At first glance, Loop Hero seems to blend into the sea of other indie roguelikes on the market. We've seen these distinct systems and mechanics applied to everything from platformers to hack-and-slash action to dungeon crawlers. But what Four Quarters has managed to pull off, either by necessity or simply thinking outside the box, is combine roguelike RPG elements to a genre that quietly goes unappreciated: idle games. The result is something infectiously addictive.
Here We Go Again
The set up for Loop Hero goes like this. The universe as we know it has been wiped out by an all-powerful villain, leaving the world as an endless void. There is still a hero standing against this end, and their memories slowly begin to rebuild the world. But as the good returns like villages, mountains, and meadows, the bad returns as well. Using this knowledge, the hero attempts prepare themselves to fight the villain by weaponizing these memories, build up their skills, and do battle for the fate of existence.
Overall, it's a novel twist on a pretty generic fantasy adventure, albeit one that is cosmic and existential. Despite this narrative structure, do not expect a deep discussion on such themes. There are bits of dialogue between the hero and several support characters that bring up some ideas here and there regarding memory, nostalgia, and perception, but they're never fully explored beyond some basic chin-stroking observations.
Loop Hero's story is merely a vehicle for its primary gameplay loop, and it is a doozy. Every single time you begin an expedition, your character starts walking around a generic looping stone path with a base camp. Monsters will slowly spawn during these loops and your character will continuously move and automatically fight these creatures. Killing these monsters and returning to your base camp will grant you new weapons and items which will slowly improve your stats. A few of these items will even grant you additional traits like regenerating health or counterattacking.
It's the secret ingredient that makes Loop Hero stand out so much: you're not just the hero of the story, you're also the architect of the adventure.
On its own, this automatic gameplay can feel like busywork. At any point you can pause the game and look through your inventory, see which items have larger numbers, equip them, then wait until more enemies get chopped to pieces by your build. There are distinct classes of item that will give your character a more defined role, do you want to be a regenerating tank or a high DPS fast striker with vampiric damage. If you've played your share of RPGs, you'll recognize these roles too well and know what you'll gravitate towards.
But this is only half of the game. As you progress, you'll slowly draw cards from a deck with locations on them. These can range between simple – rocks, forests, etc., to elaborate like vampire's castle or a tower that calls down lightning strikes. Playing these cards lets you place these areas in the environment, either on the hero's path or in the background, which will help and hinder your expedition in different ways. Once you add a certain amount of locations to the map, the boss will appear, signalling the final battle. It's the secret ingredient that makes Loop Hero stand out so much: you're not just the hero of the story, you're also the architect of the adventure.
There were a few moments early on in my playthrough where this dynamic clicked for me. I discovered that placing several mountain locations close to one another would increase my hero's maximum health, since I was going for a high-defense build at the time. However, once I had placed nine mountains together in a square, they combined into a large mountain, granting me an even larger health bonus. That mountain also housed harpy nests, which lead to my adventure being plagued by fast and deadly bird women.
This synergy even happens with other cards. Placing a village card by itself will heal you as you pass by and give you a simple sidequest – kill X amount of a certain monster for some additional items. But place a vampire mansion nearby and the village will become ransacked, filling it with ghouls. Survive past this village for three loops, however, and it is rebuilt, thriving under its new vampire overlord, giving you even more bonuses than a standard village.
It's the kind of interplay that helps keep every expedition from feeling like a pure numbers game. Tougher enemies have a greater chance of dropping better items, but their combat style might just be the thing that puts your hero in the ground. A health leech build could easily be overwhelmed by a swarm of goblins. A tank could be worn down by the thousand draining cuts of a vampire bat swarm. A highly agile assassin could be pulped by a single punch of a golem. Even if you continue to add purely beneficial areas, something will spawn in to keep things interesting. Put down too many villages and a bandit camp will appear to fill it full of rogues that will steal items from your inventory. Put down too many mountains and goblin strongholds will manifest. The list goes on.
Creation and Destruction
Of course, not every single expedition will be successful, and Loop Hero does contain some roguelite features. Killing monsters and adding scenery to the environment will reward you with crafting materials. If you die before beating the boss, you keep a small amount of these materials. Using these materials you can build locations like farms, huts, or libraries, which will give you passive bonuses on your next expedition. Invest in certain locations and you'll even unlock additional playable classes for your hero like the rogue or the necromancer. You'll even have a chance to modify your deck before the next expedition. Adding or removing cards can seriously help turn the odds, however so slightly, in your favor.
It's a structure that is quite familiar by now, but Loop Hero's progression system keeps it interesting. Within the first few hours, the game's basic but familiar RPG elements and light management sim elements came off as a quaint mix. But once the first boss was beaten, more advanced RPG elements were introduced like bleed damage, armor degradation, and ongoing passive abilities. Slowly but surely, expeditions felt more like elaborate puzzles of spatial management as well as an RPG. Just when you think you have a grasp at how deep the systems go, a new layer is discovered. I've logged over forty hours into this game, and it still feels like there is more still to uncover.
If there is a problem with Loop Hero, it's the same one that characterizes a lot of Devolver Digital's published work and the inherent limitations of the genre. It is still frustrating to have one bad roll mess up an otherwise flawless run. It is still annoying when you don't get the right item, card, or ability when you need it most and your current build won't be as optimized as you'd like. Outside of this highly polished time-loop gameplay, there isn't anything else to engage with meaningfully on a narrative or thematic level. But if any of these ideas and systems have you interested at all, these issues won't be enough to diminish your enjoyment in the slightest.
Loop Hero | Final Thoughts
Loop Hero isn't exactly transcendent or revolutionary compared to its peers, but what it does is polished to near perfection. Despite being more passive than other RPGs, it remains deeply engaging and dynamic thanks to its creation elements and how it combines with the adventure at hand. If you enjoy idle games, want a twist on RPG fare, or just like playing something fun and unexpected, do not miss out on this gem.
TechRaptor reviewed Loop Hero on PC with a copy provided by the publisher.
- Polished, Eclectic Idle Roguelike RPG Gameplay
- Rewarding Base and World Management Systems
- Addictive, Layered Progression
- Slightly Undercooked Main Story
- Minor RNG Complaints