‘Hades’ is a storytelling masterclass

Gene Park

THE WASHINGTON POST – So many games these days are including “post-game” content as part of their sales pitch.

Post-game content describes all the ways games try to keep you engaged even after the main experience is over.

Marvel’s Avengers by Crystal Dynamics faces this issue now. While it coasted on favourable early reviews, the much-hyped post-game content of the live service game is bleeding players.

This has happened to every single live service game, including titles like The Division, Destiny 2 and Anthem. These developers struggle to keep the post-game interesting, and players find little reason to return when there’s little offered in terms of gameplay rewards, or an enrichment of the narrative.

Hades by Supergiant Games deftly solves this problem, all while being a single-player, character-focussed family drama.

An artwork of ‘Hades’. PHOTO: SUPERGIANT GAMES

Like many great stories, its premise is simple. You are Zagreus, prince of the underworld, and for reasons yet to be discovered, he wants to leave his literal hell of a home.

Hades, the temperamental and emotionally abusive father of Zag, is determined to impede his son’s escape by setting up a series of security checkpoints.

It’s in the rogue-like genre, which means the player is expected to die over and over again. Conveniently, he resurrects back home to try again and again, getting a bit stronger and smarter each time. But it’s in death that the game’s narrative begins to sing.

Home for Zag isn’t just the beginning part of the journey. It’s his literal living quarters, where his family, including stepmother Nyx and mentor Achilles. And every time, the player is rewarded with new pieces of dialogue, character interaction and even getting to observe dialogue scenes between two other characters.

Failure and starting over in rogue-like games are part of the experience, but the reasons usually remain utilitarian by nature. Re-equip your character with new abilities you might have gained, level yourself up to get a bit stronger, pick a new weapon and try another run.

In Hades, failure is a progression of the story. Every setback is a chance to move forward as a playable character, and as the protagonist on this hero’s journey. Every recurring boss battle has new dialogue, revisiting past gameplay sessions, remarking on your new equipment or abilities and sometimes even switching them out for new characters (with similar move sets).

And the game is constantly throwing rewarding decisions at you. They say that video games are, at their core, a series of decisions made by the audience that leaves them feeling good, excited or rewarded.

Hades often gives you a choice of one or more doors, each emblazoned with the expected reward. This could be “darkness”, a currency that goes toward Zag’s passive buffs, like making him hit harder from behind an enemy, or recovering more life in every room. Sometimes you’d run into Charon, the speechless merchant who sells power-ups and items to help you along your run.

Other runs might have you bump into even more characters. It was always a delight finding the cheerful Sisyphus, at peace with his plight pushing a boulder for eternity. I’ve been giving him a bunch of nectar, an item that gives the game a dating simulator flavour. Each time you give a character nectar, they may give you a special item, or their relationship with you deepens, revealing more character moments, backstory and background.

As you journey through the underworld, Zeus himself, decide to lend some help in the form of temporary power-ups and abilities that last for a run.

Even they remark on your progress. If you just left a particularly tough fight with a sliver of your health, you might get a gentle ribbing from your uncle Poseidon. If you choose the powers over the other, the jilted one will let you know their feelings in no uncertain terms.

Zag’s reasons for leaving the underworld are best left for the player to discover. But even when the player is finally successful, the game throws you another narrative hook. Journey’s end rewards Zag with only more questions, giving the player yet more reasons to escape the underworld one more time.

Hades is the rare game that understands the player’s journey. Rather than telling us what we might want, Hades gives us characters to fret over, relationships to ponder. It trusts us to care about Zag’s personal and haunting questions about himself that are not only worth asking, but most importantly, worth answering. Hades has quickly become one of the best games of the year. We need more games like it.