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Evolution of Hack & Slash Games Script by Amr Abbas
Hack and Slash is a genre of gaming that mainly focuses on melee combat with games like Bloodborne and God of War. But where did Hack ‘n’ Slash come from? What initiated that genre and brought it to life?
One of the very first games that initiated the genre of Hack n’ Slash is the original Prince of Persia all the way back in 1989. It was a side-scroller with very little to do. Just walk, jump, occasionally fight a skeleton and drink some potion.
Then, another game came along in 1996 that revolutionized the genre back then. That game was arguably the true beginning of Action Adventure Hack ‘n’ Slash: Diablo.
It was incredible, action-packed adventure game with a lot of slicing and dicing and it carried along elements from the RPG genre with classes and different weapons and magic. Arguably, it was the birth of Hack ‘n’ Slash. But it was just the start.
It was in 2001 that another game came along to take away the title and revolutionize it once again. Devil May Cry was released on the PlayStation 2 and marked a new genre. The game incorporated Hack ‘n’ Slash with the Beat ‘em Up and Shooter styles of games where you could send enemies flying in the air and attack mid-air or even shoot them, switching between your sword and guns as Dante.
For a long time, no game dared challenge Devil May Cry in the genre. There was simply nothing like it. That was until 2003 when Prince returned in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Prince, carrying his sword, climbing and leaping off walls, into pillars, back to walls, hacking ‘n’ slashing his way then dying and rewinding time or slowing it down all together. Puzzle after puzzle, fight after fight, Prince of Persia dethroned Dante’s Devil May Cry and took the throne of Action Adventure Hack ‘n’ Slash. The game was a revolutionary in many aspects. It was groundbreaking and set the standard for new games in the genre.
In 2005, God of War was released. It was about time that another game came to revolutionize the genre once again. This time, it was a gory game with titanic boss-fights. Incredible action adventure with a story that took the standards of The Sands of Time to the new level. The God-slaying, dual-blade wielding Kratos became the face of the PlayStation with an adventure that captivated the fans from first glance.
It wasn’t only the power that you feel when you play as Kratos that took over, but the magnificent and gory battles that he had to go through. Switching weapons, upgrading them, using magic and smashing pots. God of War was second to none in the Hack ‘n’ Slash genre.
Despite the criticism that Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within faced upon its release in 2004, prior to the release of God of War and Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones in 2005, it introduced another element to for the genre.
Playing as Prince who had turned into a more gothic theme, the player could pick up weapons from the fallen enemies and use them. This was revolutionary in many ways. For a long time, the only weapons that you could use in a game were ones that you would pick or choose from the menus. The fluidity of the action, picking up a sword from the ground with a kick was an aspect that was later utilized in many games.
But when Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones debuted, it returned with inspiration apparent from the infamous Blades of Chaos that Kratos used. However, instead of using one single character, in this game, the player was allowed to use the Shadow Prince whose combat was incredible. The game received a lot of praise, but was second to God of War.
The titanic enemies of the original God of War seemed minuscule in comparison to the first fight with the Colossus. God of War II showed the player what it felt like being a God of War with Kratos once again picking up his path to vengeance. The story was incredible, the monologues were great, the fights had a special feel to them, the scale of everything around you made you feel tiny all while amazing you.
The journey to arrive to the Sisters of Fate was long, tiring, but never felt unfair. It introduced new enemies, new heroes, demi-gods and new weapons. The puzzles were harder, the music was louder and Kratos was grittier. All of that while keeping the original feel of the first game. More Quick-Time-Events which were the most disappointing part of the game, yet many gamers loved them.
Yes, the journey of Kratos shone in God of War II. Revenge never tasted sweeter. And the game, a Hack ‘n’ Slash game amidst all of the action and RPG games that were growing in popularity during that period, became the Game of the Generation. The best game of the PlayStation 2. And the for more than a decade, the highest ranked God of War game in a franchise of more than 7 games.
