Returnal survival guide: Housemarque’s gameplay tips for Atropos

Hello everyone! We’re finally closing in to the launch of Returnal, and we’re incredibly excited for everyone to finally experience our biggest and most ambitious title to date. Before we let you venture off onto the mysterious world of Returnal, our team here at Housemarque would like to share a final round of tips and tricks to help you survive the hostile planet of Atropos.

Returnal survival guide: Housemarque’s gameplay tips for Atropos

In Returnal, one of our central themes is answering the call of the void. Our main character Selene receives a mysterious message coming from Atropos, and – against her better judgement and Astra orders – feels morbidly compelled to investigate it. The result: Selene crash lands her ship Helios on the hostile alien planet, and gets trapped in an endless, nightmarish cycle of death and rebirth. Her only hope is to break the cycle, before the cycle breaks her.

In a similar fashion, once Selene is trapped on Atropos her undying curiosity and relentless determination will continue to push her forward. She will scan, analyse and experiment with all kinds of alien devices, abandoned technologies, and all sorts of strange items, natural flora and even parasites with unpredictable properties. Exploring the planet and expanding her arsenal is the only hope for Selene to survive, find answers, and ultimately solve the mystery of Atropos.

Leave no alien stone unturned

The planet is a place brimming with secrets that will reward the most intrepid explorers. Each cycle is guaranteed to be unique, and your trusty map system will always be there to assist you in navigating towards your next goal.

While you can always take a direct path to your Primary Objective, you will have a better chance to succeed if you devote time to explore the environments more carefully, and remain on the lookout for secret doors, hidden switches and juicy rewards off the beaten path. Here’s a few things that you can find on your journey:

Artifacts

These are items that will have beneficial effects lasting for the duration of that cycle. They can have passive effects (for example the Reactive Stabilizers, which reduce the chance of being knocked down by enemy attacks), or activate under certain conditions (like the Fractal Nail, which increases your damage whenever you have a suit malfunction). Some rare artifacts like the Astronaut Figurine can even resurrect you on the spot, which can make the critical difference between triumphing against a Boss battle or respawning back at Helios in defeat.

Consumables

These are single-use items that are used up on activation. They can be defensive items like one-hit shields; offensive, like the Ground Surge that impales the closest hostile; or even boost your economy, such as the Obolite Seeder that causes killed enemies to drop more Obolites (the game’s currency) for a limited time. Most of these will appear fairly frequently in the game, so remember to use and experiment with these, especially early on! While it’s often tempting to save these for a special moment, you can make many moments more special by just using these more often.

Mysterious Devices

Selene can use the remains of the ancient civilization that once ruled Atropos.  You can find many different devices on Atropos: some may provide you items in exchange for Obolites, others will increase your max health or provide various state upgrades, and have many different outcomes that are worth experimenting with. There’s even a Reconstructor that, when activated, will revive you at that location without losing the progress of that cycle. Always be mindful of using your obolites wisely though, as there are no refunds on Atropos.

Treasure, risks and decisions

There are plenty of items to collect on your journey, but make sure you read the descriptions carefully before picking anything up. Not everything is going to work to your advantage, as some items will have a certain degree of risk associated with them.

Take, for example, the Parasites, which always come with a combination of a positive effect (e.g. regenerative health when it’s low) but also a downside (e.g. enemies spawn revenge bullets!).

There are also our malignant containers, which have a risk of causing a malfunction when they are opened, such as disabling your Alt-Fire or increasing the cooldown of your melee attack. So it’s really important to consider how far you are willing to go, what risks you want to take, in order to survive.

However, if this sounds scary, rest assured that your audacity can also be greatly rewarded as some items take these perceived weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Find an Unfed Pod, and suddenly you’ll be dealing more stagger damage per parasite you have attached! Or the already mentioned Fractal Nail, which increases your damage output while you have a malfunction. So, make sure you consider all options and all playstyles, because you might just find a special combination that can give you the upper hand.

Keep moving

Threats on Atropos can come from any direction. The bullet hell that we love looks even more glorious from a 3rd person perspective, but it will provide some challenging avoidance gameplay that will put your spacial awareness and mastery of the controls to the test. Some suggestions on how to increase your survival odds in the heat of combat: 

Movement is critical. Make sure you use the full moveset and all the tools at your disposal: use hip fire for good environment awareness and the Focus Aim for better accuracy and for highlighting enemy weak spots; don’t forget melee attacks to help stagger larger enemies or dispatch smaller ones more easily; keep up a healthy rhythm of using your Alt-Fire, and remember to use those Consumables; and of course, keep dashing, as this not only allows you to quickly avoid attacks, but also move through enemy projectiles without taking damage. Well, most of them, at least.

Also, keep your priorities straight. An enemy dropped a shiny new undiscovered item in the heat of combat? Maybe best to postpone scanning it until the area is cleared. You’ll always have the calm after the storm to celebrate your spoils, but you’ll need to survive that far first. 

Amidst the bullet ballet of Returnal, learn to avoid target fixation. With so many threats coming your way, your attention becomes your most valuable resource. If you spend all of it on a single threat or bullet pattern, you won’t have any left to process the rest of the threats coming your way.

While it’s incredibly easy to get mesmerized by one of our many tentacle-donning monstrosities, keeping a high level overview of your current situation can help put you one step ahead of your foes: keep an eye on the threat indicator for any attacks coming from off-screen; take a (very quick!) glance at the minimap to see how many hostiles are still around; and pay close attention to audio cues for incoming attacks. Trust your senses, and learn to feel your way through the combat.

