Hades Review

Matt Lorrigan

There will inevitably come a time during Hades when you'll be locked in combat with a deadly foe, watching your health bar dwindle at an alarming rate, and you’ll make a fatal mistake. It could come during one of the game’s excellent boss fights, or it could be against a swarm of smaller foes. Regardless of the means of your demise, protagonist Zagreus will immediately be swept back to Hell by the tides of the River Styx, ready to start his escape attempt right from the beginning. Such is the structure of a roguelike, after all, but Hades does something special with this structure - it makes death a welcome event.


Zag and his pa don't seem to get on too well.

You might bemoan the silly mistake that stopped your escape from the underworld, but you’ll soon find that feeling is quickly replaced by an eager anticipation of what comes next. In most roguelikes (or roguelites), progression is measured by how far through the world you travel in a single run. This is true of Hades, with the ultimate goal being to escape Tartarus and reach the surface, but developer Supergiant Games has made a game that’s about so much more than just getting further than you did before.

Returning to the underworld after each death, you’re immediately treated to new dialogue with the selection of memorable NPCs that reside in the depths of the underworld. Whether it’s the forgotten hero Achilles attempting to aid your escape attempt, or rival (and possible romance option) Megaera, there’s always new, interesting dialogue to find. These aren’t just random asides, either, but crucial to unravelling the story of Hades, and it’s a story worth unravelling. Hades tells a modern tale of family, steeped in the lore of Greek mythology, and it becomes ever more intriguing the more you discover.

Returning to the underworld also gives you a chance to spend the many resources you’ll gather when you’re out on a run, allowing you to power up Zagreus in multiple ways. Once you’ve got a new weapon equipped, or even an extra respawn added to your arsenal, it’s difficult to resist the temptation to head out towards the surface once again. “There is no escape” fills the screen in big red letters upon death, and it’s hard to disagree - at times Hades is impossible to put down, such is the strength of the game’s progression system.

Of course, none of this would be remotely important if the core gameplay of Hades wasn’t also brilliant, a finely-tuned dance where your upgrades are bolstered by your own increase of skill and knowledge. Each of the six weapons Zagreus can wield are deceptively simple at first, each with an attack and a special. The Stygian Blade, for example, has a slash attack, a dash attack, and an area-of-effect attack. When you first start up a run, it can feel like your options are limited, but things start to get a bit spicy when you begin collecting Boons granted by Hades’ pantheon of Greek gods.


Boons are powerful abilities gifted to Zagreus, and each god has an area they specialise in. Athena, the first of the gods that you meet, gifts Zagreus with boosts that can deflect enemy projectiles back at them, while Zeus is all about lightning, which bounces and chains off of your foes. Artemis, the archer, specialises in critical damage, while Poseidon’s abilities will wash enemies into walls for extra damage.

You might find some of the Boons to be more beneficial than others, depending on your playstyle, but which gods you come across on each run is almost completely random. This means that each run through the game that you attempt is entirely unique, and sometimes you’ll end up with powerful combinations of Boons that you wouldn’t have chosen or expected, but take you further than you’ve ever gone before. This element of randomness could have proved frustrating, but Hades is clever here too, giving players just enough choice to ensure you’ll never find yourself cursing your bad luck. Many rooms have multiple exits that can be taken, each offering a preview of what item or godly Boon can be found beyond, and by gifting gods with delicious ambrosia, you can gain access to their unique item, guaranteeing that you’ll at least find one of their boons on that run, if you have it equipped.


And so it begins… Again.

All of this excellent game design - the combat, the plot, the progression - is tied up in some world-class presentation, too. It should come as no surprise that Supergiant Games’ latest title is a visual feast, given that this is the studio that brought us Bastion, Pyre, and Transistor, but Hades is just gorgeous, boasting detailed backgrounds and vivid colours. The dialogue, too, is backed up by excellent voice acting, giving each and every character their own distinct personality. This is all the more impressive given quite how much dialogue there is - every time you return to the underworld, there are new conversations to be had, and not one repeated line to be found.

Hades is, quite frankly, exceptional. It’s rare to play a game so polished, so finely tuned, and so accessible, in this genre. As I write this review, it’s only been a few hours since my last run in Hades, and all I can think about is diving straight back into the blood and the darkness. For fans of roguelikes and roguelites, Hades is a must play, and even for those who despise them, this could well be the game that changes your mind. It is more accessible, and offers a better sense of constant progression, than nearly any other game in the genre. Essentially, Hades is really bloody good.

Hades

Hades is an excellent action game that allows players to find progression even in death. Roguelikes are normally known for their high level of difficulty, but in Hades, the greatest challenge you’ll face is trying to put it down.

Form widget
90%
Audio
85%

Excellent music is bolstered by some great voice acting performances in Hades, but some of the combat tracks can get a little bit samey after a while.

Visuals
90%

The detailed, hand-drawn backgrounds of Hades meld perfectly with the 3D models of Zagreus and his foes, making Hades look wonderfully sharp. The character art is bursting with personality, and the game runs at a smooth 60 FPS.

Playability
90%

Hades’ combat is slick and finely tuned, with plenty of choice to customise your play style to your liking. The way the game melds plot progression with death is excellent too, and you’ll find yourself coming back again and again.

Delivery
95%

Hades’ wealth of content makes it near-infinitely playable. Even once the credits have rolled, you’ll have barely scratched the surface when it comes to weapon unlocks, secret boss fights, duo boons, and plenty more.

Trophies
60%

The trophy list of Hades is full of difficult challenges, and will require you to do nearly everything possible in the game, along with some unique actions. If the game wasn’t so damned fun to play, this would be a much more annoying list to complete.

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