Appearing on PS I Love You XOXO, the director was asked by veteran journalist Greg Miller for his thoughts on the discussion around Returnal’s difficulty and how it affects accessibility.
“That’s definitely always going to be an interesting challenge to find that sweet spot,” he replied.
“I think we can always do more and could always add more support for different ways to play the game and different control methods. I think when it comes to the difficulty I think it is a question of what kind of experience you are having with Returnal.”
Returnal: Ascension - Tower of Sisyphus Gameplay Trailer | PS5
Krueger also said that he believes that the game’s high difficulty is inherent to the game’s narrative structure and that players may feel less engaged with the story if there was no challenge, saying: “I think in many ways the story and the gameplay are very inseparable in Returnal.
“[For example], the character, Celine, she is talking about dying over and over and how these are insurmountable odds, and she can’t keep going on, and there’s this descent into madness that is happening purely because of the challenges she’s facing, and her challenges are the player’s challenges as well in many ways.”
“It feels like if you were allowed to just power through a boss without any challenge, or just go from A to B to C through the narrative points, it almost feels like it would create a bit of dissonance.
“The game is telling you this is really challenging, and that you’re overcoming these obstacles but you wouldn’t have had to experience that friction. So that’s always a line to walk, but it’s something we’re going to keep in mind.”
Returnal sees players journey through the mysterious planet of Atropos in order to find out why the protagonist Celine wakes up at the crash site of her ship every time she dies.
While players can later unlock items that allow for more than one death per run, usually when a player dies they’ll be sent to the beginning of the game again, with nothing but a few permanent upgrades remaining after each run.
While Returnal doesn’t feature any difficulty options, and at launch didn’t allow players to suspend their runs once they had started, a recent update added full co-op support to the game’s main campaign, making the challenge less daunting.
Returnal was warmly received by critics at launch and last week it won Best Game at the BAFTA Games Awards.
It also won the awards for Audio Achievement, Music and Performer In A Leading Role, which was awarded to Jane Perry for her role as Selene Vassos.