I didn't understand DEATHLOOP's success at launch — Now that I've finally played on Xbox, I get it

I was so unsure about DEATHLOOP, I didn't plan to write about it and didn't take any screenshots of my own. Oops. (Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

Toward the end of 2021, the team at Arkane Studios most known for their work on the incredible, award-winning Dishonored franchise released their latest game: DEATHLOOP. It released exclusively on PlayStation 5 and Windows PC shortly after its publisher Bethesda Softworks officially joined the Xbox family, and was met with critical acclaim. In December, it was even nominated for Game of the Year 2021, losing out to It Takes Two.

I... Didn't quite understand its success, though. While I appreciated how much other people were enjoying the game, nothing that I had seen or heard of DEATHLOOP really hooked me at the time. I've finally played it, though, and I can fully admit that I was wrong. DEATHLOOP is amazing.

Writing DEATHLOOP off at launch

Dishonored is still an absolutely amazing game. I played it for the first time halfway through 2021, and I loved every moment of it (I actually played it twice). So, when I learned that Arkane Lyon had announced its next game (and its first real departure from Dishonored), I of course paid special attention. For some reason, though, DEATHLOOP just failed to capture my attention. The trailers had style, humor, an evolving world, and the supernatural gameplay I crave from Dishonored, but I still wrote DEATHLOOP off prematurely.

When the game released on PlayStation 5 and Windows PC to critical acclaim, nothing changed for me. People were loving Arkane's newest game, but all the gameplay I saw did little to change my mind. I couldn't grasp the depth and freedom of DEATHLOOP because I wasn't playing it, but I had so many other games to play (and still do) that I just didn't bother. Even when DEATHLOOP finally came to Xbox Series X|S and Xbox Game Pass, I was in no rush to experience it. I installed it, though, because I knew I would eventually come around to DEATHLOOP on my backlog, and that is where it has sat since Sept. 20, 2022.

This month, that finally changed. After finishing Starfield and palate cleansing with Strange Horticulture, I decided that the now-first-party Xbox game I had avoided for so long deserved a proper chance to prove itself. Within minutes of playing, I realized I had been completely wrong — DEATHLOOP is amazing.

Deciding to play it on Xbox Series X

DEATHLOOP is incredibly fun to play, giving you a ton of options for how to tackle your objectives, take on enemies, and explore the world. (Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

I played DEATHLOOP on my trusty Xbox Series X in Performance mode, gaining access through Xbox Game Pass. One thing I had respected about DEATHLOOP in all the trailers, reviews, and gameplay videos I saw was the impeccable retro-inspired style of the game, blending a unique visual design with a color palette taken straight out of the 1970s and 1980s and immaculately detailed environments. It was even better with me in control though, letting me explore the world at my own pace to full appreciate the Blackreef that Arkane had crafted.

The game looks and plays incredibly on Xbox Series X, with smooth performance even during hectic combat segments, few bugs that I noticed, and gorgeous graphics. I did experience a handful of issues that forced me to reset the game, all related to the user interface (I had menus freezing, breaking, and even placing permanent overlays of UI elements over the screen, which was odd), but all-in-all DEATHLOOP is every bit the current-gen game I hoped it would be. None of that was enough to sell it to me, though.

No, that was the gameplay loop, which is woven into a fantastically executed time loop, which revolves around an overlapping, evolving world. What DEATHLOOP failed to convey to me before I played it was how it blends the world building and magical abilities of Dishonored, the best shooting I've experienced in an Arkane game, and investigative detective work that scratched every itch in my brain. I had to experience it for myself to understand it, and once I understood it I was totally hooked.

DEATHLOOP is oozing style, and the characters, writing, and voice acting really sold the world to me. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

In DEATHLOOP, you'll explore four different areas of Blackreef in a quest to discover how to break the time loop holding the entire island hostage. To do so, you'll need to kill eight different Visionaries, the bosses of the Eternalists controlling it all, in a single loop, but that's not a simple task. You'll have to sleuth around the island, collecting information through documents, audio recordings, messages, and even eavesdropped conversations between Eternalist thugs. Anything could be a potential lead, and all of your leads are carefully tracked for you.

DEATHLOOP absolutely nails giving you a mystery that feels overwhelming at first and tasking you with unraveling it without the game holding your hand. All the information you collect is kept organized for your reference, but it's still up to you to decide where to go and what leads to follow. The game divides the island into four areas and four periods of time, and the world evolves across those areas and times throughout the day (and reacts to your actions, too). Eventually, you'll piece together a cohesive plan to manipulate the Visionaries so you can take them out in the span of one day, hopefully ending the loop for good. By the time this plan is complete, you feel like you've earned it, and it's an immensely satisfying feeling.

Yeah, DEATHLOOP is as amazing as everyone said

DEATHLOOP does have an online element letting other players infiltrate your world (and lets you do the same to other players), but, to be honest, I just played offline. (Image credit: Windows Central)

"This suave immersive sim is one of Arkane's finest" is the headline for our DEATHLOOP review, and... Yeah, it is. If you were like me and weren't sold on DEATHLOOP through trailers and reviews, take it from me: play it for yourself. It's on Xbox and PC Game Pass, and you could even stream it through Xbox Cloud Gaming if you wanted to. DEATHLOOP slipped farther and farther down my backlog list because the magic Arkane weaved into this world can only be experienced, not observed.

It's about having agency to explore a complete and evolving world on your own terms, about learning to navigate a time loop that has everyone trapped, about finding your own ways to discover a plan to end the loop for good; DEATHLOOP gives you control, and a trailer that gives someone else the controller doesn't do the game justice. Unfortunately, some games are just like that. I guess I probably should've just believed the glowing reviews and played the game, eh? I'm glad I've finally played DEATHLOOP, though, because it's one of the best Xbox games and is an experience I'll remember very fondly.

Ah, I haven't played Redfall yet, either... But that can probably wait a bit longer (sorry, Arkane, but I do see that you're working on improving it).

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.