It is fitting that one of the biggest video games of 2020 is about an incessant and meaningless escape from hell itself. Hades, by Supergiant Games, captured millions of hearts when it was officially launched in September 2020 by reinventing timeless Greek mythology and using it to build a story that rewarded failure as much as it did success. In the roguelike action game, Zagreus, the son of Hades, plays the stars as he struggles to fight his way through the various teams in hell to reach the surface and find his missing mother Persephone. Zagreus is helped in his quest by the gods of Olympus, who is excited to learn about his relative’s existence and help him with various blessings that increase attack power, add buffs or debuffs, or provide other useful facts.
There are two more keys Hades̵
The other key to Hades‘The ongoing popularity is the game’s relative lack of villains. There are no really “bad” guys in Hades – the game’s titular antagonist is stubborn, proud and tough, but the game slowly peels off his exterior to reveal the very valid reasons for his continued opposition to his son. Over time, players can gradually romanticize the first bosses the players meet, come to terms with other major antagonists, and find meaningful solutions to complicated stories. Empathy and care are a part of Hades’ core, and they help players come back for more races, even after the main game is beaten. The Greek gods themselves are also beautifully redesigned, with fabulous voice acting and key art that has inspired countless pieces of fan art. It’s very difficult to hate any character in Hades, with the possible exception of Theseus, whose personality is deliberately disgusting and dislikes.
Of course, Hades is also a really fun hack-and-slash game. The game’s blessing signal system is built around finding breakout combinations on the go and destroying dozens of enemies at a time. Because the blessings are issued randomly, players are encouraged to mix and match as desired, and there are very few abilities that do not synchronize well with each other. Most Hades players will swear by one or another weapon, but the game can be conquered by just about any combination of weapons and blessing, provided the player makes the best of what they get. Players will enjoy spamming different combinations while clearing space, while trying to decide whether to add more benefits or turn on existing ones. There is never a wrong answer, although some choices will work better with some styles of play than others. I personally liked how different weapons could be customized to fit different playing styles. The Twin Fists of Malphon, a set of gloves designed for melee, evolved from my least favorite weapon to the weapon I had the most consistent success with, as I learned to combine my dash-heavy attack style with various blessings and time attacks. to defeat enemies as I ran past them.
The game also rewards players for continuing to play, even after they finally escape from hell. Each of the game’s weapons has different variants that can only be unlocked after repeated races, and the main story itself does not resolve even until a player has cleared the game 10 times. The content after the game is also fun, with players literally picking up their poison by deliberately making the dungeons tougher to unlock extra rewards. There are also RPG elements that do not come into play until much deeper into the game, with players being able to romanticize some characters and learn meaningful information about others as they give gifts and talk to the characters between races.
Hades is an instant classic, a game that players can spend 50 hours or more on without feeling like it has taken any time at all. The game is meant to be enjoyed in bit-shaped chunks, without running taking more than 30 minutes or so to complete. These short segments were perfect for 2020, when many people struggled to find the energy for marathon sessions. Combine that with the captivating story and easy-to-learn but difficult-to-master gameplay, and Supergiant found a recipe for instant success. In a difficult year, Hades was a wonderful breath of fresh air.