I’m a big fan of action games and RPGs, but considerably less excited if they have a roguelike element to them. If you’re not aware of the term, a roguelike usually means that when you die you have to start over at the beginning of the game with little or no progression. You usually have one shot to beat the game or it’s back to the drawing board. In recent years some developers have cleverly designed games in this genre to not completely erase your progress, and as a result I’ve started to warm up to them — providing they offer fun gameplay and a compelling reason to keep replaying from the start. The last game that knocked it out of the ballpark for me was Dead Cells, and after hearing some good things about Hades I thought I’d give it a try (well, many tries if we’re being completely accurate). Despite my trepidation regarding the genre, Hades managed to exceed my expectations in just about every way!
You play as Zagreus, Prince of the Underworld and son of Hades. Your father is more than a little annoyed with your antics and especially your constant desire to escape through the labyrinth and up to the surface where the mortals and other Gods of Olympus live. Of course he’s confident you’ll never succeed, but that doesn’t mean he won’t belittle you every chance he gets. At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking Hades is sort of a Diablo clone, given its similar graphics and camera viewpoint. There are other similarities too, like hordes of enemies that spawn in rooms and come after you. However this game moves at a faster clip with your character having a dash ability at the ready. The procedurally generated rooms add variety and uncertainty to the inevitable replays you’ll be running.
Each time you begin a run you’ll come out of a blood pool and have a chance to interact with various characters at your home base. They always have new stuff to say, so the story actually progresses more each time you die. The same goes for the various Gods you’ll come across as you explore the dungeons. They are randomized and each encounter reveals new layers of story that is both entertaining and captivating. The voice acting is well delivered and it helps soften the blow of dying and starting over because at the very least you’re going to experience new dialog to propel the story ahead. In fact, it’s kind of genius that the folks at Supergiant Games put so much work into the unraveling of the story over time and keeping each character fresh and exciting. In most games when you get a game over you’re usually ticked off, and don’t get me wrong you will be here as well, but the silver lining is that you get to see what’s next and hopefully the next stab at escaping will be the one that sticks.
Gameplay is fast, fluid, and fun. You’ll unlock new weapons by collecting keys, which are scattered about the labyrinth in various rooms. Many of the areas will have two doors to choose from to progress further, and while you don’t know what type of room waits on the other side, you are shown what item you’ll be awarded with for defeating all the monsters inside. This give you a choice as to what to try and go for. Some items, like the purple darkness orbs will stay with you even after death. You’ll use these to unlock permanent trait upgrades in the magic mirror in your room. Other things, like gold that you’ll collect from defeating enemies are only good out in the labyrinth for as long as you live, so spend it while you have it on temporary power-ups that are only good for the run you’re on. The same goes for the boons you’ll earn by talking with the various Gods you run into. The conversations you have with them are often hilarious and they will bestow some great powers onto you. Some will be better than others and you’ll want to experiment with them all to see what works best for you. Things like area of attack when you dash or increased damage when you unleash your special attacks will all help you in some manner.
The rooms themselves are always different and are not only littered with enemies to strike down but many of them also have traps of different sorts. You’ll want to avoid certain tiles that will activate spikes or projectiles that can harm you. Sometimes you can use these to your advantage to damage enemies as well. Speaking of, you’ll have various attacks at your disposal. These include a normal attack, which will vary depending on the weapon you’re currently rocking, a dash attack, a special attack, and a cast attack. You will eventually get the ability to summon one of the gods to help you as well, which will last for a set amount of time and can be super helpful in saving your butt. The first few hours of the game I spent most of my time just trying different power-ups and weapons and seeing what worked best for me. For example, I kept getting killed by the first boss and all seemed hopeless. That was until I unlocked a shield weapon that allowed me to go on the defensive against the boss and I was able to finally get rid of her, only to die a few screens later! What’s cool is that the conversations with her always evolve and change depending on how far I make it.
You can also collect these treasures that look sort of like jewels that can be donated to the renovation center and they will build or alter some rooms in the labyrinth to help you on your quest to escape. One such room contains a healing fountain that can make the difference between life and death. These permanent upgrades make subsequent tries just a little bit easier. Combine those with experience and practice and before long you’ll be wiping the floors clean with little trouble and hopefully making it a little bit closer to the end each time.
The presentation in Hades is fantastic. The graphics are stylistic and I love the character designs. Despite many of the rooms looking somewhat similar to the others in that sector (each section will have a different art style), I never got tired of roaming the halls. The enemies animate great and there’s a decent variety to the ones you’ll encounter as you continue to progress through the game. The character portraits of all the NPCs are detailed and just wonderful to look at. The voice acting seals the deal with them and the production values are very high for a smaller title like this. The music is fantastic throughout and has a sort of rocking vibe when battling, and a more eerie one when not. The game runs smoothly for the most part, but when there are a ton of things going on at once the framerate can hitch here and there. This happens more often in the later portions of the game, but it by no means made the game unplayable, but if framerate is your jam you might want to play on PC. I enjoyed playing both on the TV and in handheld modes.
With memorable characters, a compelling storyline, and exquisite controls, Hades is definitely a game you’ll want to check out. Even if you’re like me and not a huge fan of roguelikes, you’ll probably find a lot to like here. It might take you dozens of hours to escape the Underworld, but you’ll be having a blast the entire time.
- Graphics - 9/109/10
- Sound - 9/109/10
- Gameplay - 9/109/10
- Lasting Appeal - 9/109/10
Final Thoughts: EXCELLENT
Hades revolutionizes storytelling by unraveling new dialog and exposition each time you die, making every single attempt at escaping the Underworld new and exciting. The replayability is extremely high here with randomized rooms and perks, and a gameplay loop that will have you saying, “Just one more time!” well past your bedtime. Don’t let the roguelike description scare you away from giving this one a try.