The Game Awards happened a few days ago, but we're not here to talk about every details. What we're here to discuss, is Supergiant Games surprising every rouguelike players by breaking its “no-sequel” tradition in announcing Hades II releasing.
You may ask what is Hades? Back to 2020, action-roguelike Hades saw Zagreus battling his way up from Hades (the place) to meet his estranged bio-mom, Persephone. Hades was my game of the year 2020. I don't mean to say that Hades is objectively the best, because that's an impossible metric (and also Baldur's Gate 3 isn't out yet). Rather, developer Supergiant's Greek mythology-flavored action roguelike was, improbably, the game that best characterizes the year 2020.
Hades, which entered early access in 2018 and launched offical version in PC and Switch platforms, after almost two years of additional development. More than that, it is a game whose structure and story are both rooted in repeated, inescapable failure. As Zagreus, the son of Hades, you try to slash, shield bash, spear, bow, punch, and gun your way out of hell, but no matter how many demonic shades fall after (ode to a Grecian) earning your ire, you end up back where you started.
Outstanding Narrative and Character:
This review discusses Hades' story in depth and includes both minor and major spoilers. If you haven't finished the game, and I mean really finished it, and wish to avoid spoilers, probably skip those sections.
Supergiant describes Hades as a roguelike, but only because there's not really a good genre descriptor that sums up what it really is. In between action-based runs through the ever-shifting halls of Tartarus, Asphodel, Elysium, and the Temple of Styx, you spend ample time talking to various gods, goddesses, shades (ghosts, basically), and Dusa, who defies categorization. Also Cerberus, who is both bigger than all other dogs and has three heads, thus making him quantifiably the best boy. You can give these characters gifts to strengthen your bonds, but just conversing with them over the course of countless runs is enough to peel back many of their layers.
You get to know these characters as 10 hours give way to 20, 30, 60, and onward. When I first encountered Achilles while playing Hades, I thought he was a dreary shadow perpetually posed against the same dull wall. Now, months later, he's like a father, brother, and maybe more to me, a font of generosity in spite of his own past failures. These slow-build interactions, which sometimes move at a speed akin to that of real-life relationships, are just as central to Hades as making a mess of Hell on your way to the surface.
Characters, in turn, react to your progress and deeds, some of which come to directly involve them. Given the number of possible permutations of your progress both through the game and with various characters, it is a mind-bogglingly complex narrative system that somehow manages to feel coherent at almost all times.
In fact everyone, including main antagonist Hades and the universally reviled Theseus, has this caring softness to them that enhances their blinding attractiveness to cosmic levels. Zagreus, full of concern for his friend Dusa, asks her if she's okay with him killing other gorgons. Asterius, slain by Theseus in life, becomes bound to him by camaraderie and respect in death. Even Megaera, after being slain by Zagreus countless times, develops a fondness for him, and warns him to be careful whenever he ventures out to escape. Everyone loves everyone else and that is just so awesome to see, especially in 2022 when even human compassion is in rare supply.
In a mythos wherein the gods are usually portrayed as hateful, backstabbing, narcissists, Supergiant made these gods beautiful—inside and out.
Amazing Game Play:
It didn't take very long for me to fall in love with Hades, Supergiant's take on the roguelike genre. It's not just that the core gameplay loop was enticing, but seemingly every aspect of the game seemed to ooze quality and egged me on to play some more. There is something fascinating about how this game feels so complete and incredible.
I used the genre of roguelike to refer to this game, but truth be told, depending on who you ask, this classification has vastly different meanings. For the purpose of this article, here's what I used the term to identify key elements of the gameplay loop: floor-based progression, random power-ups throughout the progression and start-over on death. This classification puts Hades there along with games like FTL, Slay the Spire, The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky, and many more; games that have vastly different mechanics but whose core appeals remain similar.
This basic loop is very popular nowadays and for good reason: it's incredibly compelling. The floor-based structure makes progression towards success very easy to quantify and encourages the player to push forward. Random power-ups ensure each attempt is different and presents an opportunity for synergies, making the player looking forward to those "god-runs". And the start-over on death wraps it all together. Hades supplements this with a very satisfying combat system which ensures the compelling aspects of the loop are backed up by a fun overall experience. And this is the core loop that every other element of Hades feeds into.
One of the main ways that this loop is reinforced is through the use of multiple global progression axes. More classical roguelikes only have the player expertise getting better through multiple runs. Hades gives the player ways to make each attempt easier through multiple ways. The mirror makes the player stronger, by giving them more health, starting gold, or luck for example. The weapons offer different play styles and can be further customized and upgraded. Even the rooms can be upgraded with chest and pots that grant rewards or be fit with healing fountains.
Each axis of progression requires resources that can be acquired during the runs. This method of multiple axes of progression has very strong effects on the main loop.
First, it creates two different paradigms for each run: getting as far as possible or amassing resources. This in turns reduces the amount of "bad runs" since weaker runs can be used to gather resources instead, the player still feels like they're accomplishing something. That completely discourages the player from abandoning a run, a mechanic too often seen in other games of the genre (looking at you, Spelunky).
The second effect is that with multiple axes of global progression, each player can more easily reach a state of flow. Since how far you go is based both on skill and the character's power, the player doesn't get exposed to more information than their current skill level can handle.
All in all, It's no surprise that this game is a masterpiece since it's built on every other game Supergiant has made before. It is built upon their strengths and vision and their amazing capacity for creativity and humanity. Even though the game depicts an endless fight against established power, it somehow provides much needed fun in these troubled times.
For a game that imaginatively reinvented Greek mythology to craft a difficult but immensely rewarding experience, Hades required an engrossing soundtrack. Redditor Rectacrab thinks it delivers more than just that, calling the score "so so good" and highlighting pieces like "Rage of the Myrmidons" that made the Elysium sequence unforgettable.
Darren Korb may be best known as the voice of Zagreus in the game, but he has also composed the music for every Supergiant Games title, including Hades. What makes the soundtrack great is that every single floor has its own distinctive feel, often incorporating unusual instruments and different cultural influences, yet it manages to feel like a cohesive soundtrack.