I’m a right-boring bastard in everyday life. I wake up and have the same breakfast every day. When I go out for a drink, I’ll seldom deviate from my trusted brands of beers. Having a takeaway? Ask my girlfriend and she’ll rattle off my order as if it’s her own. I’m that predictable and probably whine enough about how bland my life is that even that’s become predictable. Change is sometimes difficult for me to come to terms with. I (sometimes) get there eventually, but I’m always skeptical that it’s for the best and often rue my past decisions if things don’t pan out.
So when Returnal rolled around, with its roguelike elements and an assortment of alien weapons (which we’ve now comprehensively ranked), I was thrown a bit of a curveball. I’m not normally a big roguelike player for the record. But I’m a huge fan of Housemarque’s previous titles, and Returnal’s sci-fi aesthetic and silky smoothy gunplay just spoke to me. Before long, I realized that Returnal was making me venture out of my comfort zone in order to succeed.
Did I do this immediately? Absolutely not. I clung to the Tachyomatic Carbine from the moment Selene stumbled upon it. It was your typical assault rifle. It was ordinary. My home away from home on this otherwise foreign planet.
Parasites? Forget about it. Why would I let one of those leech-like creatures cling to Selene’s arm for a minor buff at the expense of another stat, or an annoying debuff to another mechanic? Reduces suit integrity repair efficacy by 30%? Get in the bin.
But then I died and continued to do so. Each time sent back to the Helios with the Modified Sidearm SD-M8 replacing the Carbine in her hands. No matter how hard I tried in some runs, though, the Carbine eluded me and the parasites were kept at arm’s length. I’d suffer so much damage simply seeking out the weapon, the run would inevitably be short-lived and I’d be right back at the Helios with the SD-M8 replacing it once more.
Turns out it took me far too long to realize that maybe the Tachyomatic Carbine wasn’t the be-all-end-all for my runs across Atropos, and those pesky parasites perhaps weren’t so bad after all. That level 6 Rotgland Lobber may not fit my standard playstyle, but it was a darn sight better than sticking with the level 2 Carbine I cherished so much. And lo and behold, I got far further through that run than I previously had.
Change was a good thing in this instance. Even if I didn’t stick with it throughout the duration of my run — which Returnal constantly tries to tempt you away from with more powerful weapons and newfound abilities, artifacts, and parasites — the change was sometimes needed just to push me that little bit further. It didn’t always work out, but it was worth a try rather than bashing my head against the same Carbine-shaped post.
From that point on, I threw caution to the wind. On multiple runs I’ve had several malfunctions screaming at me from the top left-hand corner of the screen as I ram another parasite onto my arm. Malfunctions are temporary, but the buffs parasites can bring are permanent — unless a Parasite Extractor is made use of. They’ve played a key part in my most successful run to-date which saw me blasting through all of Act 1 and a large part of the fourth biome. It even led to me finding and sticking with the true king of Returnal’s weapons, the Hollowseeker.
Had it not been for that realization that my tried and tested, familiar Carbine loadout wasn’t the one for every scenario Atropos threw at me, and that parasites actually are worth the risk more often than not, then I wouldn’t have stumbled onto that ‘god roll’ run that helped me progress so far. And it’s these breakthrough moments of progression, or these runs that make you feel near unstoppable that are such a huge part of what makes Returnal so enjoyable and satisfying to play.
Of course, all things must inevitably come to an end, and so did said ‘god roll’ run. It may sound silly, but Returnal actually reminded me that change is good, I just need to be more welcoming of it. I can still love the Carbine and my everyday usual picks, but you’ll never know what you’re missing if you don’t mix it up every once in a while.
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