Hades is my game of the year. And also the game of the year. I don’t mean that Hades is objectively the best, because it is an impossible metric (and also Baldur’s Gate 3 is not out yet). Rather, developer Supergiant’s Greek mythology-flavored roguelike action is, unlikely, the game that best characterizes the year 2020.
(This review discusses Hades’ story in a decent amount of depth and includes both minor and major spoilers. I’ve pointed out the sections where the main spoilers occur. If you haven̵
Such as other writers have noted, Hades, which went into Early Access in 2018 and recently launched its version 1.0 after nearly two years of additional development, is about being trapped inside a house, the home of your lousy father, Hades, in particular, and come to terms with the fact that you can’t leave. More than that, is a game whose structure and history are both rooted in repeated, unavoidable failures. As Zagreus, the son of Hades, you try to slash, shield, spear, bow, punch and shoot to get out of hell, but no matter how many demonic shadows fall after he (hears a Greek) has earned your wrath , you finish back where you started.
2020, in case you yourself are a celestial being that exists outside of time, has been a year of constant setbacks. It started with a terribly poorly managed pandemic that claimed over 200,000 lives in America alone. Now every passing moment carries new tragedy or injustice. Every day we learn of another failed attempt by good people as much as throwing a wrench in the gears of an infinite number of greedy and indifferent machines, many of which have worked in some form or fashion since before any of us were born. We get sick. We lose our jobs. Or a combination of the resulting tension and time / distance tension puts a strain on the small handful of relationships we value the most. As the year draws to a close, even the precious patches of earned ground appear to be slipping into the abyss. It has become difficult to concentrate, difficult to see a point in fighting, or even just maintaining the mundane pretensions of everyday life, in the face of a tireless slide into despotism without a mask.
Hades it’s a game of what people do once they realize that failure is inevitable. How do you spend your time when you live in a house built on the foundation of failure, when all you and those around you can do is fail, when failure will come, whether you take action or choose to do nothing? Sure, people in Hades‘Case they are Greek gods, but Greek gods are just people with better muscles and decision making skills (slightly) worse when they are horny.
Supergiant describes Hades like a roguelike, but only because there is no good gender descriptor that summarizes what it really is. Between action-based racing through the ever-changing halls of Tartarus, Asphodelus, Elysium, and the Temple of Styx, you spend a lot of time talking to various gods, goddesses, shadows (ghosts, basically) and Dusa, who defies categorization. Even Cerberus, which are both larger than all other dogs and has three heads, thus making him quantifiably the best guy. 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 off many of their layers.
You will get to know these characters as 10 hours give way to 20, 30, 60 and beyond. When I first met Achilles while playing HadesIn the early access version during the summer, I thought it was a dark shadow perpetually placed against the same dull wall. Now, months later, he is like a father, a brother and perhaps something more to me: a source of generosity despite his past failures. These slow-building interactions, which sometimes move at a similar speed to real-life relationships, are equally central to Hades like making a mess of Hell on your way to the surface. The characters, in turn, react to your progress and actions, some of which come to engage them directly. Given the number of possible permutations of your progress both through the game and with various characters, it’s an incredibly complex narrative system that somehow manages to seem coherent at almost all times.
You can also go fishing. And renovate your home!
These relationships mean this HadesGoals are fundamentally different from those of other roguelikes, many of which prioritize difficulty and mastery above all else. Hades builds on that foundation, but despite the focus on failure, the game isn’t really about the player beating their head against a series of brick walls until they manage to break through.
Now that many of my friends have started playing HadesI have heard some of them express frustration with certain bosses or their struggles in certain areas. I always tell them, “Give it a few more runs. You will get over that part and then, after a few more runs, you will be amazed that you ever had a problem in the first place.” Note that I don’t say, “You will get over that part. Self you use weapon X or strategy Y. “Because those details don’t matter.
Hades features the illusion of difficulty and a brutal learning curve, but ensures that no matter what happens, everyone will eventually cross the line. Its ever-changing labyrinth is a hall of mirrors, but not in a maliciously deceptive way.
