Hades has long been in early access, but the highly anticipated 1.0 release came out this week. This one roguelite resembles the acclaimed Dead Cells in design. A game consists of a run (attempt) and after each run you start again from the beginning, until you reach the end after many attempts. That will happen sometime, because little by little you get better at the game. After all, you hone your skills, but you also acquire permanent upgrades that will assist you in the next run.
You know. At least, you know the principle, because the effect is of an unheard-of level in Hades. It excels where almost all competitors are satisfied with ‘good enough’. Forget the heavy weight of a word like roguelike of –lite: Hades is a game for anyone who works well with controllers.
You play Zagreus, the son of Hades. The Guardian of Hell is not necessarily a great father figure and a healthy father-son relationship is low on his list of priorities. Zagreus therefore tries to escape from hell in haste. In every attempt, the charismatic prince of the gods climbs out of his bedroom window, hoping to reach the mortal realm. That means a long journey up, filled with obstacles such as cunning traps, bosses and a lot of difficult choices.
When you have defeated all enemies, multiple doors often appear, each leading to a certain upgrade. Do you choose the route of more health, extra money or do you go for a new skill (bean)? If you want such a bean, you still have the choice of certain gods. These gods, from both the upper and the underworld, each offer their own upgrades.
It’s been a long time since a game grabbed me like Hades. It’s been even longer since I played a game that seemed to get better and better.
Zeus is from the powerful electric attacks, while Hermes provides more speed. Beans of Dionysus, the Olympian god of wine and enthusiasm, give your enemies a deadly hangover. There are other ways to upgrade Zagreus besides the boons, of which the six different weapons are the most interesting. They each guarantee a very refreshing way of playing and pave the way for a multitude of playing styles.
It is wonderful to experiment with weapons and beans in Hades. The playing styles that you can adapt to yourself are still overwhelmingly diverse after tens of hours of play. For example, you can improve the standard attack of your spear in speed, power and prevent you from mowing down a whole group of enemies with each press of the button. Heaven, how wonderful that feels. In that respect too, you feel like a god in Hades.
That feeling is difficult to explain. The animations on the screen and your input on the controller degenerate in Hades into a symbiosis that you only understand when you experience it. It’s in the simplicity of your attacks, of which you know exactly when they hit which enemies where. Or in how during the animation of a shield charge already hold the button for the next one shield charge. And in the dash, knowing exactly where you will end up afterwards; you dash through lava without thinking about it.
Zagreus’ pixel-precise mobility draws from muscle memory you never knew you had.
A lust for the eye
The fast action guarantees a true visual spectacle. Poseidon’s beans cause literal waves of seawater to splash through the chambers of hell. Especially during bosses, many different types of attacks dance across the screen simultaneously.
But Hades is beautiful in another way too: the game drips style. Every screen is bursting with color and small details. At times the game looks like a kind of interactive coloring page. Despite the isometric perspective, there are even impressive vistas in the game world, and characters are accompanied by beautiful portraits during dialogue.
The setting of Hades, literally the Greek underworld, is substantively worked out to perfection. After each run, you return to the palace of Hades, which acts as your home base. Drenched in the red waters of the river Styx, Zagreus is greeted there by many well-known mythological figures, including Hades himself – often with a cynical remark about aimless escape attempt number so much. In this house of Hades, the setting really comes to life: there are many rooms to discover and opportunities to play freely.
It pays to talk to the Gods and other inhabitants of the house: you gradually unravel the mysteries of the underworld and the bonds between characters. They come out beautifully through sharp, often viciously spoken dialogue. It is also special to see how much narration there is in this game; the chance that you will hear a certain sentence twice is really very small.
Implementing so much good dialogue must have taken an awful lot of work. The soundtrack also deserves to be mentioned separately. The musical accompaniment varies from soft harp playing in the House of Hades to hard metal during boss fights.
Never stop playing again
Hades is currently only available on the Switch and on PC. I played on a 144 Hertz monitor, but the game reached a frame rate of over 500, even during fierce battles. Of course, the game runs less on the Switch. There is some image delay at very busy times, but that is not a big eyesore. In that sense, it doesn’t really matter on which platform you buy this game, although the use of a controller is recommended.
Are there no disadvantages? No. At least not really. Hades doesn’t have the emotional charge of Supergiant’s first game, Bastion. But the writing makes up for that with its humor and sharpness. The only thing I would have liked was a co-op mode. On the other hand, the arenas aren’t really made for that; such a co-op mode requires a completely different design philosophy.
It’s been a long time since a game grabbed me like Hades. It’s been even longer since I played a game that seemed to get better and better. With almost fifty hours on the counter, I know exactly what to expect from Hades. But nothing makes me want to stop playing, a sentiment that facilitates endgame excellently. Hades is a rare total package. Never before have I dared to recommend a game so easily. 2020 is a difficult year. Treat yourself.
Hades is now available for Switch and PC.