The genius of Hades’ God Mode

The fast-paced, action-oriented dungeon crawler Hades doesn’t look like the type of game that would have a strong focus on writing, narrative, or voice acting. But it does, and it also has one of the most interesting stories of 2020. This story reveals itself slowly, hinted at or discussed openly between characters every time you return to your childhood home in the underworld.

That’s why the game’s “God Mode” difficulty option is so genius. It’s not just that it helps players experience more of the game’s artwork and story, but it also signals the importance of that story.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a difficulty toggle do so much for a game, and do so much to explain what the developers valued in its creation. This is the first time I’ve ever decided to buy a game based on the inclusion of a difficulty mode, in fact. Not because I thought I would use it, but because of what it communicated about what Supergiant wanted the game to be.

Hell is other gods

You play as Zagreus, the son of Hades, who is trying to escape the underworld. He gets a little further with each attempt to fight his way to the surface, or at least that’s the idea, as he gains items, abilities, and the gifts of the gods to aid him on his journey.

Each conversation with the game’s mythological characters provides extra hints about why Zagreus is trying to break free, who these folks are to him, and what the gods may have done to each other in the past. The story’s relatively slow and deliberate pace, combined with the near-flawless combat mechanics, have made the game a commercial success and a critical favorite.

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The God Mode option can be toggled on or off at any time in the menu, and it doesn’t make the enemies weaker, nor does it instantly make the game easier. Instead, you gain some resistance to damage with every death, and the effective is cumulative. The more you play, the more resilient your character becomes, and the more of the story you get to experience.

You still have to work for it; you still have to try and die and try again, even using God Mode. But with the right amount of grit, more players will be able to make it through the game’s story, thanks to this mode.

Which is great! More people getting to see more of the game is a net positive. Also, Supergiant’s decision to create this mode, and to be so open and forthright about wanting players to see as much of the story as they’d like, tells us something about how the developers see the game.

God Mode indicates that this is not “just” an action game with incremental improvements over every run. Hades is a game with characters, relationships, and moments of surprise or dread that are so important to the overall experience there is an entire mode that ensures more players can experience them.

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Despite all the critical acclaim, including Polygon’s own glowing review, I was thinking about skipping Hades due to lack of time and energy. But once I learned about God Mode, and why it was put in there, my ears perked up. The story has that much importance? The evolving relationships between these gods are such a worthwhile part of the game that the developers put in the extra work to make sure more people could see the whole story.

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That implicit acknowledgement that the emotions behind the action are as important as the action itself is what made me pick up the game myself, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

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