Returnal Ending Explained: Base, Secret & Theories

Return from the dead as the Returnal has returned to PC to showcase a twisted ending for players!

With Returnal returning to PC it can become obvious that players are utmostly excited. The storyline of Returnal is filled with extremely dark, twisted realities, and Selene is just a mess of her hell. With the two different endings available to players, they might need assistance with the ending of Returnal, there for a detailed Returnal Ending Explained walkthrough is essential! 

IMPORTANT: Heavy spoilers ahead await you. Proceed with caution. Spoilers regarding base ending, secret ending, Ophion and theories are entailed.

Key Takeaways
  • There are two endings to Returnal, a base ending that all players will achieve no matter what, and a secret ending that needs to be achieved in other ways. 
  • The base ending mainly places it’s focus on the car crash in which Selene is involved, and how the car ends up crashing into the water. 
  • The base ending only ends on a vague note where she reaches out to hold the hand of the child in the back and fails, and she is simply pulled up by an entity. 
  • The secret ending focuses on Selene encountering someone in a wheelchair infront of her that appears to be a skull, and the ending finishes with Selene screaming “Helios!” and the screen fades to black. 
  • The hostage theory is simply a theory which discusses whether there might be mind control being put on her by Chaos, and whether she’s being toyed with. 
  • In the hellhole situation, she questions whether she even survived the impact of the car crash, and she accepts that her fate lies in the stars, that the child is gone, and that she is simply fated to lie amongst the void. 
  • In the nightmare situation, there might be a possibility that everything that she sees is a figment of her imagination, since she gets rejected by Astra while being deemed unfit, is it for physical or mental reasons?
  • In the most out there theory, there is a chance that Selene never existed, her extinction, which delves further deeper into the connection between her and her mother, her heterochromia and greek mythology. 
  • The developers never set a proper explanation for the ending, leaving the final moments of the game fully open to interpretation. 

Main Ending 

Base Ending
Base Ending (Image Credits Exputer)

After Selene has defeated Ophion (more to that later), she runs into a deep hole. She says something along the lines of “I will go there now” while she’s having difficulty breathing, and she finishes her sentence by saying, “As you will,” which further delves deeper into the Returnal Ending Explained.

  • As she makes her way through the water, she remembers everything now and then and says that she also knows why she deserves to be here
  • She then mentions the crash, and it’s like all of her memories are returning to her. She also says that the crash is why she belongs and that no matter what she does, she always returns to the crash. 
  • As you run past the waves of water, you encounter the car that crashed into the water in the first place. 

As you progress further, you encounter a large orb in the center of the water that is suspended, and this is where the cutscene triggers

Cutscene Trigger 

When the cutscene triggers, Selene stands on the edge of the pathway as the giant orbs hang on top of her. 

  • The cutscene then focuses on a closeup shot of Selene, and she now walks off the pathway and onto the light area ahead of her. As she treads carefully, the ground begins to shake violently, and she lets out a huge gasp as she realizes what’s happening. 
  • A giant beam of light emerges from the front, which causes her to lose her balance. She falls back with a thud, and her head ends up hitting the ground pretty hard. 
  • She groans as the impact from the ground is too much, and she lays back her head in even more pain. 
  • As she realizes the reality of her situation, she instantly regains as much energy as she can to get up, and she pushes herself off with the help of her arms. As she sits up, she encounters the creature in front of her, and as she groans in pain, she can see the same red lights that were there when she encountered it before. 
  • She speaks up and asks, “Are you the one who brought me here?” as she stares up into the distance towards the creature and asks whether this is what the creature wants him to see. 

The Crash

White Shadow
White Shadow (Image Credits Exputer)

After that, another cutscene triggers, and the scene changes, and it flashbacks to the actual crash that took place before this hellhole that Selene has been a part of for so long. 

  • The cutscene shows an overview shot of a forest and a car driving along the highway during nighttime. 
  • The cutscene changes twice to show an overhead shot and a backshot of the car moving along the highway.

After that, the inside view of the car can be seen, and a small kid who is sitting in a baby seat can be seen with a seatbelt across her protecting her and a small watch that she is wearing on her left wrist. She holds an octopus plushie tightly, with her hands wrapped around it. 

