Hades – My Roguelike Gateway Drug

Every year I tell myself I’m going to get out of my comfort zone of gaming and try new genres. And every year, I fail miserably. Maybe it’s a side effect of getting older. At a certain age, we know what we like, and we, as TLC once said, stick to the rivers and lakes that we’re used to. In 2021, I wanted to play different genres, and for the most part, the only thing I did was play first-person shooters and role-playing games. Here’s the list thus far:

  • Dishonored
  • Dishonored 2
  • Fallout 4
  • Shadow Warrior 2
  • Outriders
  • Prey
  • Maneater
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake
  • Skyrim plus DLC
  • The Oregon Trail

As you can see, I’ve walled myself off from new experiences. So when Hades dropped on GamePass, I decided now was a good time to try something new.

Roguelike? What The Hell is That?

I’ve always heard of the term Roguelike but never understood how that translates to gameplay. How is a game where death is essential to progression supposed to be fun? After years of engrained behavior, death is something you avoid, not welcome with open arms. Yet, that’s what Hades demands. You must fail forward, and only in death is their progress. So how do you keep repetitive runs through the same level fresh?

A Different Kind of Slot Machine

In Hades story serves as the anchor for gameplay. Set in Greek Mythology, you play Zagreus, prince of the Underworld and son of Hades. Zagreus has had enough of living among the dead and wants out. Zagreus’ desire for freedom serves as the catalyst for his death. Hades has no intention of letting Zagreus leave the Underworld and has designed his realm to make sure no one, not even his son, can escape. This simple yet direct premise gives meaning to each death and motivation for me to keep playing.

Playing the game feels something like pulling on a slot machine. Each run, one of the Greek Gods, grants me powers in the form of a Boon to help me escape. The further I progress in the Underworld, the more power-ups and abilities I earn. But with no play-through being the same, I never know what power-up or encounter I’ll experience. Even boss battles can and will change. After defeating Megaera, the guardian of Tartarus, multiple times, the game pulls her from rotation and makes you fight one of her sisters. It’s a change that’s both exciting and frustrating. Exciting because the change adds a freshness to the game but is frustrating because it is impeding progress. But no one said it would be easy.

After spending a weekend with the game, I’ve only been able to reach Elysium. In that time, I’ve learned more about Hades, Zagreus, and the motivations of multiple characters. I’ve unlocked weapons, upgraded my stats, and even given gifts to friends. Multiple back-to-back runs scratch my ‘slot machine’ itch. Each new run, I ask myself, “Will this be the time when everything comes together? Will this be the perfect run?” I’ve gotten close, but more importantly, I’ve been having fun. The question is, will the fun last long enough for me to reach the top?