It's no secret we're big fans of Returnal here at Push Square. Its rogue-like elements certainly aren't to everyone's tastes, but we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Selene's time-looping escapades on Atropos. It's an extremely compelling adventure, not to mention satisfying when you overcome some serious challenges along the way. We also felt, almost immediately, that this was a game ripe for expansion — the potential for new modes, levels, weapons, and beyond was through the roof. Nearly a year later, Housemarque has delivered on that front with the Ascension update — a free expansion with some major new additions.
The first of these is two player online co-op, an unexpected but very welcome alternative way to experience the main game. Aside from those first-person House sequences, the core campaign can be tackled with another player. While you might initially think this would make this tough game a cakewalk, some smart rebalancing means that you're going to be challenged even as a duo. Fighting bosses in co-op can be just as difficult as it is playing solo, but the payoff when you defeat them is equally gratifying.
There are some ways that having backup helps make the game more manageable. If one Selene dies, the other can revive them. It takes a few seconds, which puts you at risk if there are still enemies around, but the mechanic works well and means a run be saved from the brink. Also, having a second player present means that enemies won't always be focusing their attention on you, allowing you to flank or get in close for a melee strike while your cohort distracts. Playing co-op adds some interesting new wrinkles to the game, but most importantly, it's just great fun blasting aliens with a pal.
It isn't perfect, though. We think more could've been done to make communicating a little easier. Seeing as most players refuse to use voice chat — unless playing with a buddy — there's no way to tell each other about, for example, health items, or new weapons. What makes it worse is that item drops are shared, meaning you can't both pick the same thing up, so without communicating, it can easily become a rush to vacuum up all the best stuff before the other player. A ping system, or even a few emotes, would've gone a long way to alleviating this.
The other major new mode in the Ascension update is Tower of Sisyphus. This is a very different, single player only, challenge to master. It's essentially an endless score attack mode where each floor presents you with increasingly harder waves of enemies to defeat until you die. If you enjoy Returnal's combat but are tired of running the campaign over and over, this is a very fun, super addictive new challenge.
The emphasis is on speed and consistency. Your score multiplier increases as you defeat enemies, and your adrenaline level — a mechanic that enhances Selene's abilities for killing baddies without taking damage — furthers that even more. Essentially, playing with skill and efficiency is the key to victory, and it does a very effective job of forcing you to play quickly. When in combat rooms, your multiplier will decrease if you're not dealing damage, keeping you in the action if you're shooting for a high score.
Fortunately, some respite comes in rooms without enemies, where your multiplier is locked in place. Naturally, as you progress up the tower, you're picking up better weaponry, consumables, and obolites just like the main game, and you'll often find shops where you can equip buffs, artifacts, and parasites to get stronger. You'll need all the help you can get, as not only do the enemy waves get tougher, you'll also come up against Algos, a brand new boss, who marks the end of a "phase" in the tower.
Unlike other Returnal bosses, Algos only has one health meter each time you fight them, but you'll run into this strange creature multiple times as you ascend the tower. One new addition, Disgorgers, help against the strongest foes. These are consumable super weapons that deal big damage, but only stick around for a limited time. There are several of them to find, and they're perfect for fighting Algos or, if you're really struggling, a nasty wave of regular baddies. All in all, Tower of Sisyphus is a seriously engaging new mode for lapsed players. You need to beat the second boss in the main game to reach it, but it's worth the effort.
We should also mention it adds in some new narrative beats, with new Scout Logs and other things to find. The extra story is primarily told through Hospital sequences, though, which are similar to the House. Moving to first-person once again, these transport Selene to an eerie new location, exploring and expanding upon some of the beats from later in the main game's story. No spoilers, but anyone interested in the lore should check out the tower.
Ascension is a brilliant update that breathes new life into an already wonderful game. The co-op is implemented nicely and is a blast with the right partner, and Tower of Sisyphus is an addictive, arcade-like experience that represents a sort-of endgame challenge you can play forever. Both modes are great additions that just further cement Returnal as an early PS5 banger.
Have you been enjoying Returnal's new modes? Descend into the comments section below, and if you're enjoying the game, check out our Returnal guide for lots more info.