  • She looks at the plushie intendedly, then her sight lifts, and she looks ahead and sees a woman driving. She tilts her head forward and raises her eyebrows in an expression as if she wants to say something but can’t find the words to do so
  • She gives up instantly, looks back down at her plushie, holds it even tighter, and then leads towards the side of the car to rest up, and a shot of the moon can be seen too. 
  • A front shot of the car can be seen with the headlights on, and through the front-view mirror, the child sitting in the backseat can be heard calling out to the woman infront of her and saying, “mom?”.
  • She then reaches a bit forward and asks whether she sees the White Shadow, and the woman driving the car adjusts the mirror so that only she is visible for view now. 

She continues to ignore the child and drive as she is deep in thought and seems to be pondering over something. She rests her left hand on her forehead as her arm sticks out the window, and the child in the back can be seen as being a bit distressed and holds on to the plushie even more now. 

Realisation (Image Credits Exputer)
  • She rests her hand on the head of the plushie and leans back into the seat, and at this point, the radio begins to static and gets messed up, which the driver realizes. 
  • As she attempts to look up from the radio, she sees an astronaut wearing a white space suit standing in the middle of the bridge. 
  • Her life flashes before her eyes as she steps on the brake, swirls off from the highway, turns left, and ends up crashing into the water. 

The car keeps sinking, reaching the waterbed as the headlights give out, flicker and then turn off. 

  • A red light emerges in the distance in front of the car, and somehow, the woman’s eyes open up, and she struggles to unlock her seatbelt, but when she does, she instantly reaches out to the little child in the back but barely manages to reach out to her hand. 
  • As she struggles to do so, it’s as if she is pulled up, and a smoky white fog covers the entire screen and conjures her up, and the cutscene comes to a close. 

Final Boss Fight (Before Ending) 

With how much of an amazing game Returnal is, Selene is left to face her fears in this saga. Before the end, there are two endings that players can encounter, one which happens to be the base end that all players will receive, and the second one that happens to be a true or secret ending that showcases a bit more details and goes in-depth about the entire situation. 

Ophion Introduction 

Ophion Cutscene
Ophion Cutscene (Image Credits Exputer)

The boss that leads to the ending of Returnal is Ophion, just like any other 3-phased boss fights that players might encounter in the game. Before triggering the cutscene to the boss fight, they are in an underwater location, whereby they have to jump off a platform to hit the ground with a thud, and the second she hits the ground, the fun begins! 

First Phase 

First Phase
First Phase (Image Credits Exputer)

Kicking things off with the first phase, a cutscene ends up being triggered, and we see the boss morphing into different forms; while they may appear to be the same, they have different attack patterns that players need to look out for. 

  • The cutscene shows the boss emerging from the ground, and it starts to roll around the ground. 
  • In the first phase, Ophion summons forth light orbs that end up appearing on both the left and right side of the boss, and Selene can be heard saying “pitch black guilt,” which is just a massive heartbreaker on its own. 
  • She continues to say, “Guardian of Hades.” As for the orbs, players need to hit them to make the light emerge outwards, through which players can get a little bit of clarity for their eyes. 

For some reason, if players cannot see the boss’s eyes, then they need to continue to launch attacks against the light orbs that are all around the boss. 

  • While the boss itself doesnt include many attack patterns, players must be especially careful when the boss launches out the purple rings. Players might notice two types of purple: three large purple and black rings and 6-7 black and purple lines that Ophion shoots out from the front, and the lines run left to right. 
  • Players cannot dash or move through and avoid damage through the purple rings; therefore, there needs to be extra carefulness involved. The purple rings also emerge from the left and right and then meet in the middle before going to either side. 
  • Ophion also lets out precisely seven orange projections, and each projection has tons of smaller orange orbs that players need to dodge out of. Players can conveniently dash through them. After the seven orbs, Ophion also launches the orbs out horizontally. 

Second Phase 

Second Phase
Second Phase (Image Credits Exputer)

Moving on, we have the second phase of Ophion; players can take note of Ophion emerging into the complete skeleton head. 

