Hades (Impressions)

Despite garnering a huge number of awards, including plenty of game of the year titles, I didn’t get around to playing Supergiant Games’ Hades in 2020. Though it was out on PC I’m still mainly an Xbox gamer and since the excellent Bastion, there hasn’t been another one of their games appearing on the platform until now. I think I might be regretting that delay because it doesn’t take very long to figure out that this game is something pretty special.

The story casts you as Zagreus – the son of Hades, god of the Underworld – who is trying to escape from his father’s world with the help of the Olympian gods. However Hades is not giving Zagreus a free ride out of there. If I were to describe the game on my first impression it’s like someone created an isometric Smash TV then turned it into a roguelike. To reach your destination you have to travel through room after room, each one unlocking further doors only after you eliminate the enemies that spawn in and collect the prize. The rooms are all randomised so you never know what to expect with the only exception being each door indicates the prize you receive on completing the room behind it. Get through enough rooms and you’ll face your first boss. Defeat them and then you’ll have a new area with rooms to traverse and so on. Sooner or later though (likely sooner) you’ll die and be back facing Hades’ scorn but that’s not really the end of it.

Every god you meet, room you pass and enemy you defeat will help earn you something that will assist in improving Zagreus’ ability to survive the next attempt. The game’s generosity in giving you plenty of means to progress goes a long way in getting you hooked on the gameplay loop and then to give you incentive to keep going. And in a great gesture to acknowledge that not every player can handle the grind, “god mode” unlocks early in your play and if you choose to activate it will provide additional assistance to your character on every death. It doesn’t change the game, just helps you get to the end a little faster.

Things I like

  • Right from that start Zagreus is a very capable character and you might find yourself playing for some time before your first death – if that’s intentionally done it’s very clever as it avoids immediately hitting you over the head with roguelike tropes until you’ve had a chance to get some play time in.
  • A super useful dodge/dash move that’s really intuitive. It’s enough to make Zagreus agile from enough from the outset to take on most enemies. It boils down to how well you are in adapting to their attacks.
  • A number of weapons, both ranged and close quarters, are on offer prior to each attempt (with more to unlock) and they are different enough to require unique tactics and it does feel like their difference do allow room for players to be able to find the one that best reflects their play style too. I’ll admit the bow is my least favourite because having to draw it for a shot goes against my button mashing tendencies but it’s still one I try out.
  • The boons offered by the gods add variety to the weapons and combat without having players forced into using weapons they might not be comfortable with. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all boons will be beneficial (visit Chaos for a lesson in that) but players get to make those choices and are aware of the consequences too.
  • The rooms, or “encounters” which seems to be how they are referred to in game, are just big enough to serve a purpose in a fight and that’s it. Some have quirks and traps to deal with or environmental obstacles but it’s all there to serve their purpose of adding variety and then letting you move onto the next room quickly… once you’ve beaten everyone and collected your spoils.
  • There is a lot of story here with most characters that you deal with regularly having plenty to say and all voice acted too. Many respond to your situation – I’ve seen mention made of my most recent death or the weapon I’ve chosen to use for the current run. It helps reinforce that no run ever feels the same.
  • The art style is really bold and compares highly to other isometric perspective games. I do like how the character portraits represent the gods – a glance is all you need to understand who they are and what their place is. It’s all bright, well drawn and we’ll animated. I could watch a Netflix series of this… please make a Netflix series!

Things I don’t like

  • Most of the construction aspects require you to collect jewels to repair and upgrade Hades’ domain and that aspect feels the least rewarding. There are a few items that do directly impact your game and need to be purchased but the rest feels like filler from a game that remarkably has little of that anywhere else. I might be getting picky here though… I needed to find something negative. You know… that whole pros and cons thing!

I’ve got no doubt in my mind that Hades is a game I’m going to be spending the next year playing. With so many stories to hear and enemies to defeat while on Zagreus’ path out of the Underworld I can’t help but keep going further and seeing where the game takes me. In terms of play this reminds me a lot of Dead Cells – a roguelike with near perfect controls coupled with a lot of smart design decisions. And like that game I’m actually a little bit in awe of how well it fits together. It has a fun gameplay loop that you can play for a quick fix or repeatedly over a few hours and always feel like progress is being made.

Back in 2018 I had two games that I felt were my favourites for the year: Forza Horizon 4 and Dead Cells. This year I’m thinking it may turn out to be VERY similar with Forza Horizon 5 (coming soon) and Hades being hard to split. The game is totally worth checking out and for anyone with Game Pass are probably playing it already… it’s that good. 🙂

Hades is out now for PC, Switch, Xbox and PlayStation. Played on an Xbox Series X via Game Pass.

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