Our Best Action Game of 2020 is Supergiant's Hades. We'll be updating our GOTY 2020 hub with new awards and personal picks throughout December.
Rachel Watts: As someone who has zero patience for dying in games, Hades has made me an adamant roguelike convert. It's a dungeon crawler that gives the gods of ancient Greece action and attitude, all encased in Supergiant's gorgeous signature artstyle. But the most impressive feat that Hades has, that defeats one of the genre's biggest hangups, is it makes failure fun.
Combat feels punchy and intense, and the godly boons bestowed make every run a new endeavour. Testing out each newly discovered weapon or ability never feels like a waste of time, each one feels like it's been carefully thought out by Supergiant.
Each run gets easier and dying never feels frustrating when I get to catch up with the characters back at home. If you're familiar with Greek mythology, you'll know that the Greek gods thrived on capital D drama and Hades drops you right into the middle of it. Learning more about the interweaving narratives that tie this family together acts as a reward for your failed runs.
Navigating both the hellish realms of the underworld and the inner workings of this dysfunctional family tree are what makes Hades a great action game, and it goes down as smooth as Dionysus' wine.
Jody Macgregor: I didn't think I'd like the gun. There's a shield with a charge-bash, metal gloves that make you Hellboy. Why would I want a gun in a game about fighting Greek mythology? But Hades encourages you to try every weapon, offering bonus currency for a random one each run, as well as bounties for defeating bosses with each. Eventually I gave in and got used to the very different rhythm of a weapon that needs reloading, then realised I should be spamming its grenade special. And that's how I got my first clear.
Choosing a weapon in Hades is like choosing a class in Diablo. You're playing the same game, but completely different. Irrelevant boons become essential, intimidating bosses become cakewalks. Then you get cocky, then you get killed. It's a game about hubris and a cycle of death and rebirth—Greek myth is the ideal theme.
I adore Hades' take on classical gods, inter-related and over-dramatic hot people perfect for soap opera. I was also pleasantly surprised Zagreus isn't just rebelling because that's what sons do, but is on a quest to find his birth mother after being lied to his entire life—a real experience plenty of adoptees have, exaggerated with the resonance of myth.
When I inevitably die in Hades I'm never mad, because it gives me time to talk to those characters. I also need that time to unwind because the frantic intensity of each run, whether spent launching grenades empowered by Dionysus to do hangover damage or just swinging a sword, leaves my arms jittery with adrenaline. And I need time to tweak my loadout, the combination of keepsake and weapon, upgrades and boons, that's definitely going to get me my next clear.
Wes Fenlon: I don't expect an action game, especially a roguelike action game, to have a story I care about. Or to have a story at all, really. That's what makes Hades one of the best, and most surprising, games of the year.
It has real action chops—I adore ping-ponging enemies into each other with the shield, or finding the right combination of godly powers to start throwing it like a discus gold medalist. I'd play it, and enjoy it, without its story. But the way the story there peels back a new layer after every run makes the downtime between combat genuinely as exciting as doing the button bashing. That's so rare for these sorts of games but Hades pulls it off. It's the first action game since Nier: Automata to resonate in that way, for me.