Despite being a game that can easily last 80 or 100 hours (if you want to do and see it all, anyway), Hades is a game that respects the time of the players. Each run produces some form of tangible progress, both in terms of character dialogue and items that can be used to permanently increase your stats, making you better able to withstand whatever challenges you face. The fights also do a sublime job in preparing you for future fights; enemies and bosses call each other. You might wander through the lava hole of the giant Bone Hydra for the first time and think “Oh God, I’m going to get my ass kicked”, but you’re never really over your head. Even if you have trouble making bone heads or bone tails out of its attack patterns, you’ll eventually get enough HP and death defy (think “lives” in classic games) to have ample room for error. If that’s not enough, you can also activate “God Mode”, which slightly and steadily increases your resistance to damage after each failed run. It makes narrative sense – you’re a goddamn god, after all – and it doesn’t exclude you from anything.
But even if you do it hard, like I did, you will likely become powerful and experienced enough to eventually gain the presence of mind to start working your creative muscles. Every Hades run is filled with random power-ups and “boons” from various gods and goddesses that infuse Zagreus with powerful additional abilities, but only last until death. To give just a small handful of examples: Athena can put a shield around your default sprint ability, allowing you to repel enemy projectile attacks against them. Ares can add “Doom” to your regular or special attacks, which causes enemies to take a barrage of damage after being hit (you can stack these blasts and add all kinds of fun modifiers too). Artemis can increase your critical strike chances to the stars. Zeus adds lightning to skills, because that’s his main thing (aside from horny bad decisions).
I have yet to find many bad choices here. There are certainly builds that will disband the bosses, but unlike other roguelikes, I’ve never felt the need to look for optimal guides or builds to give me a real chance at success. I have developed my playing style over time and it works for me, even if it plays –as I said earlier– Heretic on paper. No matter what weapon I’m holding, I never stop shooting. I don’t use my special or cast attacks much. I focus my selection of benefits on raw damage and critical hit chance. I look for the shield of Athena with religious fervor. All of this turns Zagreus into some sort of club spam cannon, and it’s a great moment. I’ve completed over 20 runs, many of them with “heat” (a set of conditions that players can activate to create Hades harder, in exchange for better rewards) showed up. My method, crude as it may be, works. But I’ve also seen my partner, friends, and various Twitch streamers take other approaches that may or may not be equally effective, but are still viable, if not better.
Hades It features the illusion of difficulty and a brutal learning curve, but ensures that no matter what happens, everyone will eventually cross the line. Its ever-changing labyrinth is a hall of mirrors, but not in a maliciously deceptive way. Rather, it intentionally tries to invite players into a genre that, to some, was previously perceived as alienating or off-putting without removing any underlying substance. No matter how you play, you feel the tension of staring at massive garments, the thrill of accidentally assembling the build of your dreams. You die quite a bit, but you do it at your own pace.
This leads us to Hades‘Central Contradiction: It’s a game about failure, but it’s deeply concerned about your success. However, even when Zagreus succeeds, he still fails. He manages to the surface – he pulls out his great escape – only to find himself in Hell’s famous blood pool, all the way to his eyeballs in death. Travel isn’t really about overcoming the system you’re trapped in, because you can’t. Zag tries and then dies. Regardless of the extenuating circumstances along the way, and there are many, this remains a constant.
(Major spoilers start here.)
Pinched between the cruel fingers of The Fates, Hades‘The story becomes a story about the reformulation of failure. When what you really want is just out of your reach, what can you do? Quite a bit, it turns out. While Zagreus’s escape attempts never save, say, the world or change the course of Greek myth, each of them slowly but surely improves the lives of members of his community. Initially, this is largely the byproduct of a self-serving approach – clean up the lounge in the house of Hades so that you can trade gems, won during races and other currencies for additional items and currencies that help improve subsequent runs . Give characters gifts in exchange for “memories” that produce special stats and bonus abilities for as long as they are equipped.
Other improvements follow, but they take on a decidedly less selfish, more personal inclination. Help Orfeo, the austere but good-natured musician, to rediscover his muse. You connect Achilles to his lost love. You catch Megaera and her, uh, very different sisters talking. You make a ton of cosmetic improvements to the lounge that do nothing for your escape attempts, but make life easier for Dusa the Gorgon, a functionally overworked housekeeper.
Squeezed in the cruel fingers of The Fates, the story of Hades becomes a tale about the reformulation of failure. When what you really want is just out of your reach, what can you do? Quite a bit, it turns out.
