Hello! And welcome to a special article where a bunch of us sit down to talk about our game of the year. And for 2020, that game is Hades. We hope you enjoy this conversation, and we hope you’re leaving such an unusual year with some good memories of the games you’ve played.
Chris Donlan: There are a lot of Roguelikes and Roguelites – what makes Hades stand above the rest? Is that even the right lens to be viewing it through?
Malindy Hetfeld: I have a counter question if I may. Just to clarify. I’m not sure what the roguelike lens entails, because that means we all have a fixed idea of what that genre is about.
Bertie Purchese: There’s an unassuming density to Hades. It’s very breezy in tone and look, but underneath there’s so much. But it’s not apparent at first.
Malindy: OK, actually what Bertie just said gave me my answer. I don’t think it’s the right lens to be viewing the game through.
Bertie: And the best Roguelikes/lites – whatevers – do this. They dangle new toys, or new things, in front of you to unlock the more you play. And Hades just seems to keep opening and broadening in ways you didn’t expect.
I particularly like how it does it with characters. It doesn’t even introduce a few of them until a little while in. But it uses them, or your relationship to them, as a kind of pull to keep coming back. It’s like a very slowly opening flower. How poetic of me.
It is also very pretty like a flower. So you see, it’s a very good metaphor.
Chris: The character thing is interesting – it feels like by sticking boons and perks and whatnots to specific characters – the gods are each different flavours of perk – it makes you far more connected to them as individual personalities? They stick in your mind in part because their characters are also reflections of the skills they might give you?
Malindy: To me you just answered the question “Is Hades a roguelike” and not “what elevates it”. Because by that description I’d say nothing. I think it’s more interesting that Supergiant set out to make a Roguelike for people who dislike the genre entirely.
Bertie: That’s a great way of looking at it!
Malindy: Because then you can go “What elevates it is actually that it doesn’t try too hard to be a roguelike, but makes space for character development, both mechanically and in writing, and it’s more interested in say, feel, than genre standards”. Because honestly, if you*re not invested on the character front, that game could have more depth.
I’m not making a good case for a GOTY, am I.
Bertie: But at the same time, I love the technicality of it, the variance in builds and weapons and the powers you can load on as you progress. And how you can shape those builds by removing abilities, upgrading, and so on, very much in a genre-familiar way. So in that sense, I feel like it really does pander to the genre – and it excels
But then I suppose it does that in a kind of action-RPG, Diablo-like way. And gosh it feels nice when you hit upon the right combo – and I love chasing the ‘right’ combo.
Malindy: That is true, the builds are great! esp seeing how “few” options you think you have, looking at the weapon variety.
Bertie: At one point I was lobbing a shield around like Captain America, watching it pinball around the enemies and curse them all with Dread, then a few moments later everything would explode. It was tremendously satisfying.
Emma Kent: Something I like about Hades is sometimes you never quite know if a build is going to work, then later in the game you’ll get one ability and it will all click.
Bertie: Yes! The golden catalyst.
Emma: Or sometimes you’ll create a build that’s perfect for bashing loads of enemies, then get to a boss and get demolished.
Chris: How conscious are you of making a build from the start? Are you planning as you pick through perks?
Emma: I normally adapt as I go along depending on what perks are given to me, and also depending on the weapon I’m using.
Malindy: Oh yeah, who of you uses the trinkets to get specific Gods to appear?
Bertie: I… didn’t even know you could!
Emma: My tactics are normally more based around using the keepsakes.
Bertie: Something else I like about the game: little learnings. Hades seems to do a really good job of being unpredictable to the point you can’t plan your build, and have to adapt on the fly.
Malindy: That’s actually something I really like, that you have quite a large degree of control, so… er, opposites day today, I guess.
Emma: Sometimes I do meme runs, I don’t know if anyone else does this? Like, I’ll try to pick up as many speed boons as I can while using the feather or I’ll challenge myself to earn as much obol as I can while not spending it until the very end. It rarely ends well but it’s fun.
Chris: How much of this stuff comes from having such an engaged community – meme runs and everything? I guess what I mean is how much has Hades benefited from people really Tumblring it and all that stuff?
Malindy: Oh a LOT. First off, I don’t want to sound like a Supergiant rep or what have you, but this game has really been built together with the community, like really really. People could go into the Discord and say things like wow, I really want Thanatos to have a bigger role, and that would actually happen. And people did ask so loudly for more ways to earn obol for example so they could have meme runs.
Malindy: How they even have dialogue for runs like this! Supergiant said they didn’t want any run to feel empty, so if you just wanted to have a run like that even if it meant not making it out, you could do that. Generally I think it really encourages people to share fun stuff.
Chris: Can I quickly ask about textures? This game more than any other this year seems to have a particular texture. The glossiness you feel in the first area. That sense of sliding and stopping on a dime. How much of the fun of progression do you think is tied to how distinct things FEEL in this game?
Malindy: I’d say it’s literally half the fun for me.
