With the video games industry worth around $135 billion annually, there’s a lot of competition to get a new product just right. So when Supergiant Games developed and released Hades first in 2018 and then in late 2020, there was all to play for. It followed on from Pyre, the company’s earlier release, and in its early access release alone, Hades has sold seven hundred thousand copies.

An odyssey through hell

It is a roguelike dungeon crawler game, a highly popular sub-genre of the gaming world, where the player must negotiate a series of evolving and changing rooms and floors. In this game, the aim is to control Zagreus, the son of Hades, as he tries to escape from the Underworld and reach Mount Olympus. Hades is a game where you make progress by dying, which is apt as it is set in the legendary world of Greek mythology.

The story opens when Zagreus, the prince of the Underworld, decides to break out of Hell to escape from his father, Hades. His goal is to reach the surface in order to find his long lost mother, Persephone. Along the way, Zagreus will interact with the Olympian Gods as they aid him on his quest; as well as uncovering dark secrets about his divine family.

Residents of the underworld

As a kind of inverted Dante Alighieri, Zagreus’ journey also consists of enticing the players into the complexities of mythological stories. They follow the game’s narrative path through short interactions between residents of the Underworld, like Eurydice and Orpheus. These interactions slowly reveal their motivations and lore.

What makes the writing in Hades special is that the characters react to the players’ actions. The characters will comment on things like past interactions, what the player is carrying, and how far they have progressed through the game; this has the effect of making the world feel alive and real. Undertale and The Stanley Parable are games that use similar narrative techniques.

Death is inevitable

Unless the player has the skill of an Olympian god, they should expect to die a few (dozen) times. The first few runs of Hades will make the game seem like an insurmountable feat. This is the case with most roguelike games, such as The Binding of Isaac, Enter the Gungeon, and the Diablo series.

As players earn rewards and learn about enemy attack patterns, they will be able to make progress little by little. They will get stronger with every attempt until finally breaking through for the first time. This gentle learning curve cleverly unifies Zagreus’ quest to escape hell with the player’s mission to beat the game. One thing Supergiant Games is well known for is making connections between narrative and gameplay.

Modern mythology

Hades garnered a large fanbase of players and speedrunners. The game was even recognized with the award for Best Game in the 2021 BAFTA Games Awards, establishing Supergiant Games as a leading force in the industry. The combination of lightning-paced hack-and-slash gameplay, breathtaking hand-drawn art, and innovative narrative design, make Hades a stand-out experience that will have players hunting down every piece of treasure and hidden dialogue in the underworld, even if that means dying over and over again.