Year in Games

2020's best video game death redefined a popular genre

"Is there no escape?"

Few games handle death in a more compelling way than Hades.

The acclaimed dungeon-crawler from Supergiant Games meditates on the cyclical nature of death through both its story and its gameplay. Players die repeatedly as Zagreus, son of Hades, who must escape the underworld, find his mother Persephone, and join the rest of the Greek pantheon on Olympus. Each time, he wakes back up at the House of Hades to embark on a new escape attempt. While a focus on death in the roguelike genre is hardly new in the indie gaming space, Hades weaves death into its narrative in a way that's truly like nothing else out there.

What results is one of the best games for the year that will help you forget about the dour state of the world, even if death is at the heart of the adventure.

Year in Games is an Inverse celebration of 2020's best new video games and most memorable gaming moments.

Every time Zagreus dies, he rises from a pool of blood back at the House of Hades.Supergiant Games

Spoilers for Hades, The Last of Us Part 2, and Final Fantasy VII Remake to follow.

In linear video game narratives, death is usually a very major plot point that has a drastic impact on the characters and story. For example, Joel's death in The Last of Us Part II is one of the most heartbreaking gaming moments of the year, perhaps of the entire console generation. Ellie's violent crusade for revenge afterward is at the core of that game. Meanwhile, in Final Fantasy VII Remake's otherwise absurd plot, Jessie's death is one of the more emotional events.

In most games, death has almost no meaning whatsoever from a mechanical standpoint. There's often a vague in-universe explanation for why players are able to toss themselves at the same procedurally generated dungeon over and over again. Hades finds the balance between these two.

Players can die as often as they need to in order to finally beat the game, but every death also progresses the story in engaging, oftentimes dynamic ways.

Every death in Hades has an impact on all of the major characters. Characters that I fought during a run remembered Zagreus when he inevitably returned to the underworld. Even the characters that stay there had new things to say to me as I unlocked new skills, reached new areas, or just progressed that character's personal arc or relationship.

What were your favorite games and gaming moments of 2020? Take our poll!

After each death, the god of sleep Hypnos is often the first person to greet Zagreus back at the House of Hades.Supergiant Games

Every time Zagreus dies in Hades, the plot feels like it moves forward in some way, whether it be the progression of the broader narrative or just the relationship between two characters. Deaths mean more than just a failed run in Hades. In this, something gamers so often perceive as a failure becomes, essentially, a success. Hades doesn't punish the player for losing but instead makes the store even richer and gives Zagreus the opportunity to grow as a character while the player also improves their skills.

Even in a perfect first run, the player can't escape death. It's revealed that Zagreus is bound to the underworld, so he can't stay alive on the surface for long after finally meeting his mother. This scene not only creates an emotional story beat that's already up there with the likes of Joel and Jessie's deaths, but it still uses this death to continues the roguelike structure of the game in a sensible way.

I remember almost every time I died in Hades because it had an impact on my adventure. It's fitting that a game named after the god of the underworld handles the subject so well. This approach to death Hades not only one of the most refreshing roguelikes in years for a genre fan like me, but a solid choice for newcomers.

Players will grow very familiar with the ominous tones of "Death and I," which plays upon every single death.

2020 has been a particularly tough year for most of us, and other games that focus on death like The Last of Us Part 2 just added to that stressful feeling. Meanwhile, Hades allows me to stick it to the god of the underworld just like I want to stick it to the year 2020, with the adventure only expanding and gaining more depth upon every death.

Hades' approach to death within its narrative and roguelike formula is the main reason why it's my favorite game of 2020, and definitely one to check out before the year is over.

Hades is available now for PC and Nintendo Switch.

Year in Games is an Inverse celebration of 2020's best new video games and most memorable gaming moments.

Related Tags
Share: