Returnal is a game of the roguelike genre, which means you lose most of your progress and respawn at the start of the act when you die. A few things can be unlocked permanently to give you an advantage on the next try. This guide provides an overview of what unlocks are permanent in Returnal and what progress gets lost on death. You also lose your non-permanent progress when closing the game or turning off the console.
Permanent Unlocks in Returnal
- Key items that are needed to advance the story will be kept even when you die. This includes the Sword to destroy red vines (Biome 1), the Grappling Hook to reach yellow-glowing ledges (Biome 2), Ability to swim/dive (Biome 5).
- Bosses you’ve already defeated can be skipped on the next run. You don’t even need to replay their biome. E.g. if you finished the bosses in Biome 1 & 2 already you will respawn in Biome 1 but you can run straight to Biome 3 where the next story boss awaits.
- There’s a permanent checkpoint after each Act! There are 6 Biomes. Act 1 = Biome 1-3 / Act 2 = Biome 4-6 / Act 3 = Free Roam and Epilogue. In other words; if you die in Biome 1-3 you respawn at the start of Biome 1, if you die in Biome 4-6 you respawn in Biome 4. This means after reaching the second half of the game you won’t have to replay from Biome 1 which makes it a bit easier.
- Even though weapon drops are randomized and you lose your weapons on death, they each have some traits you can unlock permanently. After finding a new weapon look out for a progress counter in the bottom left corner above your health bar. Each kill you do with the weapon fills up the progress bar. It takes around 10-15 kills to unlock the level 1 weapon trait (higher level weapon traits become available after reaching the 5th biome). Each weapon has 2 variants and it’s random what weapon drops you get and what weapon variants you find. But if you find the same weapon variant again you will already have its trait(s) unlocked. Do note that traits don’t increase weapon stats (they don’t directly increase damage). Weapon traits only change how your weapon shoots and what sort of damage it deals. For example, a rocket launcher can shoot 1 big rocket with splash damage instead of 3 smaller homing rockets. The big downside to all of this is that weapon drops are random and you can’t select your weapons (they are lost when you die and you need to get lucky to find your favorite weapon again which takes a bit of luck).
- You keep your Collectibles Progress & Databank Entries (Scout Logs, Xenogylphs, Xeno-Archives etc.)
- There’s one permanent currency called “Ether”. It’s used to activate Reconstructors (respawn stations), and to activate the monolith where you respawn to get an artifact (suit upgrade), and to cleanse items / loot boxes from negative status effects. You can carry up to 30 Ether but they are relatively rare so you can’t afford to spend them on each run.
What You Lose When You Die (or exit the Game) in Returnal
Everything else not listed above gets lost when you die, exit the game, or turn off the console. Putting the console into rest mode is fine and won’t lose you any progress, however it might potentially bug out some story trophies so it’s safer to turn off the console properly. You can’t “cheat” it by backing up your save game either, because doing so requires closing the game which wipes out your inventory and makes you respawn at the start of the act. There are no “checkpoints” like in other games, only 1 checkpoint halfway through the story when you reach biome 4.
Overview of what gets lost when you die or exit the game:
- Your health upgrades are lost (you respawn again with minimum health)
- Artifacts (suit upgrades) are lost
- Parasites (suit modifiers) are lost
- Everything in your inventory is lost (all items and consumables that you held), except some story items.
- All crafted items are lost
- All Obolites (money for crafting) & Keys (to open doors) are lost
- Weapon Proficiency (increased weapon stats) is lost, you must level up all weapons again from scratch. During Act 1 you will respawn with Proficiency Level 0. After reaching Act 2 you will automatically respawn with Proficiency Level 15 but you still lose any gains made during your run.
- Your weapons are lost, you will respawn with the weakest pistol in the game and must get lucky to get other weapons from random drops, no way to influence what weapons you get.
- Your story progress is lost, with the exceptions listed above (can skip bosses you already defeated). You will respawn at the start of the current act and must replay the path to the next boss.
- The world, enemy placements, item placements get randomized when you die so you can’t simply memorize the map layout because it changes after each death.
Returnal is a very challenging experience because you lose almost anything of use. The most useful thing that you “keep” is that you don’t need to redo bosses you’ve already defeated. The checkpoint after the 3rd boss (start of 4th biome) also helps so you don’t need to replay the full game if you die later on. There’s also no character leveling system in the game. If you die you basically restart in your weakest state each time. It’s a test of patience of pure skill.