Hades is tons of fun, right from the start. It may be because the game from developer Supergiant Games has been in early access for a while now, or perhaps the influence of the Greek Mythology and the slick & sexy feel to the game. Hades has fast become a must-play game of 2020 and if you’ve been on the fence about it, then I recommend you get down immediately and download it on the platform on your choice.
First of all, Hades is a beautiful game. Before we get into the smooth gameplay and the excellent writing, I’m first struck by the gorgeous veneer on this game. Played from a third-person, isometric perspective you control Zagreus making his way through Hades and conversing with Ancient Greek Gods like Zeus, Aphrodite and Athena. The environments are detailed, packed with danger and beauty. The puddles shimmer and the jewels dotted around the place shine as you battle across the marble floor and blood-splattered walls.
Hades is a rogue-lite brawler pitting you literally against runs through hell. As you make your way through the series of levels, you’ll earn powerups that aid your run each time. Ancient Gods will pop up out of the blue, all seem to admire you and sympathise you having to spend your time down there in Hades, while they are living it up above. The objective of the game is to get through a run in one piece, but you’re going to have to have your wits and skill about you because this isn’t easy. One false move and you’re toast.
Roguelite’s are often about mastery. As you make your way through runs, you’ll get better with practice and repetition. The game reminds me a lot of Dead cells, not in the way the game looks as that’s a 2D platformer, but in the way the game feels. It just feels so good to hit, smash and dodge in this game. It makes you want to go again, just do one more run… even if it’s 11.45 pm. Supergiant has honed and crafted a game that just feels good to play and layered on narrative elements that keep me coming back time and time again.
As with many great feeling games, the controls are simple to pick up but take time to master. There’s an attack, dash, special and cast move in your toolbox. Together with these fairly simple controls, you have a range of weapons that unlock over time. Zagreus starts out with a deceptively simple sword and over time as you collect keys you can unlock a Spear, Shield and Bow & Arrow. At first, I thought “How can a shield compare to a spear?!?” But then you try the shield and you fall in love with it.
The sword is fairly straight forward, you can run in there and whack things and then run away. The bow & arrow does exactly what you think it does – gives you a good amount of range and also on the special move a rapid-fire multi-arrow move which will help you out if you get surrounded. The spear has good range but can also be thrown, and it comes back on command similar to a boomerang. The shield is a kind of hybrid melee and ranged weapon, which has to be experienced. Believe me, unlock the shield as fast as you can, it’s amazing.
There’s a range of enemies in the game to use your arsenal of weapons on. There are ghouls that teleport in a shoot at you from range, and huge melee enemies that slide towards you with little notice. The enemies attack from a variety of directions and means, so you have to keep one eye on every angle otherwise there’s going to be trouble. There’s snakes, witches and all kinds of nasties ready to kill you in an instant.
Hades is procedurally generated so the game is infinitely different each time you play through. Hell itself is reconfigured each time you try and escape, meaning there’s no particular route to learn on how to get out of hell, but it’s more learning the attack patterns of enemies and learning how to use the skills you pick up along the way. As each run goes by you get stronger and stronger as you get further through the levels, but one false move and you’ll lose it all.
It’s not so bad losing everything though as you’ll go back to the lavish House of Hades. Hades, your constantly disappointed father, has got the hump and seems locked to his desk doing paperwork. Nyx and Dusa (the severed head of the famed Medusa) are hanging out there too. The more runs you do, the more of the area opens up and narrative moments happen too, keeping you engaged and helping soften the blow of that last failed run. In the House of Hades, you get crucial story material but you also get to purchase items and upgrades for not only you but the house itself helping you in future runs. There’s also a practice room where you can test out the weapons (and unlock new ones) with Skelly, your fragile training partner always willing to take a beating for the team.
Then it’s back for another run, which is going to be much different from the last. Sometimes you’ll have an amazing run with the Spear, and then a very quick beating which will turn you onto another weapon. It’s worth trying out all the weapons and you’ll have good and bad runs with them all. There are a few random factors in each run – the gods and the prizes you select once you have cleared out a room.
When you first start a run a random God will welcome you and upgrade your abilities. Maybe you’ll get the power of Zeus and additional lightning strikes on special attacks, or perhaps Poisidon will grant you his powers. Each run is different and the combinations will be different too, making you more and more powerful as your runs go on. The other random factor is also the items you choose at the end of rooms. Once you finish up a room you’ll have a choice, do you go left or right? Which prize do you want? These items combined with the power of the gods make Hades infinitely replayable and very fun. Combined with the way the game feels, Supergiant Games have hit upon something special here.
Then there’s the narrative. As you make your way through the level new narrative arcs will open up. I’ve heard of players going through hundreds of runs and not seeing the same stories twice, which seems incredible and the sheer amount of narrative in this game is staggering. It’s all voice acted too, with charm, wit and humour. As well as the well-acted voice lines and the thousands of lines of dialogue there’s a sexiness to the game through the artwork, the interactions and the feel. It’s a polished package that drips and oozes quality, and one you simply have to give a go.
Supergiant Games have a reputation for excellence from Bastion, Transistor and Pyre. Hades though seems to have taken that polish and quality to a new level. Perhaps it’s the mixture of Greek Mythology or the many months of early access, I don’t know. I remember sitting in a classroom and being fascinated by Ancient Greece as a child, studying the myths and the stories of the Minotaurs and River Styx. Later in life, I made my way to the Greek Islands many times and have been up close and personal with the ancient ruins and this game reminds me of those experiences. Hades is a polished package that has a great feel, fast action and wonderful dialogue and story. It’s also available on Nintendo Switch, so if you happen to be on a train then you can play it at your convenience.
Hades will no doubt be in the conversation when it comes to Game Of The year 2020. Whether it has the lasting power to beat games like Last of Us Part 2, Fall Guys or Ghost of Tsushima is a conversation for another time, but it’s a fantastic game that can be played for hours on end or picked up and put down in 30 mins.
Developer: Supergiant Games
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch
Release date: 17th September 2020