One of the biggest criticisms surrounding Returnal's initial release was its lofty launch price of £70. Obviously you can pick the game up for much cheaper now but back in April of 2021 there was plenty of discourse surrounding the amount of content available for that price. This was especially true when you factored in the brutal difficulty of some of the later levels, something that was a definite turn-off for a large portion of players.
Although I totally understood the arguments against the price at the time, I fell into the "it's worth every penny" camp, as I was instantly taken in by Returnal's dark sci-fi vibes, super slick gameplay and presentation.
In fact, I tumbled into such a deep Returnal hole that, 20 days after its April 30th launch, I'd completely rinsed the game for every last little secret and even unlocked the Platinum trophy, something that I normally have neither the time nor inclination to do.
This ended up being a bit of a double-edged sword for me though, as fully completing the game left me with little to go back for. Sure the combat is amazing but a large part of the fun for me was also found in hunting down the nuggets of lore, discovering new and unseen rooms and trying to make sense of Selene's struggles.
But that's why this week's free Returnal: Ascension update is so welcome. Update 3.0 brings you two brand new game modes, and even more mysterious lore to track down for people like me, who were throughly invested in Selene's story and left hanging by the game's rather abstruse ending.
The first half of Returnal's Ascension update brings with it the ability to play through the entire campaign in two-player co-op, something that you can watch Aoife and I attempt in the video above.
It's super easy to join or summon a friend or random to play with and you're given the option to do this at the start of each of the campaign's six biomes. This means you'll be able to call in a helping hand if there's an area that you've previously struggled to get past, or perhaps you could use your previously honed skills to help other players progress through their game.
Most importantly, it's a lot of fun playing through the game with a friend! The speed and the ferocity of the gameplay isn't impacted at all and in fact, the game scales the difficulty up a bit in co-op so making progress still won't be a walk in the park. Being able to revive your co-op partner does make things a little easier I'd say, but as Aoife and I found out during our stream, doing this while a room is still full of enemies is basically a death sentence for you both.
One word of warning with this co-op mode though; the loot is not shared, so if you're playing with a loot-Hoover like me, expect there to be many arguments over who gets to grab the good gun or who gets to snaffle up the largest chunk of Silphium.
The second portion of the update is by far my favourite as, for completionists like myself, it offers a fresh new challenge, brand new rooms to explore, new weapons to use and best of all, a new first-person section set in a deserted hospital. This area is especially intriguing as it offers more tantalising threads to tug on that will hopefully finally unravel the mystery as to why Selene is stuck on Atropos.
The Tower of Sisyphus, as it's called, is basically an endless mode which is only accessible from the start of a new cycle and it sees Selene climbing ever higher up a never-ending tower that's full of angry Hostiles. You can watch me get through to the third phase of that tricky tower in the video above and (as you'll soon see) the gameplay is still just as full-on as it is in the campaign.
While you'll be familiar with the majority of enemies in the Tower, there is a new boss called Algos that stands guard at the end of each 20 room phase. Algos is pretty manageable during the first phase but each new interaction brings with it fresh attacks that soon become rather stressful to avoid. As I mentioned above, there are new weapons to deploy which will help you on your climb. These come in the form of super-powerful, single-use, timed items so judging when and where to use them is just as important as being able to aim them correctly.
There's a reason why Returnal has been put up for so many game awards this past year - and now that this new and improved version is out there's no better time to finally give it a go. Or, if you're like me, make a long awaited return.