It takes a long, long, long time for Zagreus’s relationships with his closest blood relatives to improve, but in the meantime he creates meaningful bonds with his found family and makes his homeland a more livable place. Not only that, he reveals himself to be the kind of guy who will only hear random nuances talk about how they died, bring the fish to the lounge chef and even quietly celebrate whoever most recently took home the title of the lounge clerk. [incalculable amount of time because the future is also the present in Hell, sort of, it’s hard to explain]. Zagreus never ceases to be a spoiled prince, but comes to regard everyone around him, regardless of status, as people with their own desires, needs and existences.
Zagreus begins his journey trying to free himself from Hades. He tries to escape, regardless of what it might mean for those he leaves behind. There is a kind of nihilism behind this: sure, he has a very personal reason for leaving, but he also sees the place itself as emblematic of his father’s failure. It’s beyond redemption, so why stay? Over time, however, his attention shifts. There is no big revelation, no “aha” moment on the nose that heralds this change in his personal trajectory. He simply begins to help other characters and rebuild a place that has fallen apart after eons of structural neglect, and as his situation proves increasingly dire, he increases his efforts. Other characters, in turn, go from being silently insulted for the fact that he’s leaving to openly glad he stayed and finally participating. When it becomes abundantly clear that Zagreus will never be able to leave Hades, one gets the sense that he has become his. peace with it. He figured out what he can do, and while it’s not as grand as his original plan, it could be more important.
I started playing Hades towards the beginning of this summer, when it was still in early access. The end of the game was fundamentally different then, as it had been in various permutations since 2018. In the mid-2020 version of the game, you sided with Hades, and if you sent him to pack, Zagreus would try to move on to Greece. , only to be suddenly torn apart by an invisible force as he crossed the threshold. “Is there no escape?” would ask for the text at the top of the screen. Then Zag would wake up in the old pool of blood.
This was a very dark ending! As I did subsequent runs to see more character dialogue and unlock updates, Ade was constantly asking Zagreus why he cared; all that awaited him was an endless series of painful and useless deaths. I spent probably 30 hours of play with those stakes. Zag would repel the forces of hell, beat his mad dad, and then die horribly as an invisible hand squeezed him like a tea towel. This focused on the desperation of the situation. Zag was trapped in Hell in multiple senses: the physical place, sure, but also the sheer misery that he’s doing something over and over in the hope of creating change, only to produce the same results every time.
But this also pushed the spotlight on the tangible results of Zagreus’s actions. Despite his death, the lives of the people around him have improved. The house of Hades did too. I chose to make those improvements because I didn’t have much else to do with the resources I was amassing. But it felt good. It felt like an extension of what Zagreus had become while stuck in the blades of this nightmare blender. The system Zagreus found himself trapped in was hopeless, but the situation was not. Life wasn’t. It was an extremely powerful statement delivered through a combination of mechanics, narrative, and an incomplete game.
I wish it was still the end. But due to the fickle nature of Early Access, that version of the Hades it no longer exists. Much of the game that I have played is not the game that people are playing now, but that part has indelibly colored my experience. The game I played told a different story that, intentionally or not, made a different point. Until, starting with full version 1.0, this was not the case.
In both early access and version 1.0, in addition to escaping Hades, Zagreus also wants to find his long-lost mother, the Olympian goddess Persephone. He didn’t even know she was his mother until adulthood, long after she secretly moved in and eventually escaped from the underworld. In the version of the game where Zagreus’s goal was unattainable, this didn’t really matter. It could have been something else, but due to the game’s structure at the time, it wouldn’t affect what, in its absence, ended up feeling like the point of the story.
In version 1.0 of the game, after defeating Hades, Zagreus leaves the edge of hell and finds Persephone. After a short, long overdue mother-child bond, Zagreus becomes weak and dies. It turns out that it cannot survive long on the surface. The game then turns into a series of surface journeys (assuming you are able to defeat Hades every time) where Zagreus frantically scrambles to learn bits and pieces about why his mother left, what Hades he would gain by hiding it from him, and how to convince his mother to return to the underworld. I have read most of these conversations as a doomed endeavor. Persephone had regrets, sure, but she enjoyed life and the house she had built and seemed in no hurry to reunite with the lord of the dead. That was fine for me. My parents are divorced; when I was a child, I wanted more than anything else for them to get back together. In fact, they had already stayed together longer than they should have for my sister and I, and that made them unhappy.