Soon after, Ubisoft decided to release another game that was originally presented as a pitch for a Prince of Persia spin-off that was supposed to be titled: Prince of Persia: Assassin. But the game was so incredible that it became a franchise of its own. It did everything that Prince did, but added more elements that were stealth based. The game was the first of many to follow: Assassin’s Creed.
Meanwhile, the studio that presented the game kept busy with the Prince of Persia franchise. Perhaps the success of the new RPG Hack ‘n’ Slash game did not expect to meet that much success. In 2008, a new take on Prince of Persia was done. The game received a ton of success, but it returned to the roots of the genre and heavily relied on puzzle solving amidst boss fights. The game presented counter-attacks, parrying and fighting in a much different pace than the older Prince of Persia games. But it was obvious that the biggest portion of the cake was taken by Assassin’s Creed.
Then game another great game that was simple in every aspect. A game that sent so many players rage-breaking their controllers. Yes, yes, that game is Demon Souls. A game that shows the player the unfairness of the world through a screen, heavily relying on their trial and error with enemies so difficult to kill that the player could not keep going. It was dark, it was demonic, with an unbearable burden of despair. It was the first of the genre. A sub-RPG sub-Hack ‘n’ Slash genre simply known as the Soulsbourne.
The game was unpredictable, yet it was hack ‘n’ slash at its simplest form. It was just difficult and many players did not dare complete it. Those who did were awarded with a game that gave birth to an entire sub-genre. RPG elements such as creating your own character were there. You could use a warrior, a knight or a mage among different categories. You could personalize the character. Buy weapons, upgrade them, try to solve the puzzles that were the enemies and most importantly, remember how each enemy acts.
Then, in the revolutionary time of the renaissance era, we witnessed the birth of Ezio, an infant from Firenze who would later grow to be the Grand Assassin in his creed. It was hard to tell which game started the sub-genre of Hack ‘n’ Slash Stealth, but if we were to point out the one who did it best first, it has to be Assassin’s Creed II with stunning visuals, amazing attention to details that left us dazzled while climbing roof-tops and following enemies. The atmosphere was incredible and while Assassin’s Creed did it first, Ezio’s tale that expands a trilogy has done it better in every way. It paved the path for the rest of the franchise and stole our hearts.
At that point, there was room for many games, with sequels for Devil May Cry and new IPs such as Darksiders. Yet, the two games that remained to be at the peak were God of War with a sequel in the works and Assassin’s Creed that had already been established as a Stealth Hack ‘n’ Slash Action Adventure RPG.
It’s safe to say that when God of War III hit the PlayStation 3, the world of gaming changed forever.
Kratos has returned with the titans, climbing onto the gigantic Mount Olympus, standing on the shoulder of the gigantic Gaia while the Olympians stood atop of Mount Olympus. The journey was nearing its end and everyone knew that the game is going to be good. But nobody expected that each boss-fight would be on a scale of its own.
There are no words that could describe the impact of God of War III, claiming with ease the Game of the Year award and becoming an instant classic. It did not only set the standard once again, but it firmly stood with the Hack ‘n’ Slash genre, making it the last remaining game of the genre that stayed from the beginning and kept on going.
To emphasize on the impact of the game, in one sequence, it was seen how small Kratos is in size in comparison to Chronos who simply held him between his fingers in order to crush him. In a battle that lasted for a good 20 minutes, Sony has proven once again that size matters. From the visuals, the mechanics, the smoothness. Everything was nearly perfect and Hack ‘n’ Slash lived on.
Following the formula that made God of War one of the biggest gaming franchises, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow entered the genre with a massive game that may have ripped some of God of War’s main elements off, but remained true and enjoyable with high scores on all of the gaming reviews. It was incredible in every aspect but added little to the already established genre.
