outside the House of Hades

Hades and My Favorite Game of 2020

I’ve played a bunch of good analog and digital games over the last year — Slay the Spire is particularly notable — but the last few weeks have been eaten by the critical darling of 2020: Hades.

If you’ve paid any attention to critics’ best of the year lists, you’ve heard about Hades. Heck, this Kotaku writer filled his entire top ten list with nothing but Hades. A little extreme, maybe, but the hype is justified.

At first glance, there’s nothing particularly unusual about the game. It’s an action RPG dungeon crawler that looks and feels like a lighter Diablo. It’s also a rogue-like that sends your hero back to the beginning whenever he gets killed. We’ve seen all this before.

Execution is Everything

What makes Hades stand out is how well everything works. The weapons and combat moves work well together and are a lot of fun. The powers interact in a seemingly endless array of lethal combinations. As Zagreus himself says, the ransacking is a delight.

The characters are even better. Art, voice, and dialogue combine bring a Greek pantheon to life that is both true to the classical myths and absolutely believable as a modern dysfunctional family. There’s a tremendous amount of wit in this game, and the characters’ relationships get deeper as their conversations continue over many runs. I actually found myself looking forward to dying at times so I could go back and talk some more with Zagreus’s family and friends.

Hades is a triumph — a little game from a small studio that has hit big with a wide audience. In a world where big studios get far too much attention for releasing buggy games on the backs of exploited workers, it’s nice to see a little game get the love it so richly deserves.

And Yet, Hades is not my Favorite Game of 2020

That said, there is another game that is much closer to my heart at the moment. I’ve spent several hundred hours on it this year, despite the fact that it could most charitably be described as a work in progress. With any luck, you’ll hear a lot more about this soon, so I’ll just leave you with a preliminary image for now.

Have a good New Year’s holiday, and hopefully 2021 will bring a better year for us all.

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