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Hack and slash or hack and slay can refer to either a subgenre of action games, or a type of gameplay.

Origin in role-playing games[edit]

Hack and slash has its roots in "pen and paper" role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons.

Sometimes this terminology describes violence with no other plot or significant goal. This sense suggests the violence is meaningless or boring.

Other times, this term describes different types of role-playing games and different types of gameplay. Hack and slash can be used to contrast fighting through a dungeon with role-playing for the purpose of plot development and character development.

As a type of gameplay[edit]

Hack and slash made the transition from the tabletop to video games, usually starting in D&D-like worlds. This form of gameplay is especially prevalent in real time action role-playing games, such as Diablo or Dungeon Master.

Some games employ hack and slash conventions without any role-playing gameplay. In these cases, such as Golden Axe, hack and slash could describe the game itself. Hence why hack and slash is sometimes an actual genre of game, rather than just an element of gameplay.

As a subgenre of action games[edit]

Some games focus entirely on hack and slash gameplay, and are thus a subgenre of action games.

These games are similar to beat-'em-up games in that a player must face large waves of underpowered enemies, often followed by a boss fight. However, hack and slash games always arm the player with a close-range weapon, whereas beat 'em ups have scattered weapon use or no weapons at all. Due to the nature of the fighting, the focus in a hack and slash game is to kill opponents, whereas beat 'em ups tend to focus on incapacitation.

Because of these short range weapons, a hack and slash game usually takes place in a medieval or fantasy setting. However, even a modern setting can employ swordplay and other edge weapons, such as Devil May Cry or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

If multiple players are involved, gameplay is usually cooperative.

"Crowd combat"[edit]

Some hack and slash games put the player up against dozens or hundreds of enemies at once. This is sometimes called crowd combat, such as in Dynasty Warriors. This huge number of opponents is possible due to more efficient game technology. One of the earliest games to incorporate this was Gauntlet.

Crowd combat is not unique to the hack and slash subgenre. Due to the nature of the weapons, crowd combat is more common in hack and slash than it is in beat em up. However, crowd combat is even more common in the related shoot 'em up subgenre, as seen in Smash TV.