door. Congratulations, you are now in a hidden room full of helpful items.

Similarly, there are secret rooms hidden behind destructible walls. Look for walls marked by glowing yellow cracks or growths, shoot them, and presto.

These kinds of areas pop up across all areas of Returnal in slightly different ways. It's not until you reach the Derelict Citadel that these hidden areas are marked by elaborately hidden portals, but hopefully by then you've gotten used to just looking around out of reflex.

The player standing in front of a deep pool of water full of items
Admit it, you jumped in here without realizing you needed a suit upgrade first. I did too.

As you start unlocking permanent upgrades in Returnal, they'll help you access new areas as well. Watch out for spots to use your grappling hook, you might discover a brand new weapon. If you managed to get the scuba suit upgrade you can see what's underwater. The list goes on. Just because you've seen an area before doesn't mean you've seen all it has to offer.

And with that, you should have a better idea of how to navigate the world of Atropos a little better in Returnal. If you need help on the basics or are stuck on a boss fight, stay tuned.

Have a tip, or want to point out something we missed? Leave a Comment or e-mail us at

a candid selfie of the staff writer, husky build, blond hair, caucasian.
| Staff Writer

Ever since he was small, Tyler Chancey has had a deep, abiding love for video games and a tendency to think and overanalyze everything he enjoyed. This… More about Tyler

More Info About This Game
Learn More About Returnal
Game Page Returnal
PlayStation 5
Release Date
April 30, 2021 (Calendar)
Purchase (Some links may be affiliated)