Arkane has made a name for itself with the gameplay freedom, creative abilities, and detailed worlds in the Dishonored and Prey franchises. Now Arkane Lyon is working on a new IP called Deathloop, bringing together the studio's strengths with some new twists. The first-person shooter tasks you with eliminating eight targets in a single day to break a time loop. But beware! A rival assassin, who can optionally be a PVP opponent, also hunts you. Deathloop was announced at E3 2019, and we got our first look at the gameplay in action recently. However, there’s still a lot we don’t know about this intriguing sci-fi experience. We recently sat down with Arkane Lyon to get some clarity on what to expect.
On What’s Different From Past Games
If you watched the gameplay trailer, it was easy to see the echoes of Arkane’s previous properties, especially Dishonored. When asked about what’s being carried over from previous games and how Deathloop will have its own identity, game director Dinga Bakaba didn’t shy away from the familiarity. “Something we are bringing back that we care a lot about is the flexibility of the gameplay, the flexibility of the worlds - the player being able to sneak past situations or go in action-heavy to find creative and intuitive solutions to challenges,” he says. “We care about world-building and placing players in a world with a lot of interesting lore elements and little stories to uncover. There are also some abilities that we have in the game that you might have seen in the gameplay reveal that do resemble some that we had in the past.”
While it looks like Deathloop is speaking to the studio’s strengths, Bakaba also assured us there’s plenty of new lifeblood. “This project was really started on the premise of doing something different, to experiment with different concepts after eight years of doing Dishonored, he explains.
“I would say the story is more player-driven than [anything] we ever did before. You can do things in almost any order. That’s something new for us. The time loop itself is something very different in terms of the structure of the game and how you approach, for instance, dying in the game. And lastly, I would say another key element that is new is the multiplayer elements. Colt is trapped in a one-day time loop and in order to escape, he has to kill eight targets before the end of the day. One of those targets actually can be played by another player. The fact that the main antagonist of the game called Julianna can be played by another player is also one of the key novelties on display here.”
On How Arkane Keeps The Time-Loop Structure Engaging
Deathloop centers on its Groundhog Day-like structure; if you die before reaching the end of the day (or fail to meet certain objectives), you relive it until you beat all eight targets. But how does that stay interesting for a player beyond the challenge? Loops invite repetition, and that’s not always fun in games. We asked Bakaba how the structure stays engaging for the long haul.
“The story progresses along with your actions and the knowledge that you piece together about the events,” he explains. “It's something that progresses iteratively, but as it progresses, the world resets. You're really trying to solve this impossible situation by learning more about your targets and the place, and once you know something, it’s knowledge you can act upon.” Bakaba uses the example of finding the code for a safe that holds important information, but it’s located in another district and can only be accessed in the morning. Obviously, you’d have to wait for the day to start anew to unearth those details and use that information.
The island is divided into several districts. By entering them at different times of the day, you see different events and routines. “Depending on where you are, different things happen,” Bakaba says. “Just exploring all the permutations of those districts through the day is something that's exciting to do. And then starts the experimentation: But what if I do this? What happens then? Can I prevent this character from dying? Oh, wait a minute, I killed that character, but he was digging a hole, what if I don't kill him and come back in the afternoon and then maybe this opens the passageway to something else. It is really about this clockwork; pushing a domino here, pushing a domino there, and then seeing the ripple effects.”
Bakaba also confirmed there is “no such thing as a perfect day,” meaning there will be some slight variations and differences each time a day resets. For instance, maybe a character wears a different color shirt, eats something different for breakfast, or begins the day in a different mood. The main events are always the same, but little details may change. “[The experience is] more about what the player is throwing into this and how they’re making it change. So there is all this exploration and then experimentation, you know, trying different things and taking a different approach.” Bakaba spoke about giving players more agency to either avoid certain challenges until they’re ready or just discovering different ways to approach things that might offer new or better results.
At the end of the day, your goal is to find “the golden loop,” a way to complete this eight-target puzzle. How many times players repeat days before they find it will vary. “How you get to that knowledge is really freeform,” he explains. “Even though this is about Colt being on the clock to take out the targets before midnight, we didn’t want the experience to be a race, so time in that sense is a bit abstracted. If you want to spend all your time in one district and read every note before you go on to the next day, you’re welcome to do that. I am sure some players will try to make a super-optimized version of the campaign where they take fewer loops to be able to complete the game. I think that would be interesting to see what speedrunners do with this game.”
On Creating Cool Weapons And How Progression Works
Arkane has a flair with creating nifty abilities and weapons that open up different ways to pursue situations. That’s not changing here. In fact, one of the big things the studio was excited for creating a first-person shooter and creating interesting guns.
“This is the first first-person shooter we are doing since two of our projects, Return to Ravenholm and The Crossing, never shipped,” Bakaba says. “So it’s been a long time and we just wanted to make really big guns that really look awesome and have those nice toys for the player. Our approach here was to go for an arsenal that was accessible, so I would see it and immediately be able to say, ‘Okay, that's a shotgun, that's a precise pistol, that’s an automated assault rifle.’ We wanted to have those tent poles of first-person shooters, but give them their own vibe visually in terms of gameplay. We also wanted to make a few little bit crazier weapons.” Bakaba pointed to one of the guns we saw in the trailer as a good example, where you can use two guns that shoot two bullets, but can combine them into a full rifle that fires off four bullets in one burst. “It's a nice weapon, it's stylish, it allows us to do those cool animations when you combine the gun. It’s one of my favorites.”