Returning to a genre that has seen only one game until 2011, a spiritual successor to Demon Souls was released. Dark Souls entered the genre, establishing itself as one of the hardcore games that relied heavily on the gamer’s experience and own walkthrough. The game mocked the player each time he died.
You are an undead, seeking to accomplish a goal that doesn’t become clear until late in the game. The dreary atmosphere and dreadful despair of the game was unlike any in the Hack ‘n’ Slash world before it. It was terribly difficult, but never impossible nor ever unfair. It carried on the fan-base that was developed by its predecessor and elevated it to a new height. Dark Souls became a cult that had its own players. Everyone simply had to “git gud” or die…and die…and die…
Mechanics? Yes, it did not improve much. The massive improvement that the game presented to the genre was a map that tied everything together. It was amazing in scale how a single game could do that. Weapons broke, they needed repairs, stamina depleted and each time you died, you had to go back and get punished until you could redeem yourself. Your souls, yes, souls are the currency in the game, dropped each time you died. And you had to go back and collect them from the enemy who killed you or the spot you died last. And if you die again, you’d lose them for good.
But aside from all the humor, you would ask how did Dark Souls improve the genre? It did not only improve it. It was gigantic in scale, becoming one of the best games ever released. The story was not based on dialogue only, but on pieces of lore that you would collect throughout the game. Some players never even gotten to the point of understanding the whole game. It was iconic in every way, rendering the “Souls” genre as a genre of its own. How the game relied on melee weapons and shields was one of the things that separated from others in the genre.
The same year also witnessed the return of Geralt in the Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, a game which took the best of both worlds in terms of action role playing games, adventure games and hack ‘n’ slash games.
The game excelled at everything it attempted to do. If you play The Witcher 2 after Dark Souls, you would be in for a treat. From the shield that you would often rely on in Dark Souls to the dancing and swaying of The Witcher 2, it was incredible. The world, the atmosphere, everything in the Witcher 2 was smooth, it was a heart-warming experience and the attention to detail was incredible.
Yet, the game was not ground-breaking. It was just a good game that brought the contrast to the dark and gloomy Dark Souls. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations was released as a closing chapter to Ezio’s story. But it offered little except for a more strategic approach to the game, far less than the player-based strategy in Dark Souls. The following year followed a drop in the scale of Hack ‘n’ Slash. Things were not looking too well for the genre.
Assassin’s Creed III offered a stealthier adventure with the aid of firearms that made the game feel less and less like a hack ‘n’ slash game. Meanwhile, Darksiders 2 offered an experience that was more of an RPG one than a hack ‘n’ slash action adventure one. Of course, the game was still true to the genre, it used elements from God of War, Prince of Persia and even Devil May Cry, but it did not appeal as the first one did. It faded from memory just as fast as Dante’s Inferno did despite everything that it did well.
It was time for the game that brought the genre to its heights to return. It was time for a new adventure for Kratos, the God of War. This time, it was a prequel titled God of War: Ascension.
Ascesion marked the downfall of the franchise. It took steps back in terms of storytelling, using the philosophy of giving the protagonist, or in this case the anti-hero, the Blades of Chaos that he is known for only. That was a step-back despite cooperating the blades with the four elements. However, the combat witnessed a massive improvement. It was also refined for another reason: The Multiplayer!
The Multiplayer was enjoyable for sure. But it was not groundbreaking. It did not appeal like an FPS game would with the likes of Call of Duty or Battlefield. It wasn’t even as enjoyable as Assassin’s Creed which did not receive much praise on its multiplayer.
Returning to the main part of the game, which is the story that served as a prequel in hope to humanize Kratos instead of presenting him as a monotone angry anti-hero. The story was forgettable, it was visually impressive, but that’s where it stands at best.
This marked the downfall of Hack ‘n’ Slash games.
The following year witnessed one critically acclaimed RPG Hack ‘n’ Slash game. Dark Souls II and Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. With no ties to the original, the game took everything that the original did and added more. It wasn’t a spectacle visually. It added little to the original gameplay of the first game but it was praised for everything it did.
