Hades is the latest title from Supergiant Games, the team behind Bastion, Pyre & Transistor, deciding to tackle a new genre the team initially launched Hades as early access in 2018 and it has now been finished and released on Steam and Nintendo Switch recently. Is this game godlike or worthy of eternal damnation?
Hades puts you in the fiery boots of Zagreus, the son of Hades himself making him the prince of the Underworld, your task is to escape the Underworld and make it to Mount Olympus, helping you along the way are Greek gods and other Underworld denizens trying to give you that edge to get out of the Underworld and stick it to dear old Dad!.
The story in Hades I found was quite unique in that for the first hour or so you have zero ideas of your motives, you are simply put forward with the goal of getting out of the Underworld. The cast you meet along the way doesn’t have much to say on the matter just that they want to see you escape too, herein lies one of the main hooks of the game.
Each time you die in Hades and you will, a lot!. You gain more dialogue and story exposition, this can come from comments made by characters or actual cutscenes which aren’t too frequent but happen enough to dangle that carrot in front of your face, pushing you onwards to escape your home and join the gods on Mount Olympus.
What this achieves is that even if you fail a run in the dungeons, you feel like you’re getting something from it. Being a rogue-lite title, your upgrades die along with you and you have certain collectibles like Keys or Gems to unlock stuff (more on that later) but you are also greeted with another chance to speak to everyone and learn the lore and what exactly is going on with Hades & Co.
The graphics in Hades are beautifully drawn with almost comic levels of attention and detail, aside from one of the bosses who seemed a little blurry, possibly due to size but overall the character models in the game are brilliantly done and look buttery smooth. The art design on the gods and cast of the game is fantastic and equally bizarre (Dusa I’m talking about you!) A lot of care and attention has gone into making each character fit their personality and be recognizable from Greek mythology meaning it treads that fine line very well indeed.
The dungeons in Hades are procedurally generated but all follow a certain theme, these are all very distinct and eases the scenery fatigue that can sometimes plague dungeon crawlers. The use of colour works really well and even when the screen is full of enemies, attacks, and stuff to dodge it’s easy enough to follow what exactly is going on. The HUB level too is fantastic and has a lot of personality and charm, most of which you’ll gradually unlock and feels so rewarding to do so.
The voice acting in Hades is hammy and endearing in equal measure, you’re not getting TLOU levels of acting here but frankly, it doesn’t need it. Some of the cast have a cheeky tone to them and can cause some genuine laughs with their delivery, even Hades who often sounds bored doesn’t disappoint when it comes to dropping some dry humour on his disobedient son.
The music also perfectly accompanies the on-screen action, the boss fights are given a boost by the exciting tunes played in the background and the HUB has an almost pleasant ambiance about it which helps bring you down before you suit up again and try escape attempt 120!. I did have to mess with the audio options as the sound effects in particularly busy areas drowned out the soundtrack and trust me this is one you really want to hear!.
So how does Hades play? Well, it’s a dungeon crawler with Roguelike elements and a smidgen of dating sim all bundled in this gorgeous looking and sounding title. Zagreus attempts to escape the Underworld and this involves tackling 4 distinct dungeons that change the layout, enemy placement, and trap positions each time you attempt it.
Hades combat is real-time hack and slash, you are given a projectile which before it’s upgraded sticks in enemies and while slightly helpful, definitely needs a little more before you get the best results from it. You have the power to summon power from the Gods, such as lightning from Zeus or Shields to help deflect the legion of projectiles coming your way. There are also around 8 different weapons which you’ll unlock over time, each one of them plays totally different and shapes your build and run style, they also offer bonuses if they are glowing purple when you pick them which gives you the incentive to try something new each time.
You are given help from the Gods in the form of upgrades that are bestowed on you for your run, if you die you lose them. During runs you’ll pick up various materials, Darkness, Keys, Gems, Nectar and more special items from bosses stay with you when you meet your untimely demise and these are there to help you power up your base form, hopefully making your next run the one that finally sees you escape. Carion Coin on the other hand is a currency only used in the dungeon and can be used at special Alters or Carion’s shop to help you turn the tides in your favour while you ascend.
Keys are tied to weapon unlocks and also further unlocking the stat tree which is tied to Darkness, it’s down to you to choose which you want to focus on first. Gems allow you to upgrade the HUB and also the dungeons, this can be insanely helpful as you can add rooms that allow you to heal up more frequently. Nectar is where the Dating Sim aspect comes in to play, to unlock further details and a keepsake from a character which gives you additional boosts you’ll have to offer them Nectar, after the first one you don’t get another item but you do get some more dialogue and lore from them and let’s face it, always worth to curry the favor of the gods!.
Each room in the dungeon is randomly generated, most of the time you have the choice of what “Reward” or type of room it is through the logo on the door. This allows you to plan exactly what you want from the run, are you collecting Darkness to build your base stats or Keys to get the weapons? Or maybe you think THIS IS IT and you want as many god powers as you can to tackle the bosses and make it out of the dungeon. Every run is different as cliche as it sounds, it’s true here and presents such an addictive “Just one more” gameplay loop which sees the game suck hours from you.
I was never really a massive fan of the genre but I had heard so many good things about Hades and the prestige of Supergiant Games made me more than curious in this title. Fortunately, everything I had heard was true and more, I have spent countless hours trying to escape the Underworld and I’ve no doubt in mind I’ll be spending many many many more hours down there trying to get out, while it’s tough it never feels cheap and each run makes me feel like I’m making progress. The addictive gameplay loop, smooth performance, and fantastic presentation bring me back to the title every single time I turn my Nintendo Switch on. If you like the idea of the game but not the crushing difficulty then you also have the option to flick on God Mode which makes the game much easier so you can see the tale to conclusion or you could be a masochist and put Hell Mode on and feel the extreme difficulty. For me, Hades has been such a surprise hit that has really helped turn me onto a genre I have never really had much time for, if this is Hell then maybe I could be down with that!.
Addictive gaming at its very best, it may be set in Hell but this game was heaven sent!.