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Hades was one of those early access games I came across on Steam and added to my wishlist because I thought it looked cool. Once it came out of early access, I noticed everybody was talking about it. Some going as far to say it’s the best game of 2020. After all the praise I was reading, I figured I would give it a shot. Developed and published by Supergiant Games, Hades was released for PC and Switch in September, 2020. For this review, I played the PC version. Hades is a roguelike or roguelite action game from the creators of Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre.
The story centers on Zagreus, the son of Hades, and his attempt to escape the Underworld and reach Mount Olympus. Hades refuses to let him go and hinders his progress by unleashing various minions to stop him. Why Zagreus wants to leave is revealed as you progress. He’s supported by most of the Underworld residents and is aided by the Olympians who eagerly await his arrival. I found the plot to be pretty good and the game is always throwing new information at you to keep you engaged. Whether you escape or not, you can speak with various characters and learn more about them, Zagreus, and his history. The voice acting is pretty solid and the plot and interactions have a nice balance of seriousness and humor.
Your primary goal is to escape the Underworld. To do that, you need to fight your way out of four regions; Tartarus, Asphodel, Elysium, and the Temple of Styx. Each region has multiple chambers and their layouts are pre-determined but the enemies and rewards are randomized. You need to defeat all of the enemies in a chamber before you can claim the reward and move onto the next and before you can leave a region, you must defeat a boss. When you die, you’re sent back to the House of Hades where you can interact with various characters, trade resources with the Wretched Broker, renovate the house, and upgrade and improve different things to make future runs a little easier.
The game is presented in an isometric view and my only complaint with this is that some of the structures in the environments can obstruct your view of the action. Hades is a fast-paced action game. You can walk, run, dash, and perform different attacks. You will get the opportunity to use different weapons and they each have their own ups and downs. Each chamber contains some kind of reward. Unless you’re what I’ll call cursed, you’re able to see what the reward is before entering. Some chambers contain Shops where you can buy items. You can also buy items from Wells in certain chambers which will often offer temporary bonuses among some other things.
Hades is a tough game but there’s various different systems and mechanics in place to make things easier and the game is always throwing something new at you which is one of its shining aspects. You’ll acquire different resources that can be used for different things and unless you look up a guide, you’ll just have to experiment and try things out to figure out how things work. Some of the characters will hint at some of the things you can do so it’s wise to interact with everyone and actually listen to what they have to say. That said, discovering something new is always exciting in Hades. Win or lose, it’s a very rewarding game.
There are six weapons in the game and several of them need to be unlocked with keys. You can slash away at foes with the Stygian Blade, attack them from long range with the Heart-Seeking Bow or Adamant Rail, beat them up with the Twin Fists, knock them around with the Shield of Chaos, and stab them with the Eternal Spear. Before each run, you have the option to choose which weapon you want to use. You can spend Titan Blood to unlock and upgrade different aspects of each weapon and they can also be upgraded further during a run. One of your weapons will be buffed with Darker Thirst which means if you choose it, you’ll receive extra resources like Darkness and Gemstones during your run. As far as I know, the buffed weapon is completely random. However, in my experience, the buff would bounce between the same two or three weapons often.
As mentioned before, chambers offer rewards. Some of the most important types are Boons. These are upgrades that are given to Zagreus by Gods. Boons come in different rarities and can be upgraded during a run. Different Gods offer different types of Boons. For example, many Boons from Zeus grant lightning attacks and many Boons from Poseidon let you knock enemies away. You want to be on the look out for Chaos Gates. They take you to Chaos who offers Boons with great bonuses but you have to survive a curse or debuff for several encounters before the bonus kicks in. In order to access these, you have to travel through Chaos Gates which will steal some of your health. Not only do Boons grant you new abilities and bonuses, but they can also alter your attacks and grant you Calls. Each God offers a different type of Call. This is a powerful ability that requires charges from the God Gauge to be utilized. If you unleash the Call when the God Gauge is full, you can unleash a Greater Call which is extremely powerful.
