Ok, my friends. It’s finally time after weeks of build-up. This year has been sparse as far as games that I sunk my teeth into. I’ve outlined a few that were the equivalent of summer popcorn movie in this post here. There was one game I liked enough to give an actual award to which I wrote about here. Today, I’m finally ready to talk about my co-GOTY. I’ve written about both of them in length, but I have so much more to say. Since there are two, I have to talk about one of them first. There are two reasons for it. One, alphabetical order. Two, well, I’ll get to that later.
Before I get into all that, though, let me just give one obligatory honorary award first.
The game I’m desperately looking forward to but fear will never come out
Elden Ring (FromSoft)
With that out of the way, let’s get to my co-GOTY awards.
First up is a game that I was tempted to call The best game that I wasn’t good enough to beat until I was to continue a running joke and you know what? Let’s do it. Ready? Here we go!
The best game that I wasn’t good enough to beat until I was
This doesn’t come as any big surprise to anyone who knows me. I have been playing the shit out of this game by Supergiant Games for the last 3 1/2 months and can’t seem to quit even after getting the platinum. In part, it’s because there was more to see after reaching that milestone. Hell, I had left buying many of the aesthetic stuff for the House of Hades until the end and now that I’m purchasing things for certain areas of the house, I’m getting new dialogue. I’m 250 hours into the game and still getting new dialogue! That’s amazing.
What drew me to the game? Several things, some shallow and some deep. One, I loved the aesthetics. Bright and hot characters that were 2D but looked almost 3D. Colorful environs that are distinctly different from each other. The gloom of Tartarus, the fiery pits of Asphodel, the posh, colorful, and almost icy climes of Elysium, and the rotting tunnels of Temple of Styx. Not to mention the House of Hades, which you can change to your specs.
We can not overlook how absurdly hot the characters in this game are. Well, most of them. I think it’s funny that of the gods, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, is my least favorite. After I had maxed out my friendship with every other NPC, I still hadn’t even given her enough Nectar to unlock her quest. I had to concentrate on doing that for the plat and begrudgingly maxed out my friendship with her.
Who were my favs? Well, Meg and Than, of course. I loved this whole side story and–oh, yes, I have to say up front that I will be talking about everything in the game which means massive spoilers, and I do mean massive–and the fact that I get to have a threesome with them at the very end of their quests is the icing on the sexytimes cake. I had wanted it the whole time, but never really expected it to happen. When it did, I lost my shit as I eagerly told them, hell to the fuck yes, I want to bone you both!
And with that, it is revealed that they have already been boning all along. Not only that, I later found out that Meg had a thing with Hypnos as well. That’s something I loved, too. They had relationships with each other, not just with me. I was able to eavesdrop on two characters having a conversation several times to learn things about life around me. I liked that Dusa and Meg were buddies and that Than and Hypnos had a prickly relationships as brothers.
The narrative/lore/storytelling is really what drove me to pour hundreds of hours into this game. I grew to care about all the characters (except Aphrodite) as I talked to them in every run and before/after each run as well. Let’s take Hypnos. I hated him when I first met him because he’s the one who greeted me in the House of Hades after each time I died. Or Zagreus died, rather. Zag, the son of Hades, the protag of this story.
Let’s talk about Zag for a sec (and I’ll get back to Hypnos). At first, I was like, oh bratty bored rich boy who is rebelling against his father. It didn’t bother me, which in itself is a new thing, because while, yes, he is that, he’s also witty, sarcastic, and cheerful. and, the longer I played as him, the more I grew to care about him because he was so kind-hearted and really wanted what was best for everyone. Much of his bravado was because of his issues with his father–who, by the way, is another character I came to really care about by the end of the game. Yes, he’s a bad dad in the beginning, but there’s more to him than just his grumpy attitude.