While Dark Souls II was a great addition to the Souls series, it was not, like its predecessors, a Hack ‘n’ Slash focused game. At this point, there was nothing that focused on the genre like God of War which had received its most criticized title to date. Meanwhile, Assassin’s Creed moved from the Hack ‘n’ Slash to other aspects, focusing more on the Naval Combat as seen in Assassin’s Creed 3 and Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. It looked like the entire genre was dying with only titles that did not receive much praise coming in or indie titles. It seemed like gamers were moving in favor to other games.
The only title that seemed like it would make it and revive the Hack ‘n’ Slash genre was Lords of the Fallen which took elements from God of War and Dark Souls. The game received mostly positive reviews, but it was not the massive hit that we anticipated it would be. Once again, Hack ‘n’ Slash was a dying genre.
Enter Bloodborne. A spectacular game that was as grim and depressing as anything in the vision of game developers for the Victorian Period. Developed by FromSoftware, everyone thought it would tie in the loose-ends of Dark Souls and Dark Souls II. But it didn’t. It presented a new combat system that forsake the shields all together. It seemed like it was a method of teaching the Souls players how to play their games with a trick-weapon that could be transformed into a two-handed weapon and a pistol in the other hand.
The game was impressive in every aspect. The scale of it was not as massive as Dark Souls, but it was just as good. Everything tied together in the end. To the player, each area presented a new challenge, each boss fight held its own value from the very first boss fight. Bloodborne is a difficult game that returns to the roots of hack ‘n’ slash and expands on it.
The game relied on currencies like Blood which would be taken away once the player dies, but the enemy that killed you would still have it if you return and take your revenge. It encouraged a more aggressive walkthrough, but not without help. Before the Old Hunters DLC came out, the player could rely only on the impressive Co-op mode in the game; calling in players to help them. But with that came the penalty of getting PvP players to invade your world and try to kill you.
The game was the apparent revival of the Hack ‘n’ Slash genre that had seemingly ended. At that point, another game was released to ensure that fact. A game that was expected to take over the RPG world before the Hack ‘n’ Slash genre: The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt.
The game was spectacular in every aspect. The world around seemed to be alive in contrast to the world of Bloodborne which was sinister in every way. The combat in The Witcher was mesmerizing, addicting. There combination of crafting, sorcery and fencing was incredible. You would spend time just gazing at the amazing scenery that you would forget about your mission. Then, you would return to your mission and get involved in a side-quest.
The narrative, the voice acting, the crafting, everything was done properly. It took its time cooking and when it came out, it was one of the most impressive games of the year. Alternating between the powers that you obtain throughout the game used a different mechanic than most games where you would pause to the powers menu, slow down everything around you but with room for you to get attacked as you do so. Along with the two sword types that you get, the oils you’d cover your blades with to ensure a poisonous or a bleeding attack, everything in the game was revolutionary.
But what made The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt stand out the most was not the story. It was not the amazing combat system, but the visuals, the voice-acting and the score.
2016 began with the conclusion to the Soulsborne series. Dark Souls III presented a game that tied everything together. The cycle of Dark Souls which takes from Japanese Roots. The game was a mixture between the original Dark Souls, Dark Souls II and more impressively, Bloodborne. The player, again, was encouraged to take a more aggressive approach.
We cannot really say whether the game was easier than the previous titles or if we
“got gud” at playing them. At many times the game was frustrating with epic, massive battles with Dragons, with dragon riders. The lore of the story, similar to its predecessors, was gathered through entries from the game, talking to NPCs who would give you so little input and laugh at you with their sarcasm. Everything was dreary, but when it comes to the bright side, the game was a return to everything that made the Souls series great. It was a rightful conclusion to the series. That doesn’t mean that we don’t hope for more.
