Bethesda and Arkane have made some of my favorite video games in recent years, most notably the Dishonored series, which had a delightful balance of worldbuilding and the ability to magically hoist bad guys into the air, all the better to stab them in the neck. When they announced Deathloop, which promised all the stabby joy of Dishonored with a nifty retro sci-fi aesthetic and a wild time-loop mechanic, I was all in. Now that I’ve dived in for about twelve hours worth of gameplay on my PC, I can absolutely say that as a game, it lives up to its advertising and is a whole lot of fun to play. Also, there’s no way you should buy it right now, because getting it to run on a PC is a huge fucking nightmare.
I noted this yesterday on Twitter:
This is not an exaggeration. When I open up the game on Steam, it’ll get to the opening splash screen and then close, throwing up a huge dialog box of crash data. So I open it up again, and then again, and then again, and then again, and eventually if I open it up enough, it’ll work and I can play. Why does it work on the fifth or eighth or eleventh try? Got me. My PC, although not new, is not meagerly specced; it fits the game’s minimum system requirements with some headroom. So that’s not the issue. It’s just temperamental, and when I say temperamental, I mean I’ve discovered that Deathloop has a better chance of opening and being playable if, while I’m firing up the game, I also have Chrome open and am actively scrolling through a Web page. Why? Who the hell knows? I don’t and I imagine neither Bethesda nor Arkane knows, either.
Which, you know, is a problem. I shouldn’t have to rely on janky heuristics and finger-crossing to get a multimillion-dollar, AAA major studio game to open on a computer that fits the game’s minimum specs, and neither should anyone else. Some people are pointing fingers at the game’s DRM system, while others are noting it plays poorly with modern graphics cards, or whatever. At the end of the day, however, a new game should be able to be played out of the (these days virtual) box, or at the very least have a reasonable explanation for why it cannot.
When the game can be played, it’s pretty terrific. As a character named Colt, you wander about a time-looped island trying to figure out how you got there and why another character named Julianna is going out of her way to kill you. Along the way you discover that in order to break the time loop, you have to kill eight “visionaries” (think: level bosses), and you unlock various quasi-magical skills to do it as you go along. The gameplay is fun, the story is compelling, and it’s fun murdering a whole bunch of temporally-locked jerks who are trying to kill you. When it works, it’s probably my favorite game of 2021.
But it doesn’t work enough, and when it does work, it runs the risk of suddenly not working anymore (the latest crash involved the game telling me to “infuse” a weapon I didn’t have, and didn’t give me a way out of the screen it had put up to have me do it, and when I tried to alt-crtl-del my way out, it shut down). Given all the reports on the Internet about Deathloop, I know I am far from the only one having problems with the game on PC (I understand the PS5 version has its own problems as well). The excellent game experience is deeply and terminally compromised by the overall user experience.
Which is why I say: Deathloop on PC is awesome, and I absolutely cannot recommend it. This game needs to be patched waaaay the fuck out before I can suggest that anyone else spend $60+ dollars on it.
Further, game studios should not ship games that don’t work. I bought Deathloop on day one, because as a video game player, Bethesda and Arkane earned some credit for their previous terrific games. But here on out, I’ll be waiting a month or two (at least) before buying any game of theirs on PC, because they can’t be trusted to make a game that runs on day one. That’s bad news for both, since a game that’s not bought on day one has a much better chance of being a game that’s not bought at all. But them’s the breaks, when you ship a broken game.