Anyway, back to Hypnos. I hated that he would tell me how I died every time I returned and give me ‘helpful’ tips in how to not die, such as maybe not stepping in the lava? I begrudgingly talked to him every time because I’m OCD like that, but I hated him. Until…I can’t say how it changed, exactly, but it had something to do with his relationship with Than and seeing him as the beleaguered younger brother. Not that Than is mean to him, exactly–oh, Than is Thanatos, by the way–but constantly disappointed in Hypnos literally falling asleep on the job. It turns out that Hypnos needs very specific specs in order to do his job to the best of his ability and once this is figured out, he does much better.
I could go on for several more paragraphs about the characters and how much I adore them, but I won’t. I will say, however, that the queer representation is explicitly stated here, not something teased or painted with a thin veneer. Reuniting Achilles with Patroclus and learning more about their shared history is one of the most satisfying side quests of the entire game. Plus, Patroclus is so goddamn hot. Even in a game full of hotties. In addition, Zag’s relationship with Than is clear from the start and by the time they bed each other, it’s organically established that they have been very close for a very long time. The pain Than expresses at Zag leaving without saying goodbye is so relatable and it just makes me root for them that much more.
I can’t express how authentic the dialogue feels–emotionally, I mean. It’s as highly stylized as the rest of the game, but it hit me in the solar plexus more than once with the plaintive dialogue. Such as when Dusa was fired by Nyx. Or finding out that Nyx is not Zag’s mother. Or the constant ache of Patroclus at being separated forever from his lover–and the reason why (which Achilles reveals at a much later date). The pathos is always interspersed with well-placed witticisms so it never feels heavy-handed.
One of the small details that I love so much about this game is that the NPCs respond to what you’re doing in the game. Like, if a certain enemy kills you, you may comment that you got them back the next time you kill them. Or, a boss will mention something snarky about the weapon you’re holding. It really makes the story seem dynamic and that it’s tailored to you individually (which, of course, it’s not), and it’s something that is easy to overlook.
I know I haven’t talked about the combat at all and it’s not because it’s not good. It is. It’s tight and fluid, and it can be very satisfying to pulverize waves upon waves of enemies. Here’s the thing, though, It’s not the thing that keeps me playing the game and hasn’t been for quite some time. But! I will say that there is enough combat-wise in order to keep it interesting for many, many hours. Yes, there are only six weapons, but each is very distinct. In addition, every weapon has four different aspects and each aspect makes the weapon play very differently. Then, add to that the different boons of the different gods, and there are a diverse bunch of builds that you can make for whatever playstyle you have.
One of the most interesting things about the combat to me is how my opinion as to the best and worst boons has changed (or hasn’t) over time. In the beginning, I thought Athena had the best boons along with Zeus. Also loved the boons of Ares. I disregarded Hermes’ boons because they were mostly speed-related, but now, I take his boons whenever I can. Same with Dionysus. Much more interested in his boons now than in the beginning. I loved Demeter’s boons when I first met her, then fell off them, and now I’m back to liking them again. In addition, which boons I choose is based on which weapon I’m using. Artemis is aces for spear and bow. For the twin fists, I’m more apt to go for Ares. And I’ll always take an Athena boon because Deflect is my complete jam.
Oh! Back to queer representation. There is Artemis who is clearly a lesbian. She talks all the time about hunting with Callisto (has a case of mentionitis in that Artemis always is name-dropping Callisto) and the nymphs. There’s also nonbinary representation with Chaos being they/them. And, of course, there’s Zag himself who loves regardless of gender.
This game is just brilliant. Yes, there are flaws to it (hate the never-ending mobs, for instance, and the extremely steep learning curve before finally beating the end boss once), but they are overwhelmed by all the positives–and I haven’t even mentioned voice acting! Even if you’re not a fan of rogue-like-lites, I would suggest this game purely for the lore. If you don’t want to deal with the combat, turn on God Mode and soak in the atmosphere.
I’m tapering off my play of this game, but I have no doubt I’ll return to it from time to time.
Note: This went long, of course, so I’ll save the second co-GOTY for another post.