There is no arguing that Dark Souls has opened the door to new games. Games like Nioh which returned to the original Hack ‘n’ Slash roots once again with combos, fast-paced fights, but also took from the unforgiving nature of Dark Souls to make the game challenging and difficult but never unfair.
It can easily be said that 2017 was the revival of Hack ‘n’ Slash. Not a month after Nioh came another Hack ‘n’ Slash game with stunning visuals and a complex story: Nier: Automata. A game that compiled the RPG elements with Hack ‘n’ Slash and Shoot ‘em Up in an amazing way that was incredible in every way. Automata followed the formula that made Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed in the parkour and jumping system. At the same time, it followed the Devil May Cry formula in the shooting. While the story isn’t engaging as previous titles, the gameplay was revolutionary in many ways.
(Footage from the action in Nier: Automata)
But that wasn’t it for 2017. With many other hack ‘n’ slash titles, perhaps the greatest of the year was Assassin’s Creed: Origins. The game returned with a more refined combat system, courtesy to the Ubisoft Art of War system previously seen in For Honor.
Origins was engaging everywhere. The story was interesting with the game set in Ancient Egypt. Relying on the Hidden Blade was no longer the main aspect of the game. The customization was far more impressive than previous titles. The fights were great. The game never felt repetitive and it employed everything that made Assassin’s Creed the brilliant game that it was before the downfall at Unity and Syndicate.
In a game where you could slide down the great pyramids of Giza to venturing atop the roofs of the ancient Library of Alexandria, you play as Bayek, the last protector of Egypt. The game didn’t hold back when it came to the combat; switching between a bow and arrows to the sword and shield, it was new in every aspect yet had the same feel to it.
The difficulty of the game was higher than the previous Assassin’s Creed titles which were forgiving by nature, except for the first, perhaps. It was far more engaging, less predictable and far more superior visually.
What stood out the most was the investigation system in the game, but that’s putting combat aside. The game was far better when it came to investigation. It had an eagle vision of its own, but different from what we’ve seen in previous titles of the franchise.
You could control the Eagle, Senu to find spots on the map.
Then there was the Gladiator Arena, which is one of the best parts of the game. The combat in it was incredible, similar to the fights in The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt.
March 2018 witnessed the return of God of War. We knew little about the game but many complained that it wasn’t the God of War that they knew and loved. But boy, did it deliver!
Kratos returned to be a protagonist, carrying the Leviathan Axe, a weapon that we haven’t thought he’d fashion and it was incredible. Everything in the game, from the stunning visuals, to the iconic music score to the flawless combat system, everything screamed that the game received the reboot it deserved.
Over the shoulder 3rd person camera that never cuts was one of the many additions to the genre that the game added. The combat system followed from the Japanese arcade games in the stop-motion of the weapons when they hit an enemy; the motion of Kratos’ muscles when he would hit something and they flinch just like reality.
Then there were the gadgets to the axe. The game didn’t use the previous combat system, but renovated it into one that was fitting to the time. Light and heavy attacks were still there, but everything felt different and different felt better.
Additionally, Kratos isn’t the only character that you’d control in the new title. There is a button dedicated to his son, Atreus in a ground-breaking fashion that wasn’t there before. He was the ranged quick attacks for Kratos.
The crosshair at the screen was something else that seemed off and different, but once you threw the axe, the motion that it had, the frames removed for that special satisfaction showed an immense improvement.
And when you throw it, the enemy that took it would freeze, yet in no time, you’d be using Kratos’ fists to hit and smash other enemies before you receive the axe, hitting whatever stands in the way.
God of War took the throne again for Hack ‘n’ Slash games with addition to the new RPG elements and the beautiful voice-acting. While the story is simple, the lore is far more diverse than the previous entries. Many aspects of the game were inspired by Dark Souls but it was never as dark and gloomy. Sure, there were moments of sadness, there were moments of grief, but it was never a somber story.
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