This is how Returnal’s co-op actually works

Two players in Returnal fighting an alien
(Image credit: Sony)

PS5 roguelike Returnal will be getting a free expansion on March 22, introducing two-player co-op to the sci-fi, time-looping shooter.

The new gamemode was revealed in an announcement trailer (watch it below) during March’s State of Play, with a follow-up blog post detailing exactly how co-op will work in the game.

At the start of each cycle, you’ll be able to access co-op mode through a Chronosis portal, choosing to either host your own game for public players to join, host a private cycle if you’d rather play with your friends, or hop into someone else’s playthrough. Chronosis portals will also pop up “at other select parts of the game”, suggesting you’ll be able to request co-op help at certain times midway through a run, such as before a boss or a new biome.

Returnal’s co-op mode mostly follows the game’s core gameplay loop beat for beat, but it throws another player in the mix. You and your partner will traverse the alien world as you normally would but will be tethered back together if you stray too far apart. Developer Housemarque says this is intended to “ensure that the focus remains on cooperative gameplay and both players feel connected to the fates of each other.”

Players will have separate life pools and the option to revive their partner if they’re downed. But to maintain Returnal’s punishing difficulty, getting them back into the fight won’t be easy, as you’ll have to spend a big chunk of time reviving your fallen comrade while navigating the bullet-hell around you.

All progression will be tied to the host player. That means you can call on a friend or a random buddy to help you get past a particularly challenging boss, while both players will get to keep any collectible logs or xenoglyphs they discover.

Alongside online co-op, Ascension will add the new Tower of Sisyphus gamemode. Housemarque is pitching that as Returnal’s endless mode, in which you'll climb the titular tower floor by floor, fighting through its progressively harder challenges to see just how far you can ascend. It’s more of an arcade-inspired mode that encourages you to compete for a high score against your friends.

The Tower of Sisyphus will also introduce a bunch of new items and bosses into the mix, as well as new narrative developments.

Analysis: co-op with preservation

Returnal’s take on co-op sounds like a delicate one. As with many other roguelikes, Returnal is no walk in the park. It can be a punishing game that will put your mastery of its third-person shooting to the test, and this co-op mode looks to change none of that. Rather than granting you a buddy to breeze through the game with, it sounds like the co-op mode will preserve Returnal’s difficulty, offering the option to experience that challenge with a friend.

That’s a style of co-op that’s seen great success in recent years with games. Elden Ring and Dark Souls 3 before it included the option to summon fellow players into the game, giving you another sword to rely on in combat without overhauling its difficulty. It’s an effective way of adding a social component to a game without undermining the gameplay challenge that makes it so appealing.

In another similarity with FromSoftware’s titles, progress in Returnal’s campaign will save for only one co-op player, relying on the generosity of fans to drive co-op playthroughs. That can be an effective force, as players hop into public sessions not to troll or stir trouble, but to genuinely help others on their time loops.

Callum Bains
Gaming News Writer

Callum is TechRadar Gaming’s News Writer. You’ll find him whipping up stories about all the latest happenings in the gaming world, as well as penning the odd feature and review. Before coming to TechRadar, he wrote freelance for various sites, including Clash, The Telegraph, and, and worked as a Staff Writer at Wargamer. Strategy games and RPGs are his bread and butter, but he’ll eat anything that spins a captivating narrative. He also loves tabletop games, and will happily chew your ear off about TTRPGs and board games.