Know your exit routes. Familiarize yourself with each area and be mindful of your surroundings. Finding yourself backed up against a corner or accidentally falling to your doom mid-firefight is a sure-fire way for Selene to meet her demise… again.

Last but not least: keep your Adrenaline up! This is easier said than done as receiving any damage will reset your meter. But building up your Adrenaline up will provide you with multiple advantages in combat, such as additional homing missiles fired from your helper droid; a more dangerous melee attack; or even our Enhanced Vision which allows you to see enemies’ energy signatures through walls. These bonuses can make a big difference in combat, and can make the combat even more engaging when you try to maintain that satisfying high of “riding the wave” without getting hit!

Weapons for all

A critical feature for survival on Atropos is, of course, weapons. There are plenty to experiment with, as we discussed before, across weapon archetypes, Alt-Fire modes and weapon traits. These can suit very different playstyles, so a cycle can shift dramatically depending on your chosen weapon. 

For me, while I prefer shifting up playstyles between various weapons in one session, I often find myself going back to Selene’s trusty Pistol. I enjoy the purity of the experience that it provides, as it’s simple, precise and predictable. With high FireRate and Damage stats it can easily compete with “bigger” weapons. There’s also a very satisfying feeling of growth when you accumulate your Adrenaline bullets, and combined with the extra ones you get from the HomingMissile Trait you can shoot out a barrage of homing missiles in a glorious pattern that’s reminiscent of classic shoot-em ups (and is also incredibly powerful!). AltFire-wise I enjoy the TendrilPod, because its continuous damage is very effective against larger enemies, and it’s always satisfying to use because of tentacles.

But that’s me. Preferences really vary from player to player, so we asked the team for some of their favourites and some bonus hints… 


My fave is definitely the Tachyomatic Carbine with the Trackerswarm Alt-Fire for the fast, long-range firing and the Alt-Fire that works even for flying enemies (and is my go-to against the Ixion boss). I also always try to go for any items that give me auto-repair or convert damage or kills to healing. If I got that kit, I’m pretty much good to go for any situation!  

Eevi Korhonen, Senior Narrative Designer

Are you stuck in the cycle? Do tentacles keep dragging you down? Fear not, intrepid scout, we have the solution for you. Presenting the all-new Spitmaw Blaster! Look those slimy tentacles right in their face – then right through their face as you blast them back to the depths from whence they came! Combine it with such upgrades as the Slug Shot and Explosive Spit to eliminate those annoying hard-to-reach tentacles. Take back your personal space with the personal touch of a Spitmaw Blaster! Available now where all weapon drops can be found.

Ethan Watson, Technology Director

As a fan of high risk and high reward playstyle, it’s hard to find something that suits me more than the Coilspine Shredder with Alt-Fire Cooling and Enlarged Cavity-traits, paired with the Doombringer Alt-Fire.

Coilspine Shredder, by default, is a single shot weapon, that you can charge up by holding the trigger and releasing it when the panic takes over and/or when you’ve honed in on your targets weakest spot, usually the tentacly noggin of your opponent. Charging up the Coilspine Shredder slows your movement speed (a penalty which can be mitigated with our WeaponStatBlock™ system), but it dramatically increases the projectile’s damage, speed and the amount of times it can ricochet and pierce enemies. The Doombringer can also charged to fire a more devastating blast, but it sadly has the longest cooldown of any of our Alt-Fires. With power comes responsibility, I guess.

If only there was a Trait that could reduce the cooldown of the currently active Alt-Fire. Oh wai-

Henri Markus, Gameplay Designer

Whenever possible, I try to stick with the Thermogenic Launcher paired with the Full-Auto trait. It’s got the rapid efficiency of an assault rifle paired with the explosive area-of-effectiveness of a rocket launcher, not to mention how satisfying it is to pulverize enemies with a rapid streak of explosions!

And while rockets may be difficult to hit moving targets with, the homing Trackerswarm Alt-Fire is a blessing to cover that weakness.

It may take some doing to stumble upon this combination, but once I find it, I instantly feel like this is gonna be a good run!

Toni Aaltonen, Level Designer

Not the most effective but I’ve always enjoyed the Electropylon Launcher (It shoots small pylons that are connected with electricity). I guess it makes me feel like I’ve become the hunter instead of the hunted, laying traps and outplaying my prey.

Making sure the damage attribute is high is enough to beat the game with, but the Webbing trait (the full clip is fired at once in a web pattern) makes the weapon really powerful. “Will you walk into my parlour?”

From the Alt-Fires the Blast Shell is my favourite as it feels so satisfying when you get multiple enemies with one grenade.

– Henri Reunanen, Level Designer

Welcome to Atropos

Returnal is easily our most bold and ambitious project to date. It’s been super exciting for us to bring our established brand of explosive bullet hell action into the 3rd person space, while also enriching it with a unique blend of narrative and roguelike elements for the first time ever. We feel the result is something fairly unique: it’s an experience that we hope will feel both familiar and fresh, and will hopefully appeal to both our longtime fans and newcomers alike.

We’re all incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished with Returnal, and we can’t think of a better way for us to start this new console generation or embark on this new creative chapter at Housemarque. We thank you all for your continuous support over the years, and we hope that you enjoy Returnal when it comes out on April 30.

See you on Atropos!

Chris Thacker

Author: Izzy