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Why Hades is my game of the year

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Supergiant’s roguelike is a masterful blend of gameplay, story, and design

One more try.

Hades is a game that does so many things so well, it’s hard to describe them all. It’s a fine-tuned isometric action game that takes the elaborate interweaving systems and combat of Supergiant’s previous titles to soaring new heights. It’s a roguelike that transcends the limitations of the genre with great storytelling. It’s one of the most compelling personal dramas told in a video game this year — all of it polished to a dazzling, mirror-like shine.

If Hades had only done one of these things well, it would have been a great game. The fact that it manages to do all of them, though, without missing a single beat, makes it the best game I’ve played this year.

In many ways, Hades feels like the culmination of developer Supergiant’s previous titles. It merges them into a cohesive whole: the fast-paced isometric action and omnipresent narration that were the hallmarks of Bastion, the customization of Transistor, and the emphasis on worldbuilding and storytelling that’s been the throughline throughout all its titles.

But the core idea is “one more try.” One more attempt to clear another room. To beat the next boss. To reach the next zone. To unlock a new weapon, skill, or ability that will help you on the next one. To hear a new story from a friend or loved one. And on and on and on, until “one more try” has turned into 10, it's two in the morning, and you’re still dueling with the denizens of the underworld.

Hades doles out its story in generous doses as players are regaled by their relatives on Mount Olympus and through interactions back at the starting hub on each run. It makes you care about the other denizens of the underworld. I wanted to help my weary mentor Achilles reunite with his lost lover; I plied my fluffy dog Cerberus with gifts and pets because they are such a good boy. Death isn’t failure; it’s a chance to spend time with the friends (and frenemies) that populate the House of Hades, too.

Hades is a great action roguelike on its own. The hack-and-slash combat, the variety of weapons (there are six, each with four different forms that radically change how you can play), and the dizzying amount of abilities and modifiers that are gifted by the gods of Olympus ensure that no two runs are quite the same. The game also cleverly incentivizes players to try new weapons and abilities.

Those abilities play off each other in delightful ways, and there’s no “right” combination. Some of my earliest successes were with builds that at first seemed like they would be utterly useless, like abilities that only activate when I take damage, but then a later boon activates them automatically every few seconds, turning me into a passive damage powerhouse. Even dozens of hours in, I still am surprised when the game will toss out strange combinations that result in powerful synergies.

The magic of Hades isn’t just the variety of its gameplay or the satisfaction of perfectly clearing a room or boss battle. It’s how the game pushes you to try just one more loop, promising more information on the family drama of Zagreus, Hades, and the rest of the Olympians or the tantalizing chance of finally breaking out of the underworld this time.

Just one more run. One more line of dialogue. One more try.

(It helps, of course, that every inch of Hades’ artwork is lush and detailed, with gorgeous characters that make spending hours battling through the underworld a delight.)

And much like the ritual lord of the underworld himself, the game is hard — but fair. In my dozens of runs throughout hell, I’ve rarely felt like I was unfairly cheated with bad boons or cheap deaths. Hades rewards players for learning how each enemy and boss fights, how its abilities can combine, but it doesn’t punish players for not mastering the twitch-fast dashes and dodges. In fact, in a welcome move, Hades offers a God Mode setting that buffs player’s damage resistance and makes sure the entire game is more accessible to all players.

“One more time,” Zagreus mutters when he starts his next attempt to battle his way out of hell. One more run, I think to myself in response, knowing that it’ll absolutely not be the case.