Hades 2 Looks Perfect. But Should Supergiant Be Making It?
I know sometimes it seems like gaming journalists are actively trying to piss you off. We point to things you love and say 'this sucks, actually', and then you all click on it and we become millionaires, right? I spend a sizable chunk of my time looking at traffic data for the site, and while writing 'good thing is bad' tends to get shares and comments, it gets far fewer clicks than 'good thing is good'. We're all cold and lonely, and we just want a spark of joy. I try therefore not to mindlessly spout opinions on what I dislike and to instead offer what I hope is relevant and measured critique. So I promise I'm not just trying to lazily harvest hate clicks when I say I'm not sure I want Hades 2.
I loved Hades. I featured highly on my Game of the Year list in 2020, even in the most stacked year in about a decade, and I think it's a damn shame it ended up being muscled out by The Last of Us Part 2 at The Game Awards so often that year. It's become one of the definitive examples for what indie games can do and how there is a better way than churning money into bland triple-A affairs with derivative gameplay and copious crunch. I'm going to play Hades 2, and I'll probably love it too. But is it the game Supergiant should be making?
Supergiant is one of the most exciting and creative developers out there, reinventing whatever genre it takes a crack at and elevating it with its distinctive style. This was true of Hades, but I'm not sure it will be of Hades 2. Yes, we play as a new character, and face new gods, undoubtedly with new attacks and powers, but it's still Hades. This is an issue that I often think about in gaming, and I haven't settled on an answer. Given how long games take to make, how much are sequels a good idea? Should a studio like Supergiant, with its history of reinventing the wheel, be pushed towards new endeavours and blank slates, leaving the past behind, or encouraged to plumb deeper? When you strike oil, you don't leave it there for someone to find, you drink it up like a milkshake.
Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Last of Us Part 2 both show that sequels can lead to greater examination of themes and can reach taller heights by building on stronger foundations. But just as often, the likes of God of War Ragnarok and Horizon Forbidden West offer reductive repeats of what came before. Then there's the question of how much this even matters – both Ragnarok and Forbidden West were up for Game of the Year at TGA, and are widely celebrated. Does the question of doubling down on what works and risking playing safe, versus starting fresh to build something magnificent and risking getting it completely wrong actually matter to players with their thumbs on the joystick? Is it an issue solely for journalists paid to overthink and under-celebrate?
Hades is a game I can approach as both player and journalist, and there's an inner conflict. 'Hades again and now you're a girl' is the perfect game for the player in me. 'The most creative indie developer in town is making a risk-averse sequel' gives the critic in me pause. Hades was widely celebrated as Supergiant's best game, but with a reliance on slight modern tweaks to a well established and much-interpreted Greek pantheon, it was not the studio's most creative. The Netflix show Blood of Zeus, which dropped a few months after Hades launched, was mocked as a rip-off. Given how long cartoons make, this is obviously not true, and further underlines that Hades was not the most imaginative game.
Hades is fantastic, and not being wholly original in every department was never a sticking point the first time around. I loved it and I see no need to retcon it to defend my argument here or to reimagine myself as a sophisticated contrarian. Hades relying on established characters and twisting them did not hurt it one bit, so perhaps Hades 2 using the established conventions of Hades and twisting it will do no harm either. But it doesn't feel like Supergiant's style to stick when it could twist.
If you were to ask anyone what they'd like to see Supergiant do next, they'd say 'Hades 2'. It's a crowd-pleaser, and Supergiant has never previously set out to please all of the people all of the time. It marks a change in philosophy for a studio that has operated flawlessly since its inception. This good track record earns it the benefit of the doubt, but it also signals Hades 2 as a break from tradition. I hope it's great and I'm sure I'll like it. I'm just not sure it's the game Supergiant should be making.
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