Hell shouldn't be somewhere we want to go, but these games are changing our minds. Games are excellent at depicting realities we probably shouldn't want to ever see – nightmare realms and horrors beyond imagining. And yet, through some bargain with unholy beings, video game hells are often fun. So ready your rosaries and your crosses, because we're about to tour some of the best depictions of hell in video games.
The best hells in video games
We’ve got to start off with a classic, both because it’s getting to be an old video game (RIP Visceral Games) and because The Divine Comedy is one of the greatest narrative works ever created. Based on the poem by Dante Alighieri, Dante’s Inferno puts the player in the role of a Crusader, stabbed in the back after slaughtering a bunch of innocent people. Death appears and condemns him to Hell, but our lead Dante decides he doesn’t like the sound of that, so he kills Death. In case you couldn’t tell, Dante is an angry guy.
Unfortunately for Dante, this isn’t the end of it. He discovers his wife has been murdered, and when her soul appears before him, she gets dragged off to Hell. And so begins a harrowing descent into Visceral Games’ depiction of Alighieri’s idea of Hell. Players fight through every circle of the underworld, overcome every one of the seven deadly sins in grotesque, morphing landscapes. Eventually, it culminates in a face off with the big bad himself: Lucifer.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
It’s hard to believe just how old Skyrim is at this point, especially considering the number of ports Bethesda has managed to churn out. It’s even more difficult to fathom that Oblivion was another five years before that. But while it’s been a long time, we’ll never forget the incredible soundtrack or our time adventuring through the fields of Cyrodiil. We’ll also never forget the ghastly sights and sounds of Oblivion.
The game’s namesake is a realm of existence where the demonic forces of Elder Scrolls reside. The Planes of Oblivion are best described as lava-filled, sunless fortresses. One of the creepiest things about Oblivion is that to enter, one must pass through a massive rocky gate. These come thrusting out of the ground and infect the surrounding area with terrible creatures, staining the sky red.
With traps around every corner, impossibly tough creatures, and ghastly Draemora soldiers, Oblivion is a challenging and vicious video game version of hell – but it does have some good loot.
For a long time, we thought Doom would never face a true challenge to its demon-slaying crown. Then came Metal: Hellsinger. It brought a fusion of rhythm action with Doom’s meaty weaponry and guitar-shredding soundtracks that made for a sinfully indulgent combination, and a worthy competitor to Doomslayer’s throne.
Metal: Hellsinger’s underworld pulsates to its soundtrack, demanding you unload shotguns and swing blades to the beat as you conquer arenas of aggressive demons. Build your combo up to its peak and vocals from heavy metal legends kick in. Alissa White-Gluz, Serj Tankian, Matt Heafy, and more signed up to led their lungs to crunching soundtracks performed by Two Feathers.
It’s a brilliant if challenging score-chasing package. And thanks to custom track support on PC, there’s plenty of incentive to rock out in this video game hell for a long time to come.
Devilishly good gear
Looking to pair these hellish outings with a taste of heaven? HyperX’s Cloud III gaming headset will deliver monstrous roars and rocking soundtracks with an angelic balance thanks to its angled 53mm drivers. And with memory foam in the headband and ear cushions, you’ll get to enjoy heavenly comforts while facing the inferno in-game.
Hades sets you the path to escaping the Greek underworld. But when dodging and cutting through enemy arenas in this hack ‘n’ slash roguelike is such fun, you’re unlikely to complain when the Hydra sends you packing right back to the start.
The tantalizing combos offered each run’s boon upgrades pair perfectly with a steady progression of permanent unlocks including new weapons, stat boosts, and, naturally, furniture for your bedroom. Oh, and there’s a brilliantly realized (not to mention beautiful) cast of Greek gods and characters from legend to interact with too. Be prepared to fall in love with your favorites while you fight.
There would be no excusing us if we failed to include the hugely popular Diablo II on our list of best hells in video games. We may have reached the fourth title in the franchise, but the second entry is often cited as a favorite.
Late in the game, the adventurer has only a single task: follow Diablo into hell in order to destroy their soulstone and prevent them from coming back. After so much time fighting on the human plane, it’s unsettling to step foot into this new realm. Fire fills the majority of the screen, and only dark stone lies underfoot – the area is just as hellish as its name suggests.
There are some subtleties to this underworld as well, with ruins dotted along the paths. It’s as though there was something vaguely hopeful here before, only for it to have fallen into decay and corruption. The quest culminates with the adventurer slaying Diablo and destroying the soulstones. But as players know, the story is far from over.
For a game now largely enjoyed by children, Minecraft includes some seriously creepy content. Namely, the Nether – an unsettling alternate realm filled with alien growths, murderous flying jellyfish, and a race of pigmen prepared to attack you relentlessly upon a single slight.
The Nether also exists in a different spatial reality, meaning every step taken in the nether is the equivalent of eight in the real world. It’s an equally tempting and terrifying place, filled with riches for the plunder but only if you’re careful and clever enough to survive the creatures lurking within.
Finally, probably the best hell in video games can be found in Doom. Pick any title in the series and you’ll find gritty and meaty gunplay, hostile demons, and a fiery depiction of that unrelenting plane of suffering. For this example though, we have to talk about id Software’s 2016 release, Doom.
Doom released to gamers who were ready to kick it down the street, but everyone and their dogs were blown away by what they got. Doom grabbed you by the throat and wouldn’t let go until you kicked, shot, and ripped the spine out of every single demon and creature in existence. It was glorious.
The fast-paced gameplay that rewarded diving into the fight was lauded as a breath of fresh air in an industry that – at the time – seemed to prefer sitting behind cover and sucking its thumb. Enemies dropped health when you got close enough to deal an over-the-top and violent finishing move, making it extremely satisfying to run ‘n’ gun like the good old days.
Then there were the settings. From the red wasteland of Mars to the raging fires of hell, Doom took players on a rampaging tour through arenas of bloody chaos. With bones, stone, fire and demons everywhere, Doom’s hell was chaotic and full of action. What’s best is that you never stuck around long enough to get bored of it, always jumping back and forth between reality and hell to continue kicking the horned menaces in our world and theirs.
Though most stick with the same few elements of fire, brimstone, and demons, some video games still manage to conjure a unique version of hell for us to explore or fight through. Some games do it well, but these games do hell the best.
Original 2017 article by Sam Chandler. Updated with new additions and alterations by Henry Stenhouse in 2023.