In Hades‘Release version, Persephone ends up returning with Zagreus to the underworld after defeating Hades 10 times. You two jump into a small boat captained by Styx the boatman-turned-merchant Charon, and the credits roll. It’s a good time. Then, in a post-credits scene, Persephone forces Hades to more or less admit her bullshit. It all seems a little too neat. Years of verbal and physical abuse, a colossal web of lies, a stoic belief that Hades knew best that he ended up pushing away everyone he cared about, and the leadership that brought down a kingdom, and all his son gets is an “Oh dip, my B”? Sure, it’s a little more complicated than that, and Zag feels that Ade is responsible for most of her mistakes. But when I first saw the scene unfold, it still didn’t feel like it. true to the otherwise nuanced nature of the game.Moreover, the questions remained unanswered: How would the other Olympians react to the illicit presence of one of their own in Hell? After all, they had waged shocking wars for less.
This ending was, for me, a big disappointment. Luckily, Hades it wasn’t over. After beating Hades, you didn’t beat Hades. After beating Hades 10 times, convincing Persephone to go home and watching the credits, you didn’t beat Hades. Even after the credits roll, the game goes on for hours and hours. While some players, myself included, have arrived Hades’ final scene, they haven’t yet clarified exactly the number of runs or other preconditions that trigger it. But as with everything else in the game, it seems to be inevitable. You just have to keep running and talking to the characters, who react to the sudden return of their queen. You just have to stay true.
(Major spoilers end here.)
I can’t evaluate Hades regardless of the length of time I’ve played it. This is true of pretty much all games: how many classics have you spent years wishing nostalgically, only to realize, after finally playing them, that you were really wishing for a simpler time or circumstance? But I think this is especially true of my reading Hades, both in terms of what it resonated with and what left me somewhat conflicted.
I started playing Hades around the same time, Black Lives Matter protests erupted nationwide. It feels like an eternity ago, at least in terms of the sense of possibility that gripped The Discourse at the time. It felt like people were really awakening to the bloody chaos that police regularly inflict on blacks and the structural damage communities suffer so that police coffers can stay stuffed. Perhaps more importantly, it seemed Americans were no longer erasing alternative ideas on how to improve communities. Activists have been advocating abolition and defunding for at least as long as militarized police forces have existed, but earlier this year it briefly seemed that the time they fought so hard for had finally come. Defunding has become a mainstream talking point. It seemed that perhaps, at least in democratically-led cities, people could begin to force fundamentally unjust systems into a form that vaguely resembled justice.
But, as we all know by now, things didn’t turn out that way. As the months went by, police abuse of protesters continued unabated as major media organizations focused on property damage rather than human lives and the role of the police in instigating violence. Far-right extremist militia members shot people and sought refuge in police ranks. We are now in the sights of a presidential election that looks poised to spark even worse violence in the streets and potentially steal any semblance of democracy left in this country.
Despair is in this moment. How could it not be? People rose up, but the historically dire status quo rose. What is left to do but go to Twitter and Facebook and post several variations of “We’re screwed” next to the title you read most recently? I am not a white boy in any danger beyond what I submit to. Despite this, I spent most of the summer in despair.
I won’t go so far as to say Hades got me through it. At this point in my life, I am skeptical of games’ ability to do things of this magnitude. But as the summer passed, Hades‘The story of someone who refused to despair in the face of overwhelming systemic failure and instead pushed himself to help rebuild his community and support his found family has taken on new meaning. I’ve seen people much smarter than me talk about how useless despair is, good causes are gaining ground in lesser waysand no matter where you live, there are vital grassroots organizations that anyone can contribute to – people just have to look for them. I knew it logically, but it didn’t reassure me much. Hades he helped me feel it.
In the coming months and years, things are likely to get worse. But lately, Hades gave me some good days and more importantly helped me keep in mind that literally everyone is able to give to someone they are close to, or just a rando, or a bunch of randos or whatever, a couple of good days. Over time, this can and will hopefully merge into something greater. In the meantime, that’s what we have, and it’s nothing.
(Major spoilers start here.)
