Beginner’s Guide to Returnal

Some helpful tips and tricks for Returnal.

Returnal, Housemarque’s most ambitious title to date, has left some players stumped with its overwhelming difficulty and many intricate systems. Luckily, it’s a game designed to be learned.

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It’s a game that not only allows you to plan out your moves, it encourages you to do so. With the right information, and enough luck, you can handle it with relative ease. 

Below are some of the best tips I can think of to get you accustomed to Returnal and taking on each biome. We also have a guide for every boss in the game that you can check out for more specific tips.

Beginner’s Guide to Returnal

Generally, these tips are for changing the way you think and approach the game, rather than giving specific button prompts or secrets. If you can learn to do all these, the game should be much easier to tackle. 

Ultimately, the best thing you can do is take your time, think about it and work on it slowly. You won’t get very far in Returnal through brute force. 

Strafe, Strafe, Strafe

Returnal is a game all about momentum. Its adrenaline system is proof of this. You are supposed to always stay on the move and it rewards you for doing that. Make sure your left thumbstick is almost always moving. 

Most enemies tend to fire at you, not your surroundings, so if you can consistently strafe, you can avoid most fire. Ultimately, your movement is much more important than your damage in returnal. A well timed dodge is far better than a well placed shot

Generally, movement is something to prioritise in Returnal. Avoid items that slow you down, make you jump less high or increase your dodge cooldown. These will lead to your death quicker than any single enemy. 

If you can get a quick dodge and a decent jump height, you will have a better time at taking on your enemies. 

Don’t Worry About Accuracy

This is perhaps the most valuable trick you can learn in Returnal. Oftentimes, the moments I got hurt was when I was firing back or trying to finish off an enemy. When I was focused on doing damage, I didn’t care about the damage done to me. This is a mistake. 

Fundamentally, Returnal is a bullet hell. The trickiest skill is avoiding enemies fire so you want to weigh the odds in your favour. This is going to sound like a strange piece of advice but don’t look at your enemies.

Use your peripheral vision to keep them generally in the way of your bullets and actually look at all the obstacles in your way. You can afford to miss half your shots if they miss all of theirs. 

This is a skill that takes a while to get used to but if you can trick your brain into focusing primarily on enemy fire, you can get much better at avoiding them. This is a skill that is particularly valuable against the game’s bosses

Learn the Biome

Returnal is a game of memory and it’s locations show this more than most things. If you know which places to hit and which skills to use, you will have a much easier time making it through each area. 

The thing is that some areas have secret ways of obtaining more loot or better items. If you can learn them, you can make your way through much easier and with better loot.

Returnal is all about going through loops and learning more about things that killed you before. You can take it on much easier if you pay attention. 

Each of the games main biomes have unique ways of traversing them and different ways of exploring. As you go through biomes, take your time and test everything. This is a great way of learning that muscle memory needed for a good run

Be Risky

Returnal has tonnes of little risk/reward systems. If you can take advantage of them, you can get much further. On my first few runs, I was worried of receiving malfunctions but most of them can be dealt with pretty easily. 

Don’t be afraid of getting yourself a couple of nerfs when taking those big risks, it’s all part of the game. Generally, if you can pick up a tonne of them early game, and use early enemies to get rid of them quickly, you can make out with some pretty good perks. 

This doesn’t just extend to potential malfunctions. Try to clear out every room on the map and look in every cranny. If you don’t have enough health to justify going into those extra rooms, you likely don’t have enough to take on the boss either. 

If you don’t take risks, you won’t get your hands on the best gear out there. This would be a huge mistake. 

Not All Runs Are Winners

This is the best thing to remember about a game like Returnal. You are supposed to die. Part of the narrative and theming is about how many times you die. Not every run will be amazing and you are often at the whims of chests around you. Don’t get too frustrated if you get mowed down. 

This just means you need some better gear and need to relocate yourself. Long term, there are a few systems worth upgrading from game to game. You should unlock all the items you can with Ether and you should upgrade your weapons. 

By simply using them enough, weapons will see permanent upgrades for the future. Even if it’s not a gun you use often, keep swapping around your guns until you find one that needs upgrading.

Some weapons you may not like have great upgrades and interesting paths for them in the future. Dying and starting again is just part of the game. Enjoy the process and continue to hone your skills. 

Be Patient

Ultimately, all of these skills lead to the same conclusion. You have to be a bit patient with both yourself and the game. Sometimes you fail or lose something important, just pick yourself up and get onto the next run. 

If you rush in, underprepared and shoot around frustrated, you won’t get anywhere and the only new item you’ll be picking up is a broken controller. Take your time, analyse each fight and pick them off one by one. 

And that’s the tips we have for you today. Returnal is an odd, esoteric and genuinely fascinating game that slowly reveals itself over the hours you put in to finish it. If you take it slow and methodical, it just starts to click. If it hasn’t clicked just yet, get in there and try it one more time. 

Related: How To Defeat Ophion in Returnal


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Prima Games Staff
The staff at Prima Games.