  • There are even more eyes that players can take note of on the boss, and one eye, in particular, is placed on the shoulder that players need to be careful of. 
  • One of the attacks it launches out are tons of dark and light blue circles from which it shoots out green particles. 
  • It also ends up shooting out the familiar orange orbs in circular patterns. 
  • Players can note that the boss itself is pretty slow in launching its attack patterns, but in the places where the eyes are located, it ends up moving around pretty fast. 
  • There are also purple lights that are directed toward the player. 

Throughout all this, players need to aim for the eyes since they are Ophion’s weak points

  • The attack patterns don’t change a lot, but the purple bars and the orange orbs end up intermingling, and there is just a mess of slow and fast attack patterns. 
  • Players want to keep aiming for the eye no matter what. 

Third Phase 

Third Phase
Third Phase (Image Credits Exputer)

Now, when it comes to the final phase of the boss fight, Ophion emerges and is now seen wearing an astronaut helmet

  • There are still eyes present on the boss that players need to continue aiming for. 
  • The boss will also shoot out purple bars/beams that players need to be extremely careful against, and the best way against them is to simply move as far away towards the edge as possible. 
  • Other than that, players should generally look out for the purple rings, orange orbs, and Ophion’s hands since they can attack the player too. 

The third phase combines everything into one abysmal mess of a boss fight, and players must make their way through it. 

True/Secret Ending 

Secret Ending
Secret Ending (Image Credits Exputer)

Now, while there is most definitely a base Returnal Ending Explained to the game, there is also a secret ending that players can get. After the cutscene triggers, it shows the car fully submerged in water, and the headlights are still on. 

  • series of heavy breaths can be heard from a distance, and it sounds like a woman is breathing heavily. 
  • Within the next second, Selene walks out, enters the frame from the right side, and approaches the car with her hand on her chest. 

In view, she examines the car that has now been covered in moss, and she reaches out to look at the car windows and attempts to touch it but to no avail. 

  • She turns her head to the right and then takes yet another deep breath before reaching toward the car door one more time and retracting her hand. 
  • She seems frightened but also extremely curious as she takes in another deep breath, and she holds the car keys in her hands, reaches them out, and attempts to jab them intot eh keyhole on the handle. 
  • She turns the key to the right, and the lock opens before a black screen appears. 

Black Screen 

After the black screen emerges, a scene appears where a smoky cloud can be seen far off in the distance. 

  • Right in the middle of the void is a wheelchair, on which a creature resides, sits with its head hung low, and its sides arm it. The scene focuses on the creature that is not looking up. 
  • Suddenly, a side view is shown, and another woman can be seen infront of the creature in the wheelchair, staring down at it. 

The creature lifts its head to examine the person infront of it, and the person staring at the creature is Selene herself, while the creature is nothing but a skull and remains of a body once beheld. 

  • Selene gasps as she examines the creature, and as she leans down to take a closer look at it, the creature lunges at her, grabbing onto her chest and then her neck, and begins to choke her as it holds her up high. 
  • The skull begins to groan, and a voice can be heard saying, “I told you to leave me alone” Selene manages to hit the skull’s arms to set herself free as she pushes away the creature, and the skull crashes down onto the ground. 
  • The skull groans in pain as it puts its hand on its stomach and then looks up at Selene and continues to groan, and someone says Selene’s name, and both the creature and Selene look behind her, but there’s no one there. 

Right then, a first-person view can be seen, with Selene looking down at her hands and examining them, and then forming them into a fist, and then examining the back of her hands. She looks up to see deeper into the void, and as she continues to move forward into the void, another scene appears where: 

  • She is transported onto the highway, and the car that was originally present in the car crash crashes into her and switches, making it pretty clear that the white astronaut was Selene all along!!!!
  • Selene lays down, and bubbles of water appear, and there is no underwater scene where someone is trying to swim to the surface but is unable to do so, and a white screen appears. 
  • A loud gasp can be heard before Selene screams, “Helios..” and the screen fades to black.

Ending Explanations And Theories 

Now, there is not a detailed explanation of how the story ends, or rather what the hidden meaning behind each act is, since the game has left a lot of the ending open to interpretation, therefore conjuring up a lot of discussion over the possible Returnal Ending Explained. There are tons of theories, some crack theories, and random explanations, but none tie together into one deception explanation; therefore, let’s pick up different theories. 

