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How DEATHLOOP's Gameplay Loop Works Narratively

How DEATHLOOP's Gameplay Loop Works Narratively

**This article contains story-based spoilers for DEATHLOOP, including ending spoilers.**

Do you decide to break the loop or continue experiencing it for eternity? This is the question posed by Arkane Studios.

I began playing DEATHLOOP in honour of its GOTY nomination, to be able to see if I agreed with that choice or not. You see, one of my dreams has always been to play all of the GOTY nominees so I can finally have a proper opinion with no bias, and this year is the closest I ever have thanks to a ton of friends and their generosity.

I've played DEATHLOOP for 25 hours at the time of writing and quite frankly, I'm astonished by what Arkane Studios did with the storytelling. Let me catch everyone up that isn't aware of how the game works.

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DEATHLOOP has you playing as Colt, a character who has amnesia and is stuck in a repeating day. Colt is hellbent on breaking the loop and finds out that to do so, he must relive the same day over and over, going through the same four stages at four different times to find the best-suited way to kill every visionary, which will allow him to break it. This quest will take you on journeys, which explain things like Colt's connections with Julianna (one of the visionaries), and his entire past. Eventually, after doing several dozen cycles, you will be given the final quest that guides you through killing each visionary in a single loop.

As you finally reach the ending, and you observe as Colt and Julianna speak about the loop and how to handle it, you are provided with three options — one of which is hidden — that boil down to two endings: Break the loop or repeat it.

Throughout the game, Julianna expresses fear and distress towards having the loop broken, and practically begs Colt at the end not to. At the other end of the spectrum, Colt is relentless in his pursuit to break the loop. He doesn't believe in living the same day over and over, not facing the consequences of your actions, and — since every visionary forgets everything as the day loops, apart from Colt and Julianna — a life of solitude.

It is at this moment, while Julianna and Colt point at each other with antique guns that belong in a museum, that I realised that the entire narrative is brilliantly told through the gameplay loop, and it went over my head this entire time.

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You see, not four hours before the ending, I told my wife that I was growing bored of repeating the same thing over and over — in part, due to excitement for knowing the ending of the game. As I stood there, my finger itching to shoot Julianna and break the loop, I realized that I sided with Colt, while tons of other players side with Julianna.

If you take a quick dive through the Steam reviews, you find that the players are divided into two different groups. Those who say the gameplay loop is brilliant, and those that feel that it's repetitive and monotonous. As you look at both parties, it becomes obvious.

You see, everyone that says that the gameplay loop is repetitive, that it starts getting boring day after day, loop after loop because you do the same four areas in what feels like an endless and mind-numbing — maybe even borderline lazy — development, are Colt; they see the loop as a limiting aspect.

On the other side, those who say that the gameplay loop is brilliant and that it feels amazing to be able to learn everything and blaze through in rampant battle, are Julianna; she never wanted to live a life that she wasn't comfortable with and deemed the loop as comfortable and safe.

The gameplay loop slowly taught us how we felt about it all and showed us on which side we stood before even getting around to doing it. Arkane Studios slowly let us explore for ourselves how we feel about the loop — how we felt as Colt — so that in the end we knew if we wanted to pull the trigger or not. So that, as we stood there, facing Julianna with a gun pointed at her head, we knew if we wanted the loop to break or not. Because they put us through one and showed us how we felt about it; a narrative experience taught through a gameplay mechanic.


The gameplay was built around making us feel and experience everything that Colt and Julianna would later feel. It slowly was meant to chip at our sanity or deeply engross us into it. And the kicker? If you love the loop and don't want to let go of the game, the best way to continue it is as Julianna; the one who never wanted to let it go in the first place.

That is expert story-telling, and not many other companies but Arkane Studios could pull it off.

Did you decide to break the loop or continue experiencing it for eternity? Let me know in the comments below! I would love to hear your opinions.

Artura Dawn

Artura Dawn

Staff Writer

Writes in her sleep, can you tell?

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