There’s a lot to love about Supergiant Game’s roguelike take on Greek mythology. The artwork is excellent, the combat is fast and varied, the characters are compelling, and the plot itself is intriguing enough to inspire escape attempt after escape attempt. Hades’ best quality, however, might just be how it uses the roguelike format to tell its story. Getting to the end moves the plot forward in Hades, but there’s more than just plot here. There are plenty of characters to learn about too and one can only get extra chances to talk if they die.
In Hades, death in the Underworld means getting sent back to the House of Hades. From here, players, as Zagreus, can prepare for their next escape attempt. One can power up with the mirror in Zagreus’ room, choose a new keepsake to run with or practice with another weapon before heading out again. Most importantly, though, returning to the House means having the chance to talk with the other characters.
The situation in the House is complicated and little is explained outright since all of these characters have known each other for a long time. They all know what’s up for the most part, so there’s no real need to recap events. This turns every interaction into a little window into their pasts and the nature of their relationships. Thusly, players are presented with an interesting choice each time the head out in Hades: advance the plot with an earnest escape attempt or get another chance to talk with the characters after a short run through the Underworld.
Roguelike elements have become increasingly popular in games as of late and it’s not hard to see why. Making every run into a self-contained game immediately makes any game into something that’s easy to just pick-up and play. The problem is that one can usually forget about having a good story to go with it. It’s hard to tell any sort of cohesive tale when failure means going all the way back to the beginning after all.
Hades could have suffered from this problem too, but Supergiant Games solved it handily with this two-pronged approach. Instead of only progressing upon escape, players can get story progression of another sort every time they die, and that secondary progression is just as attractive as that of the main story. It actually gives players an incentive to make targeted, more difficult runs rather than just try to blast through to the end every time. They’ll get a reward either way, it’s just a question of which one they want more. It’s essentially the same kind of choice as those made out in the dungeon, just on a higher level.
Supergiant Games has a reputation for exploring gaming’s storytelling potential and they’ve managed to uphold it yet again with Hades. The slow-burning and context-heavy nature of its delivery might not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s something that could not have been accomplished in any other medium. Books, movies and even most other games deliver their stories in a simple, linear fashion, but not Hades. Hades has woven its narrative into the action itself, putting players firmly in the driver’s seat and ensuring that it plays out in a way that’s personal to them. Indeed, live or die, one cannot help but look forward to whatever comes next in Hades.