Keep in mind that these are just theories, and there is no set explanation given by the game makers. Therefore, taking inspiration, here are 4 theories that might open new doors for discussion. 

Hostage Situation 

Hostage (Image Credits Exputer)

One of the first theories discusses the idea of everything in the game being depicted as real. When Selene crashes into the planet, she wanders from place to place before returning to the Derelict Citadel. 

  • There is a very much time loop theory that is introduced in the game beautifully too, and it seems like Selene is forever stuck in the time loop, with no way out. 
  • A lot of the creatures here are presented to have psychic abilities, which allow them to mess up with your mind and manipulate the way your thought process operates; as the Xenoglyph reads, “… it will not stop them.. Digging into our mind..” 

But, apart from the creatures having mind-control abilities, what if there is an even higher entity conjures even stronger mind-controlling powers and has control over everyone present on the planet? One theory discusses it to be Chaos

  • If it is Chaos that has been the one who is the strongest all along, then there is 100% a chance that as soon as, or even before, she crashed, it took control of her mind and dissipated any perception of reality that she may have had. 
  • This could also mean that her escape may have been falsified and that it may have been nothing but fiction. 
  • If Chaos is messing with Selene, then this explains how it was only when she interacted with Chaos that she remembers the entire car crash occurring. 
  • In the secret ending, it seems as if Chaos goes all out to make Selene connect with her past, face it, and then become the White Shadow itself. 

This is a hostage situation


Hellhole (Image Credits Exputer)

As for the second theory brings back to the car crash, but the adverse reality that Selene never ended up surviving the crash. In one of the Audio logs that are read as “The Lying Truth,” the title, together with the “Did I even survive the initial impact” present in the log. 

  • Another Audio log that is extremely creepy is The Truth Lying, where she says that she cannot atone, so she accepts reality. The reality of her actions, perhaps? Who knows. 
  • Her fate lies in the stars, her reality exists in the depths below, and she accepts that this is her fate. 
  • Could there be a possibility that this could be an afterlife? This can be theorized with the Audio log, where there are mentions of hell
  • Her life and journey on the planet are simply her redemption arc, and she is to find the answers on her own if she so can and come to terms with the fact that she is at fault for everything
  • She needs to realize what she did, she needs to accept her fate, she needs to understand where she went wrong, her relationship with her mother, with her child, and she needs to allow her soul to come to peace with everything. 
  • Though she wants redemption, she must strive to gain it, going through hell and back to atone for what she did. 

This is her hellhole

Nightmare Situation

Nightmare (Image Credits Exputer)

Now, if we take a look at things from a psychological standpoint, then we can take into account that there is a possibility that all the events that take place after the car crash occur is not the truth. 

  • It could have been the creation of her imagination, and she is simply imagining everything occurring. 
  • When she applied, she was originally rejected by Astra, as she was deemed unfit, but what if there are other reasons for them rejecting her since her journey throughout the planet was anything but unprofessional? 
  • Perhaps one of the reasons that she ended up being rejected was because she wasn’t mentally sound, and mental stability is one of the most important elements of space recruitment. 
  • In one of the Audio logs called Mothership Psych Evaluation, she mentions the idea of delusions, and this can be tied together to her PTSD that was caused by the car crash, perhaps which makes it difficult to live her life normally now. 

This is her nightmare


Extinction (Image Credits Exputer)

Now, what if we bring up the topic of Selene’s existence never being there? What if Selene was never real but was instead a mirror of her mother, Theia

  • What seems to be the most interesting about this theory is how Selene’s heterochromia (different colored eyes) match together with the name Theia, which conveniently means Goddess of Sight if you delve deeper into greek mythology. 

This is her extinction


And there we have it! All that players need to know about the Returnal Ending Explained, and with the crack theories out of the way, we will wrap up our guide! 

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Mina Anwar

Mina is a Senior Guides Writer and a fanatic who’s obsessed with playing games and writing about them. She’s invested tons of hours in games like Genshin Impact and Honkai Star Rail. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism, she loves to write detailed guides for beginners and pros in the Gacha Games world. Experience: 3+ Years || Education: Bachelor's in Journalism || Written 400+ Articles

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