Boons are the heart of the game. They essentially define what Zagreus is capable of during a run. Combining different Boons and upgrades is the game’s way of letting you basically create your own set of moves and abilities. Upgrading Boons is also important because the enemies get tougher as you progress and the upgrades will make you more powerful. Over time, you’ll probably prefer specific combinations of weapons, Boons, and upgrades and at first, you’re going to have to experiment until you get into the groove of things. After a while, I realized my runs were more successful when I had the Deflect ability which lets you deflect enemy attacks so I was always on the lookout for Athena’s Boons. I also did well when I increased my chances of inflicting critical damage so I would keep an eye out for Artemis’ Boons. No matter what combination you end up with, successfully escaping is still going to rely on some skill. You’ll have to dash around to dodge attacks, memorize enemy and boss attacks, and know when to strike.
Acquiring resources is the best way to improve your chances of success in subsequent runs. As mentioned before, you can trade resources with the Wretched Broker. You can spend Darkness to improve talents which are permanent bonuses. Keys are used to unlock weapons and additional talents. You can spend Gemstones and Diamonds at the House Contractor to renovate the House of Hades and unlock new forms of support. Once unlocked, you can go fishing during your run and then give the fish to the Chef for additional resources. Nectar can be given to numerous characters and Gods as gifts. The first time you give a character Nectar, they give you a Keepsake which provides a bonus. Each character gives you a unique Keepsake and you can only equip one at a time and they can be upgraded. Each time you give them Nectar, you improve your affinity with them.
It took me forty-four attempts before I escaped for the first time and each run was a learning experience. Simply getting to the final boss normally took me under an hour so the game isn’t long. But it has immense replay value. Escaping the first time unlocks the Pact of Punishment which will make future runs more challenging. You can select one or multiple modifiers or conditions to make the run more difficult and each condition is worth a certain amount of Heat. Heat is basically a representation of the difficulty and you’ll receive special rewards for beating the game on higher Heat thresholds. If you fill up the Heat Gauge, you can collect Bounties by defeating bosses. However, Bounties can only be collected once per weapon, per Heat level, and per boss. This basically forces you to raise the Heat to collect more Bounties.
While the layouts of the chambers are pre-determined, the enemies you’ll face in each run will differ. You’ll engage Wretched Witches and Thugs, Satyrs, Gorgons, Bombers, Flamewheels, and other various foes. Some utilize melee attacks, others ranged, and some have armor that can be broken. You will face some sub-bosses and each region has a final boss which is where I would usually die. Each region has its own set of enemies, hazards, and traps. You’ll have to watch out for lava, explosives, spikes, and projectiles but they can also damage enemies so you can use them to your advantage. Most chambers have you defeating waves of enemies and more and more appear the further you progress. Some chambers have multiple exits and the one you choose will depend on which reward or resource you want to go for. Some chambers contain NPCs that will offer different bonuses and you can also unlock chambers with healing fountains for each region.
Visually, I think Hades looks excellent. The hand-painted environments look amazing. Each region is visually diverse, colorful, and detailed. The combat is accompanied by some great visual effects that help make each attack and kill feel satisfying. There’s good visual feedback and enemies will often explode when killed. I do like how the enemies are bright and have an outline so they don’t blend in with the backgrounds. You can break various objects in the environments and parts of structures will crumble which looks cool. The action doesn’t just look good, it also sounds good. The sounds of attacks and explosions are satisfying and the soundtrack consists of some catchy tunes. I really enjoyed the tune heard at the main menu in particular. On the technical side, I did not encounter any issues and the game ran smooth.
I had a blast with Hades and it continually impressed me. The gameplay is addictive which is exactly how a game in this genre should be. No matter how many times I died, I was always eager to jump back in. It’s always throwing something new at you and even after eight or so hours of playing, I was still encountering new stuff like new enemies, new Boon types, and new NPCs. And this is before I even escaped for the first time. There’s a lot of content packed into Hades and it’s spread across the gameplay, interactions, customization, and progression. A region may toss in a new enemy type or boss. Characters always had something new to say or new information to provide. The amount of ways you can customize your move set is insane. And there’s a lot of little progression systems. From permanent talent upgrades to weapon aspects to the progression during a run, you always feel like you’re growing. Hades is by far one of the best roguelites I’ve played in a while.
I would absolutely recommend Hades to fans of action games and the roguelite genre. If you put the time in, you’ll get a lot out of it. It’s the kind of game that’s hard to stop playing. The action is fast-paced and fun, trying out all the different combinations of weapons, boons, and upgrades is addictive, and each run offers something new. Definitely check it out.