One of the big challenges in running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign is figuring out how much it will take to fight back against your players. How difficult should every encounter be? How many hobgoblins do you need to position outside the village to make the encounter feel dangerous without punishing your friends? In Loop Hero, these are the decisions you will make as you watch your little pixel protagonist on a lonely track that hovers in the black remains of a ruined universe.
Every run in Loop Hero starts around a campfire on a deserted road, and your hero starts every journey with nothing. Every time you kill an animal or monster along the way, you have the opportunity to collect cards or equipment. Equipment can be equipped to give status bonuses like attack speed and evasion, while maps can be used to make the circuit itself more complex and add new monster spawners and passive buffs.
Cards come in two main varieties. Terrain maps such as mountains and deserts add extra bonuses to your run – mountains increase your defense, while each desert tile subtracts one percentage point from your enemy’s health. These can work together in surprising ways, and finding these interactions is one of Loop Hero’s first joys.
The other map type changes the loop itself, either with maps that turn parts of the barren wasteland into a swamp or village, or by adding a structure to the roadside. This can be anything from lighthouses that increase the attack speed for you and your enemies to creepy mansions that spawn vampires – each has some impact on the difficulty of your run.
As a kind of dungeon master, your job is to manage the difficulty of the hero’s journey. You want to face as many enemies as you can without killing your explorer, and just like in blackjack, the closer you get to failure, the better the rewards. Opponents get stronger with each cycle. Your only chance to scale with them is to earn better loot.
Just like in blackjack, the closer you get to failure, the better the rewards
If you miscalculate, you still have a few options. You can retreat from anywhere on the route and keep 60% of the resources collected along with your maps and equipment. If you wait to complete a lap and get back to the campfire, it’s all good to keep. Even if you die, you will keep 30% of the materials you collected during your trip. You can use these to build structures in your warehouse that unlock new heroes, cards and passive buffs.
The heroes each have their own interesting quirks and unique gear. The villain is more likely to collect trophies than equipment, which is then exchanged for loot every time you complete a round. The necromancer lifts skeletons to do the actual battles, and the equipment you choose will determine how effective they are in battle.
The retro Amiga-style graphics believe in a game that borrows from an impressive range of genres. Loop Hero is a role-playing game in which monsters are battled as different character classes, level-up bonuses are selected, and equipment from fallen enemies is equipped. It is a deck building card game where you create each run with tiles unlocked. There is a basic component that helps complete the story and provides new tools and bonuses for your expeditions.
Loop Hero keeps me up to date by putting pressure on me to plan ahead
Loop Hero also features cribs from casual and mobile games like Car Battlers where it’s deemed appropriate. You watch as your character automatically walks around the loop, just pausing the action to equip new items, place increasingly challenging obstacles for your hero, and sculpt the terrain around the racetrack.
There is also a story. An evil lich has forgotten all of existence, and our hero wakes up in a strange state of stasis. Time is meaningless and orbits itself – nothing is permanent, everything repeats itself endlessly. Only when we remember the world as it was can our hero hope to restore existence himself, and so, step by step, you set about putting things back together.
Loop Hero sets the number of cards, forcing you to carefully consider which buffs and enemies you want to keep rotating and which ones you want to discard with each new round. Spider nests are good for the farming experience, but their numbers can get overwhelming in later loops. You could drop them to keep a vampire mansion in play that adds impressive vampires to other encounters but doesn’t spawn monsters of their own. The best reputation depends entirely on how your hero develops: a tough enemy like a vampire could prove to be too much with too little damage, while a hard hitting hero may not be able to strike fast enough to deal with several smaller mobs be once.
The first chapters of Loop Hero gradually increase the difficulty and introduce you to new enemy skills and bosses, but without overwhelming you with new considerations. Chapter 4 significantly increases the stakes and you will suddenly have to count on the clock of the game – every tile you place increases the timer and once it reaches a certain threshold you will face a powerful boss who wipes the floor with your hero when they are not ready.
For every problem that comes up while gaming, Loop Hero has an answer. When I get tired of the slow pace, I use the button that doubles the game speed. If the rush of resources gets on my nerves, a new chapter will open that will increase my income. Conversations with new NPCs or enemies on the street interest me in the desolate world, and each new tile synergy stimulates by pointing out new enemies or terrain opportunities.
It’s hard to get upset about the pace when a game gives you so much control over this very element. You make small adjustments that add up over the course of each run, and when one goes bad it’s usually pretty clear that you’ve changed your deck too drastically or gone a little overboard with a particular type of terrain. Even what I thought was my main complaint – that there isn’t enough of Loop Hero to discover – doesn’t hold up as well considering that even after 20 hours I can still discover fresh tile interactions to experiment with on future runs.
While it feels more passive than RPG games that put me right in the hero’s dusty shoes, Loop Hero keeps me up by pressuring myself to plan ahead – I’m less concerned about the next fight than what further down the route, and beyond what the trail will look like next time.