There’s this theory in gaming that the reason people like video games is because, when everything comes together, inputs become automatic, like clockwork. You lose track of your surroundings and see nothing but the screen. You’re completely in the flow.

Now, I like video games, but I rarely get this. Usually, after half an hour, I get antsy and feel the need to get up and do something useful. Games have to really click to consume me.

Then I played Hades!

Hades is a roguelike – a game in which you keep on repeating an arduous and difficult “run” through a semi-randomized set of levels. In Hades, you play as Zagreus, the titular god’s son, and the run is escaping the underworld. The semi-randomized part is a meticulously crafted set of variables: Not only do enemies change, but your uncles and aunts on Mount Olympus give you certain boons to help you in your escape attempt. For instance, Poseidon might imbue my attacks with tidal waves, whereas Zeus has the power of lightning. Every ability interacts, making sure that no two runs are alike.

I think roguelikes are okay. I’m not a huge fan of the time investment involved in mastering and finishing one – often times, I get bored by the second or third run. But Hades has a hook: Every time you die, you end up with your father, and the story continues. This game is filled to the brim with beautifully recorded dialogue and superb characters, making sure you go for one more run, just so you know how the story unfolds.

This narrative is a brilliant idea, no surprise coming from Supergiant, the makers of Bastion, Transistor and Pyre, who’ve always been strong storytellers. Bastion and Transistor exist on pretty much every computer, tablet or smart fridge, you should try them out, if only for the art style and the story. Or better yet:

Hades. It’s on switch, so you can play it on the toilet.

Marvel’s Avengers

If you know me, you know I love to gripe about video game stories. More often than not, the emotions they try to convey fall flat, as if they feel forced and faked for some reason. Video game characters just don’t feel like real people, and most of the games I’ve played this year suffer from this. Control. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Even The Last of Us II seems to miss the mark, be it by design: This game constantly veers away from humanity on purpose.

Then why is it that a loot-based, mindless games as a service superhero brawler is the one to pull it off?

For those not in the know: Avengers is a newly released videogame banking on the success of the Marvel universe. It’s basically got six superheroes that can punch, kick and shoot their way through wastelands filled with robots. As they do this, they level up and get stronger. Over time, more superheroes will join the cast, which can also be leveled up endlessly.

These games are usually quite complex, so they need a sort of tutorial, usually in the form of a single player campaign. And funnily enough, this campaign is one of the most humane video game experiences I’ve played the last months. You are Kamala, a teenager given superpowers by a freak accident which caused the Avengers to split up. As she gets the crew back together, she grows into a superhero of her own. She’s also an insecure teen, an overexcited fangirl and a Pakistani-American Muslim.

Kamala is one of the better realized characters in video game fiction. She is human through and through, and never gets lost in the wildly escalating videogame plot. Whenever something crazy happens (and crazy things happen, this is the Avengers after all), there’s an important emotional question to back it up. It comes as no surprise that this story stems from Crystal Dynamics, who succeeded in humanizing Lara Croft in their Tomb Raider reboot. But it’s a breath of fresh air nonetheless.

Now if anyone wants to do some mindless superhero brawlin’, let me know!

Assassin’s Creed – Odyssey

Remember how I wrote about Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and how somehow I keep playing those games? Yeah me neither so here’s a link.

Suffice it to say after Syndicate, I did quit playing these repetitive map games. I did not play Origins, nor did I ever want to – even if it was advertised as “new and improved”. I had had my fill of the franchise, didn’t care about Egypt – and especially with Breath of the Wild¬†revolutionising the 3rd person adventure genre, it just didn’t interest me.

Then came Odyssey. An Assassin’s Creed game set in ancient Greece? Count me in?

And boy, is it a doozie. This game has just about everything. A gargantuan map spanning all of Greece. A boat. A leveling system. A skill tree. Mercenaries. A (very cool) cult for you to hunt and destroy. Dialogue trees. Player choice. A female protagonist – Kassandra! And: No minimap!!

At first, I dove right in there. I wondered why I ever fell out of love with the franchise in the first place. It was like a second honeymoon, and I had a lot of fun destroying barbarian camps and the like.

About thirty hours in, I had probably killed about a million barbarians, and had uncovered about a third of the map. Boy, this is a marathon, I thought, and made Kassandra visit Marathon. I was still feeling it, thinking this journey would lead somewhere.

Then, about fifty hours in, I started¬†growing weary. A couple of really promising plotlines started heading in a direction that was an immense disappointment for a fifty hour investment. And lo an behold, an hour later, the plot had completely derailed (without spoiling anything, let me just say “Pythagoras” – those who played the game will know what I mean).

Boy, do I feel kind of burned. Yes, riding across Greece is a thrilling experience, and the vistas are as beautiful as ever. But somehow, I can’t enjoy them anymore, knowing the story has completely derailed. It just killed my genuine investment in Kassandra – and thus, in the entire game.

(Do people still do blogs nowadays?)