PC, Nintendo Switch
September 17, 2020
Hades is the most recent venture from hit developer Supergiant Games. Leaving a long stint in early access and following on from games like Bastion, Transistor and Pyre, it’s their biggest departure yet. Largely, this is due in part to its ambitious scope and foray into new territory with Hades fitting into the rogue-like genre. Oh, and it’s all set in the Greek God filled underworld. Expect a hellishly good time.
Within The Underworld, players will control Zagreus, the immortal son of the Greek god Hades. Tired of his monotonous life full of administration work and chatting with other godly relatives, both close and distant, young Zag wants out. He’s even discovered that his mother is not the person who’s raised him all these years. Zagreus journeys out, working towards his (one of many) escapes. That’s not to say his patriarch won’t cause some trouble for him along the way – he will, relentlessly so, at just about every turn.
Hades is what’s described by Supergiant Games as a ‘God-like rogue-like.’ This term is just a little bit of fun, but it captures the game brilliantly. Sure, Zagreus is a powerful and budding immortal, but he won’t travel without challenges. In his escape attempts, he’ll be faced with a wide variety of enemies and bosses all hellbent on stopping him in his path. With your resources and health limited in your first few runs, you can expect to have your health picked to 0 and booted back to the hub that is The House of Hades a lot. This is to be expected: Hades is a game all about dying over and over and over again, aiming to finally nail that perfect run.
A hellish Groundhog day
What’s really to love about this aspect is that it makes sense in-universe, and is quite fun to experience. When you’re defeated, you’re sent through a portal of blood on the floor only to end up back at the House of Hades. Zag slowly steps out of the giant blood pool, drip drying himself off and making his way through the house again. Friendly Gods around the house will chat with you and quietly tell you they’re rooting for you to escape and find your mother. Walk past Hades’ desk and he hurls insults at you and dares you to try again. It’s a hilarious and likable concept alone.
Hades is more than happy for you to at least try to leave, but that doesn’t mean he won’t put you through a challenging Groundhog Day. Fight the same enemies, be challenged by the same bosses hired by your father, and hopefully make it a little further this time. Rest assured, Hades will always be there when you return, saying something to the likes of “Oh, you again?“
Working towards your escape in Hades
In your escape attempts, not only will you be covering more and more ground, getting closer to reaching the world’s surface, but you’re also preparing yourself for future runs. Winning encounters will reward you with various items called artefacts you can use around Hades. The most prominent and sought after is Darkness, a purple crystal that helps boost stats and gives perks such as ‘death defiance’ (a second chance before dying). Cthonic keys help you secure some pretty sweet weapons and arms while Gemstones are for unlocking contracts to mod the House of Hades. There are the rarer gifts in the form of vials of nectar too, but more on that later.
In Hades, your dungeon progression doesn’t continue with each life. For the newer to rogue-likes like myself, that’s a tough pill to swallow at first. Still, these previously listed artefacts do, giving you plenty of means to aptly feel like even after the tenth consecutive death, you’re working towards something. Often you’ll end an encounter chamber and be faced with two doors ahead of you with symbols on them. These indicate the artefact reward you’ll get from that next room that follows, and you can plan your venture accordingly. Maybe you want to load up on Darkness so you’re stronger than ever next run. Or maybe you just want to do as well as you can in that run. Considering this, you could hit the shops sparsed throughout dungeons, buying health boosts or other passive perks exclusive only to that run.
So much range is on offer in Hades when it comes to how you want to plan and map out your many escape attempts. Even when I was struggling with the game’s difficulty in combat, it never was like hitting a wall. I could simply jump back in again with ease, maybe grind out getting some Darkness, and be all the better off again.
Yes, grinding in Hades is fantastic. However, if you really want to go far, optimising your attack load-outs in the form of boons is where you need to look. After picking your weapon type in an escape attempt’s start (be it a bow, powerful gauntlets, gun or more), you’ll want to keep an eye out for these precious things.
These boons are items gifted to you by other Greek Gods. What these items do is add elements to your weapons so you can strike in new and more powerful ways. Maybe your bow’s special attack now fires five shots in an arc instead of four. In the more exciting, your throwable item known as a ‘cast’ could turn into a bolt of lightning from Zeus. Lob this and it can pinball between enemies, clearing that ever-busy screen full of foes you’ll have a majority of the time.
