As you know, pure roguelikes stand on three main pillars — procedural levels, turn-based, and permanent death. The latter has a serious drawback possible to lead the player to frustration from losing game progress. Feelings of frustration can greatly influence the gaming experience and annihilate fun through a routine and boring progression. However, Hades (Supergiant Games, 2020) was able to save the player from most of the roguelike’s frustration, completely preserving its structure, linking it with Action-RPG. But with what tools?
Well, death became interesting.
Looking back at other famous modern roguelikes or roguelites, I can’t think of one where it’d be so fun to die. Death in Hades presents you a tone of different activities that you can do before departing to another run. Unique dialogues with almost every character every time you resurrect; opportunity to spend everything you gained on the run; you may customize the House’s look, trade items, develop skills and influence your run through upgrades; gain friendship and love through presenting nectar (and you can pet Cerberus!). Thus, when a player experiences disappointment on losing progress, it quickly disappears due to the variety of activities, inaccessible otherwise.
Moreover, Zagreus’s death and his resurrection are well implemented into the story and takes a great place in the narrative. His choice to escape over and over again is perfectly supported by the plot and leaves no place to question the most common game convention — death. Players don’t need to worry that the world will not respond to this, as it happens with many other Action RPGs, where they have to perform the same actions until a difficult place is passed. Thus, death is a step in the world’s development, acknowledged by its characters and rules. In my opinion, this in a certain sense helps the player to better process game death and rollback progress.
Apart from death being interesting, every escape run suggests a completely different combat style and skills that you have no opportunity to foresee, except the weapon choice. Everytime you go on a run you don’t know which Olympian will meet you this time and which boons and skills you’ll gather. Moreover, run builds are gathered quite early, since there can be boons after each cleared room. Thus, the player quickly enough begins to feel confident and does not regret the bonuses lost in the last escape. These boons are the basis of the fighting style, which a player will need to adopt and adapt to. Persistent-progression attributes do not influence gameplay that much and, in my opinion, are needed to keep the player early in the game when they are struggling with first location. Thus, the player, leaving for another escape, cannot confidently predict the gameplay tactics that they will have to use this time, since all gifts are different from each other. With this in mind, it can be assumed that the level of “hope” to escape is not based on the player’s previous failures. Every escape run feels like a new chance, not a path to another death. Wherein, the main gameplay ceases to be a kind of routine action, but involves adaptation and changes every time the player enters Tartarus. This maintains a healthy level of enthusiasm in the player and presents them with a certain challenge. Collectively, Hades is kept within the roguelike genre, despite some deviations from the typical representatives.