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9 essential tips for getting started in Returnal

Returnal is the next hot PlayStation exclusive and the first-ever roguelike with a AAA price tag. It’s not for the faint of heart, though. In Returnal, you’re caught in an endless loop of shooting aliens and dying horribly to them. To get you started on the right foot, we’ve rounded up nine essential tips for this Returnal beginner’s guide.

Running off adrenaline

Returnal uses a combo system known as adrenaline. For every three enemies you kill, you’ll gain another adrenaline level, up to a maximum of five levels. Each level gives you different benefits, but you’ll lose everything if you take damage. The first level, for example, gives you a long window for Overload — basically active reloads — while level two allows you to see enemies through walls. Basically, adrenaline makes playing Returnal easier, and as you’ll quickly learn, you need all the help you can get.

Our tip here is simple: Don’t get hit. Use the start of your run to build up your adrenaline on low-level enemies, and then ride that wave for as long as you can. It’s especially important to enter boss battles with a full adrenaline meter, as you might not have an opportunity to build it once you’re in the heat of battle. Adrenaline wants to keep you alive, so use it.

Keep an eye out for secret areas and hidden chests

There are plenty of secret areas scattered through the randomly generated world of Returnal, but they don’t show up on your map, so you need to know where to look. Starting with secret areas, you’ll find a small yellow item on the ground — it looks like an obolite pickup. If you walk over it, you’ll fall through the floor into a secret room. Sometimes, you’ll find a monster down there. Most of the time, though, you’ll find a new artifact or a few consumables.

Hidden chests show up on your map, but they’re locked behind a door. To unlock them, you need to find a switch and shoot it. The switches look like little orange dots, and they’ll light up red when you hover your reticle over them. Shoot the switch — they’re usually right by the door — to find your treasure.

Finally, there are walls you can break to find even more loot. They’re a little tough to find but look for little red spots around an otherwise in-tact wall. Use your melee weapon to break it.

Parasites are your friend

You can pick up parasites during your run that simultaneously give you a buff and a debuff. This is one of many risk/reward systems in Returnal, but the reward usually outweighs the risk. A parasite might increase the drop rate of obolites while damaging you for using keys, or it might reduce incoming damage while extending your dash cooldown. Regardless, you’ll rarely feel the negative effects. Even better, parasites usually don’t stack, so you can spread the debuffs out with multiple parasites.

If you’re following our previous tip, you may stumble upon an item that actually increases the positive benefits of parasites, so they’re worth picking up.

Malfunctions aren’t as bad as they sound

Malfunctions are another risk/reward system in Returnal. Certain chests and items will be malignant, meaning there’s a certain chance that you’ll get a suit malfunction if you interact with them. The malfunction doesn’t go away until you complete certain requirements — killing a certain number of enemies or opening chests, for example — and it negatively affects your stats and/or abilities. Malfunctions are a lot worse than parasites, but you can get rid of them without too many problems.

Every malignant item has a chance of causing a malfunction, but based on our experience, that doesn’t really make a difference. When you pick up a malignant item, you should expect a malfunction. If the idea of a debuff is just too much, you can cleanse malignant items by expending Ether, but we wouldn’t recommend it.

Ether is the only resource that follows you between runs, and you won’t come across it often during your first few runs. Don’t waste it on cleansing a malignant item. You’re much better off spending your Ether elsewhere, and you can get rid of a malfunction as long as you’re careful.

Save your Ether

Speaking on Ether, save it. You can spend Ether in a few different ways, but there are two areas where you’ll want to dump most of it: The Cthonos and the Reconstructor. The Reconstructor is basically a respawn point. Instead of dying, you’ll be returned to the Reconstructor to continue your run (you still lose malfunctions and parasites). There’s one Reconstructor per biome, and you can only use it once. If you’re having trouble with a particular biome, save up your Ether to buy a respawn.

After a few runs, you’ll unlock the Cthonos at the crash site, next to your ship. You can deposit Ether in it to receive either an artifact or a consumable, both of which will help you on your run. If you have some Ether burning a hole in your pocket, this is the best place to invest it. You’ll occasionally earn items you’ve never seen before, allowing you to grow your databank.

Otherwise, you can spend Ether to cleanse malignant objects or at an Obolite Repository, which will give you obolites in exchange for Ether. We still recommend saving it for the Cthonos or Reconstructor, though.

Learn to strafe

Strafing is the name of the game in Returnal. It’s tempting to play the game like a normal third-person shooter, but standing still for too long is an easy path to an early death. There isn’t a cover system in the game, and most objects you can hide behind are destructible. After you find a target, ignore your right thumbstick for a while and circle back and forth, focusing your fire. Throw in a few well-timed jumps and a dash or two, and you’ll be a Returnal expert in no time.

Kill the golden enemies

When you enter a new area, you may see a few golden enemies. They’re big, and based on what you normally see in Returnal, you might want to keep your distance. You don’t need to, though. Golden enemies are basically loot goblins. They look scary, but they’ll run away as soon as they see you and burrow into the ground. Kill them as fast as possible to earn a boatload of obolites.

Always play online

Returnal is a single-player experience, but the game has light asynchronous multiplayer. If you have online turned on, you can occasionally see a projection of another player dying. From there, one of two things will happen. Either you’ll be able to scavenge the body for loot, or it will turn into a monster. If you have the option to scavenge, you can also avenge the dead player, which will spawn an enemy. If you defeat the enemy, you’ll get a big reward.

Although you don’t need to play Returnal online, it may help with a few runs. And in a game this difficult, you’ll need all the help you can get.

What do you keep when you die?

You lose most things when you die in Returnal, but some things persist between runs. The main resource that you keep is Ether. As mentioned, Ether is super rare and vitally important, so make sure to spend it wisely.

The world reacts depending on how far you’ve made it. Critical progression items like biome keys persist between runs, as does equipment like the Atropian Blade and Hermetic Transmitter. Although you don’t carry items and artifacts between runs, any consumables or artifacts you scan can show up as random drops in future runs.

As for what you don’t keep, well, it’s everything else. You’ll lose basically everything you pick up during a run, including keys, obolites, artifacts, consumables, and stat changes. You also lose your weapon proficiency and any weapon you’re carrying, so you’ll have to start from scratch.

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Jacob Roach
Senior Staff Writer, Computing
Jacob Roach is a writer covering computing and gaming at Digital Trends. After realizing Crysis wouldn't run on a laptop, he…
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