At the start, let me preface this by saying where I'm coming from. I'm a big roguelike player. TOME is my main but I also play Qud and some others. My thoughts here are in comparison to these games.
With roguelikes like TOME and Qud, death is a mechanic in the sense that you are expected to die a lot and start over. You are expected to try different builds, refine your process, learn enemy skills, get better, and eventually beat the game.
While death is expected, it's not actually a hard roadblock to progress. The thing that gates your progress is game knowledge and player skill. You progress in these games until you encounter something that takes you by surprise; a specific kind of enemy, a trap you werent aware of, or something you just don't know how to deal with. It kills you, and you–the player–learn from that and resolve not to die from it again. Sometimes it takes a few deaths, but inevitably you willl stop making the same mistake over and over again. That's how you progress. Personal player growth.
Since it's bound to come up in any conversation on death mechanics, Dark Souls falls into this category too. You die, learn mechanics, learn how enemies work, learn where traps are, grow your skill as a player, and progress.
Theoretically, if you approach these games very cautiously, read the text, use your resources in a smart manner, have an escape plan etc. you could beat a roguelike on your first ever try, without dying. It's probably never happened, but theoretically the game presents you with the opportunity to win. It doesn't prevent you from winning behind the mechanic of death; death is just a byproduct of not knowing enough about the mechanics.
Now, I'm really not trying to retread any ground on what is or isn't a "roguelike" here. That's not what this is about. Steam tags Hades as a roguelike and they use the term in their own marketing, so *they* seem content to be compared with other roguelikes, so let's go ahead with it.
In Hades, death is a mechanic. Much like other roguelikes, you are expected to die and start over, to try different builds, to get better, and progress. Unlike other roguelikes, your progress is actually hard-gated behind this death mechanic. You have to die to progress. This is because all of your new weapons, passive skills, quest rewards, unlocks, etc. require you to die, carry your experience/gems/gifts/keys/etc. back to the start, level up, then start a new run.
Why is this a problem?
Because it gives the impression that the game is not presenting you with the opportunity to win. It's presenting an opportunity to grind experience. In TOME, or Qud, or Dungeons of Dredmor, or Nethack, or whatever your roguelike of choice is; each death and rebirth represents a fresh test; it is a fresh opportunity to see if you–the player–have improved, and it is a fresh opportunity to beat the game. In Hades, each death and rebirth is just another opportunity to grind more experience so you can level up and maybe beat the game in 10-15 more deaths. Each "escape attempt" is not really a chance to escape. It's just part of an experience grind that doesn't grow you as a player, but grows your character. It feels disengenuous. The deaths are an artificial roadblock to progress, compared to other roguelike games where deaths genuinely feel like they are in some way the fault of the player, instead of just running into something that is mechanically stronger and unbeatable until you level up more. It is a rote experience grind under the guise of roguelike mechanics.
I guess I'm posting here just to offload these thoughts, but I am interested in other people's thoughts on this, and I'd even be willing to change my mind on this if someone could show me that it's possible to beat Hades without dying. At the moment, it seems like you will eventually run out of damage or suffer from not having certain unlocks. I'm enjoying the game fine, but this has been the one thing that's been grating on me so I'm curious to hear other opinions.
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