From its roots with the constantly narrated storybook experience in Bastion to the futuristic experimentation in Transistor and the wild world of sports with Pyre, Supergiant Games doesn’t attempt to catch the same lightning in a bottle twice. With Hades, the lightning is a veritable superstorm of epic proportions, a roguelike hack-and-slash that transcends the genre with story, style, and speed. Tapping into Greek myth for inspiration, the tale of Zagreus and his escape from the bowels of Hades takes place over many attempts. But this isn’t a game solely for lovers of procedurally generated dungeon rooms, random powerups, and discovering overpowered combinations of weapons and abilities. If one word can convey what makes Hades one of the best games of 2020, it’s cohesion.
Every aspect of Hades feels like it was seamlessly crafted, leading to a compelling gameplay flow enhanced by admirable aesthetics, brilliant voice acting, and immersive music. Giant, sprawling games are often incredible tapestries woven by many entities, yet Hades somehow seems like all the various components of the game came from the same place, syncing up and synergizing in laudable fashion. When Zagreus enters a room with a bold quip and the music amps up, you know it’s time to smash your way out of the underworld with a sword, gauntlet, or gun.
Various weapons and powerups aid you on your journey out of the depths, and depending on the run and player choice, the functionality of the template weapon can be drastically different every time. Many roguelikes offer interesting choices, but every jaunt out into the dungeon takes you deeper into the story. Whether you’re forging new relationships with the gods or other characters, the pacing is such that you continue to unearth new narrative gems even on your 100th excursion. Extensive contextual dialogue for a multitude of characters and events shapes the world around you, raising Hades above its often gameplay-centric peers. While Hades’ gameplay is top notch as well, with frenzied dodging, diving, and slashing, the overarching use of the run structure to tell a worthwhile tale creates an even more immersive loop. From your first use of a chaos portal to inject some gambling into your run or fishing up a rare find for the chef back home, even the most minute tasks and exercises feel special.
Progress in Hades comes consistently over time, as resources collected during escape attempts can be used to unlock powerful permanent boosts for Zagreus. If you’re unable to handle the obscene amount of projectiles on the screen during a battle or face off against stygian hydras or massive minotaurs, fear not, as you eventually unlock new abilities and tools to help take them down. While Hades features a deep well of customization and variance management that fans of roguelikes will love, it cleverly obfuscates those elements with an intriguing story, curious combinations, and constant discovery.
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