Every year I’m always hungry for that one game (or two or even three if I’m very lucky) that truly takes over my gaming time, demanding every moment of it. Captivates me at every moment, feels amazing to play, continues to surprise even tens of hours deep and generally just serves as a reminder as to why I love this medium as much as I do. Hades is that very game and while we’ve still got a handful of months left in 2020, it’s hard seeing anything else top the experience I’ve had with Supergiant’s latest effort.
Hades is roguelike – which let’s be honest isn’t exactly a genre that’s in short supply at the moment – but don’t let that discourage you into dismissing the game as just ‘another one of those’. Sure, it covers a lot of the same elements we’ve come to expect from roguelikes before it but Hades does so in such a way that feels both fresh and exciting, and this coming from someone who’s no stranger to the genre.
Players take control of Zagreus, son of Hades as he attempts to escape the Underworld and reach Mount Olympus (with other motives revealed a little later). Unfortunately for him, the Underworld has been purposely designed to make escape impossible filled with armies of monsters he must battle against that only get tougher the closer to the surface you reach. Thankfully Zagreus’ family up top is on hand sending ability-rewarding boons his way in hopes of making his latest attempt out a successful one.
As much as I’ve enjoyed roguelikes in the past, I’ve always found the level of storytelling and character development to be on the barebones side – even Dead Cells my favourite game of 2018 suffered in this regard. Hades on the other hand takes the repeating nature of the roguelike genre and weaves that within its story in such a masterful way. Every ‘run’ is another of Zagreus’ attempts to escape his fathers’ clutches. Every boon received is a chance to hear more from his Olympian relative offering it. Every failed quest isn’t met with the dread of having to start over but rather the excitement at getting the chance to return back to the House of Hades, adding a few more pieces to the story and chatting to its residents within.
In fact, these conversations you have feel all the more engaging and dynamic since these characters will often respond and react based on your actions. Accept a boon from Aphrodite for example and further along in your run, another God may comment on that very decision. Or make it to a new biome and word will spread of your accomplishment. Or defeat a boss and watch how Zagreus grows cockier during their next encounter. It’s these little acknowledgements in the writing to what you’re doing in the game that makes every meeting feel more organic rather than merely conversation for the sake of conversation.
Where I’ve always pointed to the gameplay being the big draw for other roguelikes, Hades feels like the first to go beyond that, offering an interesting narrative and a fascinating cast of cleverly written and well-voiced characters that prove to be just as much a driving force for the game as the gameplay itself.
Each attempted escape will see you fighting your way through four biomes, each of these consisting of a selection of enemy-filled chambers. Defeating all the enemies in a chamber will reward Zagreus and allow him to move onto the next. These rewards essentially come in two flavours. There are varying currencies that are retained even after death and can be used to permanently upgrade Zagreus back at the House of Hades (your main hub area). Then there are temporary rewards that only last as long as your current escape attempt. These include everything from a boost in health to weapon upgrades to Obols (essentially coins used to purchase items) to Olympian-bestowed boons. Boons are easily the most interesting of the bunch, offering Zagreus’ attacks unique effects that truly alter how you approach combat. Each of the Olympians award their own set of boons specific to them. Zeus’ boons for example will always offer some form of lightning based-attacks while Athena will present more defensive advantages.
Everything about the game’s combat feels so satisfying, Zagreus’ movements slick and fluid and his attacks packing plenty of punch no matter which of the six weapons you decide to venture out with. I found myself particularly fond of the long-reaching Eternal Spear but to be honest all make for an entertaining and varied experience from the up-close-and-personal Stygian Blade to the Captain America style Shield of Chaos. And while you won’t find a long list of combos to learn, the wide array of boons you’re able to choose and combine together essentially help you create very different fighting options. The fact you never quite know what you’ll get with each run means experimentation is required – a good thing in my eyes since it meant every playthrough felt exciting and different.
Even when you’ve managed to beat the odds and make it out of the Underworld the story doesn’t end there, and the game offers plenty more incentive to return to the depths and take on further runs. Whether that’s obtaining more Titan Blood by using the different Infernal Arms, advancing your relationships with the many characters of the game or upping the difficulty with a healthy mix of modifiers that include everything from more enemies spawning in each chamber to adding a time limit to escape each biome. The flexibility you have in altering the level of challenge the game throws at you whilst not relying on simply increasing the health and power of enemies – like so many other games might do – keeps things feeling exciting and engaging.
There’s so much to Hades I haven’t even gotten around to covering but all of it just further illustrates how well made this game is. From its stunning visuals and eye-catching character design to the impeccable soundtrack that seamlessly transitions between low-key and pulse-racing depending on the events unfolding to the many systems at play in and out of combat. Hades has a lot to offer from all angles.
Hades is absolutely incredible and to be perfectly honest I’m having a tough time finding anything negative to say about it. Developer Supergiant Games isn’t exactly a stranger to putting out high-quality titles, but Hades is easily their best effort to date and will no doubt be a strong contender when game of the year discussions come around.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Supergiant Games