I’ve never understood the appeal of roguelikes. Sure, I’ve played my fair share of punishing dungeon-crawlers like The Binding of Isaac and Dead Cells, but I often lost interest in the endless array of procedurally generated arenas; I became numb to the severity of death. Ultimately, I returned to the comfort of my favorite RPGs instead.
I mean, I’ve always felt that progressing through a story at one’s own pace or discovering lore by interacting with NPCs and collecting texts was a cathartic experience. The roguelikes that I had played never satisfied those parameters. But then, Hades came out.
Supergiant Games is well-known for its selection of isometric action/RPG gems: Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre. Hades joined the bunch as the developer’s first foray into roguelikes. Regardless of the studio’s reputation for polish and immersion, I didn’t grab Hades on launch day. It wasn’t until weeks later (after getting constant recommendations) that I finally purchased the popular roguelike on Switch.
After 20 minutes of slicing through club-wielding giants and a heart-breaking death, I emerge from a pool of blood, defeat written along my wrinkled brow. I run my hands through Cerberus’ thick crimson fur as my father, Hades himself, teases me from behind his titanic desk. Nyx, the goddess of night, waits for me by the threshold of my bedroom. She knows that I’ll likely return to the dungeons soon and offers me moral support. For now: Back to the grind. I mean, what can I say? I’m already hooked.
Hades tempers its roguelike elements (which normally wear thin for me) with core RPG features that are engaging: an evolving main narrative with equally interesting character subplots, varied settings chock-full of unique grunts/bosses, and expansive skill trees for customizable combat. Every escape attempt, and every bloody death that followed, felt like an updated page in my codex that offered opportunities to grow through adversity.
Moreover, the sheer number of collectibles placed throughout the underworld meant that I’d have to set different goals for each escape attempt. If I was interested in purchasing new weapons, I’d have to prioritize finding keys to unlock them. On the other hand, if I wanted to improve my relationship with Megaera or Skelly (two of my favorite characters), I’d have to keep an eye out for gift items like bottled nectar.
The procedurally generated levels often thwarted these well-laid plans. But instead of this randomness being frustrating like it was for me in previous roguelikes, it ups the stakes of every engagement in Hades. And more importantly, it gives the gameplay a satisfying sense of spontaneity. In the end, I appreciated that encounters never felt recycled. Hell, there were times when I was brutally defeated and, nevertheless, found myself craving the chance to redeem myself. But, of course, not until I finished reupholstering the interior design of my bedroom or chatting in the lounge with Dusa – a shy, disembodied Gorgon head doubling as the underworld’s most esteemed maid.
So, yes, I love Hades.
And who knows, maybe next month – if I grow tired of rebelling against the king of the underworld (I probably won’t!) – I’ll break out of my RPG shell to check out Spelunky 2 and see what the fuss is all about.
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