I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a hellish year. Global pandemics, national lockdowns, political upheaval, civil unrest. It’s been truly ungodly. All we need now is for a global famine and we’ll have had a visit from all four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the space of twelve months. Aren’t we lucky?
Looking on the bright side, it’s not been all bad for us gamers. Never has there been a greater opportunity to shut yourself in your room and not speak to anybody for weeks, and not be judged for it. I bet some of us never even realised we were supposed to be locked down.
And besides, 2020 hasn’t been a complete waste of time, my friends. 2020 was the year Hades was brought into the world in all it’s action-roguelite glory – and that is certainly something to be thankful for. In a year of disappointments and uncertainty, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Hades is A Happy Gamer’s Game of the Year 2020. Here’s why.
Satisfying and addictive combat is the foundation upon which all action rogue-lite’s are built – after all, how else would they entice you into playing the same handful of stages over and over again, and still come running back for more? In Hades, like any true rogue-lite, agility is the name of the game. You’ll be spamming the dash button like your life depends on it, usually because it will. Hades’ combat is fast-paced, and flows in a way that makes it feel more like dancing across the desktop than fighting; coupled with enemies materialising left right and centre and projectiles flying at you from every which way, it’s an awesome display of colourful chaos which is high-energy, high-impact and highly addictive. It gets the juices flowing and the adrenaline pumping – you can’t help yourself but try again, no matter how many times you’re sent floating down the river Styx with your tail between your legs.
It’s not all about mashing the dash button; ‘spray and pray’ won’t be enough to deliver Zagreus to the surface. The randomized selection of powerups and boons you will collect each attempt means you have to always be prepared to switch up your fighting style depending on which boons and skills you’ve collected – you’ve no choice but to approach each attempt differently. The randomly generated dungeon layouts, with trap-rooms, mini-bosses and time-trials thrown into the mix, all do a great job of keeping the player on their toes.
The Art Style
Hades’ graphical style is cell-shaded and smooth with a strong manga/comic-book flavour to it. It’s colourful, fantastical and a perfect fit for the mythological setting.
Characters are well-rounded, with distinct personalities that avoid falling into stereotypes. There are no true ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ – each NPC has their own motivations for helping or hindering you.
Zagreus himself might be one of my favourite protagonists to date. Headstrong, snarky and supremely confident, he’s the definition of a bad-boy. I live for his sarcastic banter and witty exchanges with other underworld inhabitants, including stage-bosses. Even the fourth wall is no match for Zagreus’ sarcasm – he pokes fun at the narrator as well. He may be a pompous brat, but you’ll be rooting for him nonetheless.
Oftentimes, rogue-lites’ narratives feel like a total afterthought, like they were tagged on more out of obligation than a desire to engage the player in any story-telling. The same can absolutely not be said for Hades, which offers an original and surprisingly relatable story,
Quite a lot of greek mythology is centred on journeys into the Underworld – but in Hades, you’re trying to get out. Not because it’s all fire and brimstone down there – it’s actually quite pleasant in the underworld. Zagreus simply resents the responsibilities of being the Underworld Prince, convinced that he can ‘find himself’ up in the Overworld. I think we can all relate to that level of pettiness and self-importance at some point in our lives.
In this world, there’s varied dialogue, and then there’s Hades’ dialogue. I’m convinced you could fill a book with all the lines of dialogue recorded for this game – in all the hours I clocked, not once did I hear a line of dialogue repeat itself. Not even once.
The secret of how Hades’ dialogue can remain engaging and impactful 30 hours in lies in it’s variety and reactivity. The things you do during your attempts feel like they have a tangible impact on what goes on inside the main hub, and within the wider narrative, because of how the NPC’s converse with the player. Characters will acknowledge your in-game achievements; they’ll give you hints that are legitimately helpful; they’ll congratulate you if you break new ground or ridicule you if you die too often to a particular enemy; they’ll remark about the whereabouts of other characters, or things that have gone on inside the hub whilst you are away on one of your attempts. It might seem like an insignificant feature, but I found it had a profound impact on my immersion into both the in game universe, and my investment in the characters. It also breaks up to the monotony and predictability that the roguelike genre can be infamous for.
When it comes to Hades, the devil is literally in the details. It’s in these little comments, quips and witticisms that the script-writing truly works it’s magic, breathing life into the characters; they interact with you as much as you interact with them.
The voice acting itself is unusual. Most of the characters deliver their lines in a mumble or a whisper (or, in Zagreus’ case, a purposefully provocative purr) almost like the actors were sitting too close to their microphones. I’m presuming this is deliberate, since they almost all do it. Though it takes a while to get used to once you first boot up the game, it adds a unique charm to the overall aesthetic of the game.
The rouge-lite genre has grown more and more popular within indie circles over the years, but it should come as no surprise that not everybody is a glutton for punishment – the amount of crushing defeats that you as a player are expected to power through can be too much for some people.
Thankfully, the genius developers at Supergiant Games thought ahead and added the God Mode feature into Hades’ settings. With God Mode turned on, each time Zagreus dies, he gains a couple of percentage points of damage resistance. It’s not earth-shattering, but combined with the natural progression in Zagreus’ power and in the player’s skills which increase with each attempt, it certainly makes an impact on the game’s overall difficulty. Not so much that you feel like you’re cheating, but enough to give you a healthy advantage.
It’s completely optional, implemented for the benefit of giving some players a gentle boost to help them progress through the game. If that’s not a total ‘chad’ move I’m not sure what is. Mad respect.
Videogames Make Me Happy concludes…
In Hades, gameplay and story-telling exist in perfect equilibrium. Somehow, the developers have managed to spread their attention and expertise equally across the high-energy action sections and the quieter, more narrative-driven sections to create something which grabs your attention and refuses to let go. It’s got all the qualities that make an action-roguelikes so addictive, whilst completely bypassing the element of repetition that is usually inherent in the genre. They’ve given us the best of both worlds – players can have their cake and eat it go.
It’s unprecedented, and unprofessional, but I simply cannot find a fault with this game. It has no obvious weaknesses and satisfies on all fronts, and that makes me a VERY Happy Gamer.