In their most basic form, hack and slash genre games are action titles that emphasize weapons-based combat over that of fists or guns. Originally developing out of a descriptor used for role-playing games that were more action-oriented than other, hack and slash games today still emphasize action over turn-based combat but are not solely relegated to the realm of RPGs.
Indeed, hack and slash games can be as varied as the Devil May Cry series, Bayonetta, and even the Musou classic Dynasty Warriors series.
Borrowing elements from multiple genres, hack and slash titles take a little bit from role-playing games, action games, and fighting games with the amount from each determined by what the game is trying to achieve.
Similar to beat’em up games that emphasize martial arts as the primary way of defeating opponents, hack and slash games can be as simple as repetitive button presses that generate combos to as complex as fighting games with moves to memorize.
For example, the Soul Calibur series would never be called a hack and slash game though it involves weapons and fighting. Then again, the arcade classic Dungeons and Dragons by Capcom could ostensibly be called a hack and slash title because it emphasizes weapons-based combat as does Sega’s classic Golden Axe.
In general, hack and slash highlights a title’s action-oriented gameplay structure more than anything else with the addition of weaponry being a distinguishing though not sufficiently defining factor.
Amalgamating a range of genres, hack and slash as a descriptor is gaming shorthand for lots of action with tons of cool weapons in its most basic form.