While sticking with Hades for what I thought it would be an extra day but turned out to be an extra week of “just one more ride” night sessions, I found that the epilogue of the game, which took place in the same format as the regular game , it was much more complicated than its too clean finish. During or after the races, Zagreus and Ade continued to regularly amaze their broken relationship – both of them eventually engaged in something akin to good faith, but with Ade continuing to insist that her actions were partially justified and his violent habits were immutable. Meanwhile, Zagreus and Persephone tried to build a relationship, but it was clear that they had a lot of lost time to make up for.
However, when the game finally “ended,” it ended with an upbeat but messy message about the family, which you would expect from a game featuring notoriously dysfunctional Greek gods. By this time, Zagreus’ role within the house of Hades had also changed. Instead of trying to really escape, he would become an official staff member tasked with testing the defenses of hell and keeping up appearances so that no nosy Olympians would come knocking. It had been more or less assimilated to the broken system. He had earned a seat at the table, but the status quo lasted.
It left me wondering if a game that needs you to be able to go through it endlessly could ever actually be about dismantling a structure, rather than reification. But Hades it’s a gigantic game about many things. I can’t fight too hard for deviating from course in the end, especially when what resonated the most with me probably wasn’t even the final destination to start with. Hades it’s not just a game of failure. It’s also about family, sacrifice, the lies people tell each other and a whole host of other topics. It requires source material that is often quite dark and a central narrative that is very dark and comes up with something that is remarkably light-hearted. It’s a heck of a balancing act, but Hades takes it out. Supergiant has managed, against all odds, to create a Greek mythological tale that offers most characters a happy ending.
(Major spoilers end here.)
I’ve come to appreciate this optimism, especially now that I’ve seen many other people experience this fundamentally more promising version of the game than the one I first played. Hades and its cast of hot gods is giving players a much-needed respite from everything else. This fits in perfectly with the mechanical gentleness of the game; like Thanatos, the god of death expressing his affection by giving you health-enhancing hearts, Hades He behaves detached and difficult at first, but he really just wants you to have everything your heart desires. He wants to help you reach your goals at the pace that suits you best.
Yesterday, I tweeted about how fun it is to watch people challenge completing a race for the first time, saying they are about to “beat” Hades—Because they have no idea what they are about. A person he replied saying that “the best real story of Hades it is what the player has with their gaming experience. “It would be, in the case of so many other games, a trivial observation, but in this case it rings unusually true. Hades it unfolds in what could be an infinite number of different configurations based on how you play or, if we take early access into account, even when you’ve played.
It it is so big and generous that it will leave many different people with many different ideas based on which characters and ideas they stick to first, last or half. Some will be longer than mine, others will be as simple as “good shot” (and oh man, the dash is so, so good). That’s not all to say Hades try to free yourself from saying something definitive. It says a lot, no matter how you cut it. But a good story is in the tale, and Hades he tells his story a little differently to everyone. It’s like a nice myth about it. Or a hydra, as it has many heads, but no one can agree on exactly how many.
In Hades, one of the most famous characters of the Greek myth, Sisyphus pushing boulders, has a small part. When he does not roll a rock up a hill eternally, he distributes objects in the first area of the game, the Tartarus. Despite his arduous and grueling fate in non-life, he appears blissfully cheerful: a ray of sunshine in the humid depths of the deepest chambers of Hades. Some players have observed that this is similar to a reflection on the character of the philosopher and author Albert Camus, who famously wrote in 1942 that “one must imagine Sisyphus happy”, essentially saying that if Sisyphus had accepted the futility of his struggle, or at least, the sua mancanza di un significato o obiettivo intrinseco – poteva trovare contentezza al suo interno.
Nel un AMA di Reddit la scorsa settimana, Ade lo scrittore e designer Greg Kasavin ha detto che non si trattava di un cenno intenzionale, ma ha aggiunto che è “piuttosto interessante” che lui e Camus siano arrivati a conclusioni simili. Per me, questo particolare riff su Sisyphus nasce naturalmente non solo dalla realtà della sua situazione, ma anche, in Ade“Caso, la storia di Zagreus. Sisifo serve come una sorta di riflessione, un microcosmo della stessa lotta di Zagreus e della contentezza che può trovare nell’accettare che, per il momento, potrebbe non essere in grado di liberarsi dall’inferno che delimita e definisce il suo intero mondo, ma può ancora apportare miglioramenti piccoli ma significativi alla vita di coloro che lo circondano.
Il lavoro non finisce mai. Andiamo a spingere.