One of the most daunting things about Returnal is the fact that there isn’t much permanent progression when you die. Once a cycle renews (AKA you die), you’ll have precious little to show for it, and even if you had a great build and a successful run, you’ll have to start completely from scratch next time you enter the gauntlet.
However, there are some permanent upgrades that you can earn that will make the game easier the more you play.
In this guide we’re going to run through all of Returnal’s permanent upgrades, to help you understand what to focus on if you’re really struggling.
- Read our full Returnal review
Returnal permanent progression explained
You don’t get to keep your upgraded weapons between runs in Returnal, but you do get to keep the traits that you unlock. Whenever you pick up a weapon during a cycle, you’ll be working towards an ability unlock that is baked into the gun by defeating enemies. You can see it on the stats screen if you wish to track your progress.
‘Armor Piercing’ and ‘Rising Pitch’ are two examples, which increase fire rate over time — these are little buffs that will be there when you pick the gun up next time, so make sure you get them to 100%.
The item pool (Artefacts and Consumables)
Like Risk of Rain 2, Returnal has an ever-expanding item pool where players can find and scan items to add them to the drop list for future cycles. As such, you should always look out for items that need to be scanned, whether they’re dropped from enemies, found in chests or fabricated. We’ve also been earning items by engaging with Returnal’s first-person story sequences, such as the house in the Overgrown Ruins. You can also use Ether to permanently unlock new items in the starting area, by inserting the currency into the obelisk near the first door.
There’s an alien language to decode in Returnal and you’ll need to find Xenoglyph tablets and graffiti to help unravel the alien lexicon. They’re blood red and easy to spot — all you have to do is approach one and tap the prompt to improve your translation skills and uncover more of Returnal’s lore.
Once you beat the first biome you’ll unlock an extra consumable slot, and this is a permanent upgrade for Selene that allows her to carry two different consumables at one time, swapping between them with the D-Pad. It’s unclear just yet whether you get more consumable slots in future biomes, but it would make sense.
Of course, items that are tied to the story via scripted pickup sequences also constitute permanent progression. Selene’s melee blade and her grappling hook (that you get from beating the second boss) will be available in every run once unlocked. Essentially, anything that you pick up that binds or attaches to your suit in a cutscene is an extra ability to help you fight or maneuver in combat.
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