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Hades infuses a terrific roguelike action game with an innovative take on storytelling to create an experience unlike anything else in the genre.
Over the next week, we will be posting features for what we've nominated to be the best games of 2020. Then, on December 17, we will crown one of the nominees as GameSpot's Best Game of 2020, so join us as we celebrate these 10 games on the road to the big announcement. Be sure to check out our other end-of-the-year coverage collected in our Best Games of 2020 hub.
Your first trip through Hades, like most, will end in death. But that first run is an exciting one, revealing an evolution of the isometric action-RPG combat that Supergiant has been mastering since 2011's Bastion. You'll see how you can utilize your dash to avoid danger or press the attack; discover how positioning matters due to dangerous traps littered throughout levels and the bonus damage you can deal to enemies from behind or by knocking them into walls; and get a taste of the upgrades that you'll be able to encounter and equip to ensure each run feels distinct.
It all makes for an immediately satisfying combat system. Then you die, maybe after encountering a boss or, more likely in those early runs, by falling prey to a seemingly innocuous foe or a trap you set off. Whatever the case, you head back to the House of Hades, chat up some of the residents--including your father, Hades--and set out again. You'll die once again, maybe after making it a bit further, or perhaps even sooner due to overconfidence or sheer bad luck. However you earn your trip back to home, you'll again speak with Hades and others, and the true core of the game will begin to reveal itself.
The brilliance of Hades lies in not just offering a very fun action-based roguelike, but in how Supergiant did what arguably no game in the genre has ever managed: to tell a compelling story. It does this in a way that is perfectly suited for the context of a roguelike, where the gameplay loop involves attempting to escape from Hell, dying, and then starting all over again. Your failure is inherent to the story, and by building that into the basic concept and allowing for an ever-evolving narrative and sense of discovery with each character you interact with, Hades delivers something truly special.
For instance, your repeated fights with the game's first boss, Megaera, and conversations with her back in the House of Hades, allow you to develop a rivalry, learn of her vulnerabilities, and develop empathy for her. This gives each subsequent fight an added layer of character development and meaning, along with opportunities for humor, rather than simply being a chance to show off how much your mastery of the game's combat and understanding of Magaera's attack patterns have grown.
What elevates Hades to another level is that the strong writing stands on top of what is an excellent game in every facet.
Your relationship with Megaera, and indeed, every character, is bolstered by the strong voice acting. Despite only appearing as static images on screen, the performances are able to forge a real connection with you and to infuse the diverse cast of characters with distinct personalities. Whether it's the endearingly nervous energy of Dusa, the dismissive, distant-father energy of Hades, or even the harsh yet dulcet tones of the narrator, the performances are first-rate across the board (although the unsung star of the show is the chef at the House of Hades, ever silent, chopping away at ingredients).
But it all comes back to the writing. Whether it's imbuing those characters (who, with good reason, have had people talking all year about how hot they are) with distinct personalities or reinforcing the experience you just went through in your last run, it's an absolute master class in how a genre that seems to stand at odds with telling a good story can actually do so. When Zagreus returns to the House of Hades after a death, he'll often comment on what killed him. Other characters will also comment on the specific nature of his demise, while conversations with the other inhabitants also help to advance your understanding of the world bit by bit in a very natural way. But it's specifically the highly reactive nature of the script--some examples of which --that stands as such an achievement.
But what elevates Hades to another level is that the strong writing stands on top of what is an excellent game in every facet. Each aspect of the game is top notch. Visuals? Stunning, with gorgeous vistas (those panning shots when you take the time to admire a new area are truly impressive) and easy-to-read environments and enemy types that let you keep up with the action. Music? Arguably the best of the year, or even recent years, particularly the intense rock music during boss fights that will get your blood pumping. Combat? It feels rock-solid, with an added layer of strategy that you might not expect at first glance. Replayability? There are so many layers of upgrades and different ways to approach a run, including wildly varied weapon types, that diving back into Tartarus feels like an exciting proposition, never a chore.
Hades not only redefines what a roguelike can be, it simply stands as an exemplary experience across the board. That makes it an easy case for being one of 2020's best games.