Bertie: I’d agree! It does that lovely thing where it slightly pauses before big hits, as if preparing you to be impressed. And it packs all the power-house moves I absolutely adore: dashes, slides, whirlwinds and then it actively encourages it all!
Malindy: It’s the first game that made me feel powerful – by the strength of its animations alone.
Bertie: I love that you get damage bonuses for smashing people up against walls or cornering them.
Malindy: And then how stuff crumbles and comes down!
Oli Welsh: The level of polish is incredible. The tactility, animation, sound effects are all of a level you’d usually associate with a Blizzard or Nintendo – but without the slightly homogenised aesthetic you get from developers like that, it has much more specificity.
Emma: The ruins at the end are amazing when you have Poseidon knockback boons
Chris: Have you finished it? What was the first victory like for you? And did you want to go back in again, which is the important thing?
Emma: The first victory felt really odd to me as I had such an overpowered combo that I breezed the final boss. Then for the runs after that I went back to being terrible again – but now at a point where I reach the final boss 90 percent of the time
Chris: On the aesthetic thing – how would you define the look of this game? Why is it so pleasing? The use of colour seems crucial to me – we talk about things being cartoony but the colour here is that rich and slightly lurid colour you get applied to black and white comic art that’s being colourised after the fact – like Watchmen almost? Also the art feels so 2D but the game feels so three dimensional and crunchy?
Malindy: They have really good… I don’t know what you call these… they always apply areas where you c n see shine. And there are 3D elements in the art.
Emma: Yeah the 3D models.
Chris: But the use of inking lines is to make it feel 2D?
Emma: It’s deceptive haha.
Chris: So they kind of have the best of both worlds?
Malindy: Not only the models, they have effects stuff that’s rendered in 3D to work in isometric 2D backgrounds, so yeah.
Oli: Sorry, I wandered off but v quickly on the aesthetic – the key is decadence. which is different from exaggeration in e.g. Diablo art. It’s too much, on purpose – too much contrast, too much colour, too much detail, too much stylization – but it feels etched or soaked in rather than like it’s exploding off the screen. It’s rich. Does that make sense?
Malindy: That’s so nicely put, waaah.
Bertie: But it’s all so delicate. Like, it looks skillful. And I think that helps you feel skilful. Like someone drew it all with a masterful flourish.
Chris: Drawing this together can I ask about favourite and least-favourite characters?
Emma: Did anyone else do a complete 180 on Theseus from hating him to really liking him?
Malindy: I’ve always liked him. I find him honestly very funny.
Bertie: I must say, on the topic of characters, one thing I absolutely adore about the game are the voices It has this wonderful anime calmness to it It really reminds me of the Castlevania anime.
Malindy: I have to think really hard to come up with a least favourite. My least favourite is probably Zag.
Bertie: No one ever seems to raise their voice or get melodramatic. They’re always super-cool about everything, and laid back. And it makes it infinitely listenable. Gentle, unobtrusive. And it pulls you in to the characters and what they have to say. I wish more games had voiceovers like it.
Emma: I really like how they made Poseidon this uncool uncle who is trying to be a cool uncle.
Chris: I feel very seen.
Malindy: Poseidon is like Santa meets your uncle.
Chris: Can we end by talking about the hub, which I love?
Bertie: Being able to upgrade your teenagery bedroom is the best thing!
Chris: So much of the game’s personality seems to lurk in this glossy Vegas tomb you come back to. Isn’t there a really specific creak effect if you select the bed? They find the right details that make the art sing.
Malindy: “Glossy Vegas Tomb” is amazing, just saying. Band name, called it.
Bertie: I think you’ve hit on something there too, though: the pull of the underworld itself, in the lore.
Chris: Ha ha! Dibs on keyboards.
Malindy: They’re very good at that! You can click everything in the wagon in Pyre just to hear it make a sound.
Chris: Yeah, the Greek gods are basically the people who turn up on Cribs?
Bertie: Haha. Cribs is a very antiquated reference now, Donlan.
Chris: I am 42! I do expect Jason Oppenheim to pop up and talk about the dual aspect windows tho.
Malindy: Cereal cupboard DLC now please.
Bertie: But you can imagine how different it would be were it a more angelic, or Olympus, setting.
Emma: Also wanted to mention the Persephone room in Hades – it’s such a change from the metal and noise of the fighting, it really felt quite unearthly when I first heard the singing. Have ruined a few runs on that because I would just sit there and chill, then lose focus for the next chamber. Wait not Persephone, whoops.
Bertie: This idea that Hades himself sits behind a big desk like the boss of a strange company is brilliant too. And I love how Cerberus is sprawled there like your family pet!
Malindy: I love how Supergiant put offices into the hub just because people kept asking what was behind the door.
Chris: Okay absolutely last question – who from Selling Sunset would you choose as the realtor for the Hades mansion? I am mainly asking Emma this I guess. I think…Heather?
Emma: Oooh good question.
Chris: Heather could get that dresser who put cowhide everywhere.
Emma: Davina, because she would get pressured from Hades to go for a higher price then not sell it. And it would be funny to watch.