Returnal: How the Save Function Works
Returnal may only have a handful of biomes, but getting through each of them can take a long time, depending on skill and RNG. Some players have reported upwards of two-hour-long playthroughs for a single Returnal biome. So, how does the Returnal save function work, and can you save your progress manually? Are there save points?
Like many other roguelikes, Returnal doesn't save your progress mid-run. That means if you die anywhere in a run, you start over, go back to the Helios crash site, and lose all of your progress, all of your weapons and life-saving artifacts, all of your consumables, and most of your other items.
Returnal only saves when you complete an entire biome or die and start over. And then, it only logs that you beat the boss of a particular biome, and it only carries over permanent items, such as the grappling hook. There's is no way to manually save progress during a cycle, and there are no save points.
Since enemies do not respawn in rooms you've already cleared, you can stay in a cleared room and leave Returnal running until you can play again, but that's not a great option. As reported by Eurogamer, some players have also been putting their PS5s in rest mode, which "suspends" Returnal, letting you pick it back up later. But just like leaving your system running, this isn't ideal.
Housemarque has commented, however cryptically, on the subject, hinting at the possibility of a future patch that includes a more traditional Returnal save function. However, nothing is set in stone.
Are There Checkpoints in Returnal?
Yes, there are checkpoints in Returnal. These come in the form of Reconstructors. These stations feature large stone circles and the impression of a standing, horned Xeno on them. They appear randomly in each procedurally-generated biome, and because of Returnal's RNG, there is no way to know which room or area they will spawn in.
There seems to be a small chance that Reconstructors may not spawn at all in biomes, as well. I have had several runs where I did not find a Reconstructor, though it is possible I missed them in those specific runs.
It's important to note that Reconstructors only work once in a single run, and because of their random placement, you may be required to play through a significant portion of a biome all over again. On top of that, Reconstructors require 6 ether to use, a valuable and hard-to-come-by resource.
In a nutshell, that's how the Returnal save function works, at least for now. Housemarque may tweak the system in the future and add save points, meaning that the question for how to save is a bit more flexible, so we'll update this Returnal guide if that's the case.