Hades is the antithesis of video games in 2020. It’s an affordable, polished, heartfelt, entirely single-player game with an intentionally inclusive cast, made with labor practices that prove better working conditions make better art. It stands in stark contrast to the increasingly unconcealable truth that AAA game development has become unsustainable. It did so while becoming one of the year’s shared languages. Fan art, fanfic, and fan conversations about getting into the approachable roguelike (a first foray into the genre for many folks) were instantly recognizable on social media in the same vein as Fire Emblem the year before.
Hades is the best video game of 2020.
It’s also the “definitive” games of the year. I don’t mean in the amorphous sense of noteworthy, or much-talked-about. Animal Crossing: New Horizons exploded into the public consciousness and sales charts thanks to pandemic lockdown. The Nintendo juggernaut inarguably sold better than the still-successful Hades. But its pastoral escapism petered out for all but the most die-hard Cross-Heads just in time for Hades to hold up its Mirror of Night to our own inescapable hell. Aren’t you tired of being nice with your animal friends? Don’t you just want to go ape shit, raise a boner to Primordial Chaos, and kill your dad?
Hades is a game for the queers, the thirsty, the hardcore gamers, the fans just there for the story (thanks to God Mode difficulty adjustment), shippers, streamers, and anyone looking to get into roguelikes. It captures the abrupt frustration of its genre and the slow satisfaction of grinding progress. There’s basically nothing bad to say about it. Except that I hope Supergiant Games makes an expansion or something sometime soon. Hades brought a tangibly positive energy everywhere it touched. It was sorely needed.
Beyond the holistic experience, Hades knows how to make each run through the underworld feel unique. More than unique: almost every semi-random character build feels essential in the moment. “I can’t believe anyone plays without this,” you might say about the bow, only to grab a boon that goes perfectly with the shield. Or the spear. Or the literal gun blessed by Lucifer.
Even the rare compositions that feel “bad” can make it out of Hell intact. It’s all owed to how the game teaches you to ration dash charges, dance around bosses, and game the very limited chances to refresh health. Your mind becomes as sharp as any Stygian Blade. Though seeing Artemis get all flustered around our hero Zagreus like she does might sand your brain right back down into a smooth little marble.
Characters like her (and the stories behind them) are an unparalleled carrot on the end of Theseus and the Minotaur’s big stick. The sheer volume of writing is outstanding. The fact that it’s all so warm and funny, despite the dire circumstances of the game, is even more impressive. Hades weaves a richer world around four zones and a couple dozen NPCs than any county-sized open-world game this year. It’s a richness often reserved for RPGs, condensed down into a game that makes any brain, whatever its size and shape, go brrrrr.
So yeah! Hades is Fanbyte’s Game of the Year for 2020. Shouts out to Hades.