Hades will have you on your toes a lot. Combat is very frenetic and sometimes you’ll be in chambers so over the brim with enemies you’ll think there’s no way out. However, there always is. A lot of what there is to it is being as fast as possible, dodging and slashing where you can. Expect for hell at first, but then your confidence will grow, and you’ll grow to love the insanely fast pace that Hades is. The only caveat I’ll give here is that there is absolutely some screen tearing and loss of frames when the game’s chambers are at their busiest. It’s a nitpick that can absolutely be patched and doesn’t hurt you much at all but it’s absolutely easily noticeable.
Boss battles are also another thrilling experience. At the end of each level of the underworld. Whether it’s the demoness Megaera and her fellow fury sisters, or the Bone Hydra snake, they each pack their own challenging punch. Megaera, in particular, offered one of my favourite boss encounters I’ve seen in games all year. She will beat the absolute living tar out of you. It’ll take some growing and evolving to persevere her and the other array of bosses but when you do, the magic of Hades’ design really clicks. You’ll exit those boss encounters in love with what Supergiant has created.
Taking in the views and chatting up some Gods
From its crisp and gorgeous textures that make up gorgeous environments to its character design, Hades aesthetically stands above the rest of Supergiant’s back catalogue. That’s saying a lot given that the studio already is known and beloved for their art design. Still, it absolutely rings true and affirms once more that this game is the best the team has ever done.
Elysium, the third area in the game, is one of the most breath-taking spots. Known as an area of eternal paradise, it’s home to a lot of warriors that the Gods held to high esteem. Here you’ll find not only some warriors just looking for a fight, but ageless crystal structures and monuments to past heroes. Moss is overgrown just about everywhere, and the stunning music from game composer Darren Korb is there once more to drive you forward through its harshness. Without a doubt, this region will be a highlight for players. I implore you to take a look around and bask in the scenery between encounters, it’ll be absolutely worth it.
What shines the most for me personally is its character design. Simply put: Hades is unabashedly quite the horny video game. Whether it was witnessing the dashing bratty looks and voice of Zagreus, chatting with the flawless Ares, or the gothic goddess that is Nyx, I found myself quite flustered. Characters are designed so jaw-droppingly gorgeous in their own rights, with images of the character and neat little visual novel-esque dialogue boxes popping up when you converse with them.
This also travelled through to other characters I didn’t just have the hots for as a very flustered gay individual. I think fondly to Eurydice, the deceased oak nymph who lives in a small corner of the fiery Asphodel, singing the most beautiful ballad Supergiant games have ever created. Hell, I even was invested in Charon, the deathly merchant who speaks only in groans and grunts.
Hades knows you’re going to be invested in these characters, and it lets you explore that further through in-game systems. The previously mentioned gifts that you obtain in runs can be given to just about any of the main characters you come across. Doing so will help you level up your relationship with them, earning gifts from then in return in the form as well as expanding their codex entries in menus. Expand these enough and you’ll get quite the bigger picture for all these characters. Even as someone who only really knows a basic level of Greek mythology, I fell in love with near everyone. I’ll find a way for you to love me yet, Achilles!
After 30 escape attempts, I finally conquered my first run of the game. With a wonderful heartfelt ending, along with gameplay and narrative reasons for me to see further runs through, it’s a title I’ll be revisiting time and time again. Whether it’s the alluring characters, charming dialogue, fantastic score or stellar gameplay and combat, Hades is simply amazing. It’s Supergiant Games’ greatest work to date and for that, they should hold that title high. How many other games can you describe as part rogue-like part Greek God dating sim and say that with such fondness?
- Wonderful entry into the rogue-like genre
- A-grade writing, art, and score
- Great progression loop that'll have you coming back for more
- You can build relationships with Greek gods, need I say more?
- Screen tearing and loss of frames when arena gets busy
Supergiant Games’ Hades has proved that the studio shows no means of slowing down, creating their best product yet. It’s firmly become my game of the year thus far and has left me in awe with its design. Like other indie staples in the gaming industry, it’s safe to say this will be a title talked about for years to come. Well done, Supergiant. Well bloody done.