Loop Hero — Idle, Active, Existential
It is a tale as old as stories themselves: a hero ventures out to save their home, conquering terrible beasts and painful trials to do so, before returning home victorious. The Hero’s Journey has more than a few other steps, but that’s the gist of it. Some stories set it up to revisit the Hero’s Journey in sequel adventures, or with different characters, but Loop Hero by Four Quarters has players repeating the Journey multiple times in a single run of their game.
Players “control” the Hero, who struggles against a mysterious Lich after they have seemingly ended the world and thrown it into pure, blank chaos. They slay monsters, collect gear, and build out the world from fractured memories to empower them enough to face the Lich and undo the harm they’ve caused. The twist is that the world is so broken that the Hero only has a single loop to traverse at a time, always in one direction.
What strikes me about Loop Hero is how it combines both active and passive (or idle) gameplay into an experience that breathes life into both styles.
Idly, Loop Hero’s main mechanics are automated: the Hero moves on their own, fights on their own, acquires loot on their own, with no needed input from the player. The Hero just does their thing, making their loop, slaying their monsters, relegated to either make it around the loop one more time, or fall trying. Between that and the flow-inducing soundtrack, ranging from “Loop Blues” as background accompaniment to the more hyper “Universe’s Storm,” the game will draw players into a scene’s new vibe seamlessly. In some sense, the player can just hit “go” and wait to see what happens without pressing another button.
But that’s where the active element comes in. Players can pause the action outside of the Hero’s fights, allowing them a free moment to either: build up the world around the Hero, or swap out the Hero’s equipment to better prepare them for upcoming battles. As the world grows more hostile after every loop the Hero completes, players have to be ready to simultaneously bolster and challenge the hero without overwhelming them. So they strategize over how they build out the world (using tiles gained from defeating enemies); create a gauntlet for the Hero, or space out encounters a bit more? Create a mountain knowing it will spawn a new enemy, but also grants valuable resources? Conversely, players also have to keep an eye on their inventory; should they swap out for a new set of armor, even though it doesn’t have the same perk or stat boost they’re relying on? Even MORE conversely, do players wait to gain enough tiles or equipment that they can convert them into DIFFERENT precious resources? Stacks on stacks on stacks of elements. It’s almost lucky that the game plays itself, if only because considering how to change the world and equip the Hero can be a full-time experience in itself.
Lastly, I was struck by how Loop Hero reached out with some hard existential themes close to the starting gate. People aren’t the only ones existing in this void, after all; the different beasts that players set the hero up to slay have their perspectives on this new Nothing. Whether they lean on what defined them as a species before, or are driven by baser needs, they are less interested in saving the world and more concerned with what they knew. Even when trying to reason with them, it can’t be done: all they know, and all they care for, is what they know and need.
It feels especially poignant in a world undone by both people who care only for themselves, and systems designed to pit people against one another. Where there are goblins who only knew how to greedily take from others, there are people who don’t care about the safety of others, only their own continuance. Where there are harpies so hellbent on finding meals for their young, there are systemic issues at play that constantly pit people against one another for scraps. Life will always imitate art. What does it mean to save the world? What does it mean to save our world? Where do those definitions intersect? Diverge? These are the thoughts I have while the Hero beats the snot out of some sentient slime.
I’ve seen Loop Hero pop up on a number of 2021 wrap-up lists, and now I can understand why. It’s a fantastic title in both elements of its gameplay, a poignant reflection of our own human struggles, and the soundtrack is a verifiable banger. And if you don’t catch it this time, that’s fine. It’ll loop back around for you soon.