As for abilities, Bakaba said to expect some familiar ones from Arkane’s previous work, pointing to the shift ability, which functions similarly to Dishonored’s Blink, where you’re teleported to an area nearby. A new one he shared was Julianna’s signature ability. “Colt and Juliana have a vast set of abilities and weapons that they can access, which they share for story reasons, but each has a few specificities and one of Julianna’s is a power we call masquerade,” he says. “Masquerade allows you to take the appearance of any character on the island, any of the NPCs. You can play a mind game on Colt and make some kind of ambush. There is a number of things you can do with this power and we think it will be very exciting to see what players will do with it, especially the kinds of mind games and the kind of surprises that will arise from this.” Bakaba reiterated the abilities always make sense for the character and reflect their personality in some way.
One part that especially has us curious is how progression works in a game where you’re literally starting each day anew. “When you're playing through the campaign, especially in the beginning, it's a time loop, right? So anything that you pick up whenever the day resets is gone," Bakaba says. "You have to really deal with the fact that this is a time loop. But somewhere in the story, there is something important that happens, and Colt finds some kind of loophole, so to speak, and he's able to keep some of those abilities across loops. From then on, the progression becomes a bit closer to what you'd expect from a modern action/RPG, where you can unlock those abilities. So, it's interesting because we go through this phase where we're really subject to the rules of the time loop, and then more and more, we start breaking those rules and Colt starts taking ownership of this world.”
On How The Story Is Told And The Assassins' Unique Relationship
The story takes you to the island of Blackreef, a mysterious, chaotic place stuck in an eternal time loop. For the inhabitants, the island is a never-ending party and breathtaking wonderland. For Colt, it’s a prison – a world ruled by decadence where the delinquents keep him captive while their party never stops. Colt must find answers to why the time loop exists and discover a way to break it, but that’s only scratching the surface of this sci-fi tale. “In all of our games, we've been trying to toy with the concept that the world is much bigger than what you see,” Bakaba teased.
Bakaba said Arkane wanted a really focused experience, so expect something more on the order of Prey’s space station. “We are telling much less of a linear story than we did in something like Dishonored, where you would go from one place to the other and have emotional beats along the way that we could control like a blocking cutscene,” he says. “Here, the player will really piece together the story at their own pace. And there are a number of narrative design elements that go into supporting that; there's non-linearity and the fact that we have multiplayer components”
Bakaba teased there’s an element here they can’t talk about, but one he could mention was the relationship between Colt and Julianna. These two are at odds. Colt desperately wants to break the time loop, since it’s not the best day for him playing on repeat. Julianna will do everything in her power to keep it going, as she sees this as the ultimate playground with no consequences. Colt and Juilianna’s rival relationship is a core element of the narrative, as she’s the main person you’re conversing with during the adventure.
“They talk with each other very often during the story, which is a bit reactive based on what you just did, where you are, and with what you've uncovered with the narrative up until now, Bakaba says. “It’s a relationship that is built. Trying to draw a comparison, it's something like you would get in something like Firewatch where you're very often on the radio with Delilah and you have this relationship growing and taking left turns.”
Bakaba said it’s a more freeform narrative, and while Arkane certainly has some new tools for how it’s telling Deathloop’s story, it also brings in its signature environmental storytelling that invites exploration to uncover Blackreef’s deeper mysteries. “I think it's the most player-driven narrative that we've done in a game until now,” he says.”
On What The Eight Different Targets Bring To The Table
Deathloop has its own cool, retro, ‘60s-inspired world, and it’s safe to say interesting people inhabit it. But what makes these eight targets special? More importantly, how do they impact the gameplay and environments we visit?
Bakaba said the team will talk more about this at a later date, but he did divulge a bit about the first target named Alexis, who was shown off in trailers. “One thing I’ll say about him is he’s not a very likable character, and he’s hosting this crazy party at night where everyone is dressed as a wolf,” he says. “There’s this strict dress code to the party and figuring out which one is Alexis is definitely part of the challenge in how you approach the mission, especially the first time when you don’t have any clues.”
Bakaba didn’t go into specifics about the rest of the cast, but he did leave us with this on what to expect: “The only thing I can say is that we really try to have a diverse cast of targets. They are all part of a group called The Visionaries. They are the people that are responsible for the time loop - the physical anchors of the phenomenon. That's why they have to die. We have targets that have different views and different beliefs about the events.
"One of them might be seeing all of this as something more spiritual, or even religious to an extent. One of them will be more about seeing all this endeavor as a scientific experiment. For another one of them, it’s a moral thing, where the time loop is the only way we can be free because there is no consequence. They all have different reasons for kickstarting this whole crazy program together. As we do in our games, the environments in which you find them is really a reflection of who they are and what they bring to the program.”
As you can see, Deathloop has plenty of mysteries to uncover, and we can't wait to see what's in store. Hopefully, we'll learn more in the coming months before release, but our chat certainly left us more intrigued. What do you think so far?
Deathloop launches this holiday season for PS5 and PC.