Released in Early Access in December 2018, Hades has been in development for nearly two years. During this time the game has evolved with the addition of new Boons, weapons, and character. What Supergiant Games has made during this span has culminated into an incredible experience that offers challenges you would expect from a roguelike, but ties everything together with a series of complex systems.
If you’ve kept up with Hades since it entered Early Access you probably know what I’m talking about. However, if you didn’t pick up the game at any point before its’ now final build and full release, I’ll break everything down as cleanly as I can.
Similar to other roguelikes, Hades comes with an assortment of weapons. There are a total six weapons players can choose from before beginning their run. Each of these weapons have a total of four Aspects; these are unique traits attributed to the individual weapon, but one can only be used at a time. For example, when using the spear weapon I would select the Aspect of Achilles, which would grant me a secondary dash to my spear after throwing it. This is different for every weapon and caters to a plethora different playstyles.
I personally loved using Exagryph, also known as the Adamant Rail, which is a long ranged gun. That probably sounds ridiculous in context to the setting in which Hades takes place, but you tend to not pay that much mind while you’re lobbing grenades at enemies or dashing around a room while reloading. This weapon in combination with upgrades granted to me when finding a Daedalus Hammer or specific Boons made me feel invincible while shredding through enemies and bosses.
Boons, as mentioned above, grant their own perks. Each Olympian God comes with their own set of Boons, creating a greater varied style of gameplay. I always tended to lean towards Boons from Artemis and Dynoniesius since gifts from the Goddess of the Hunt would increase my critical hit rate and abilities from granted by Dynoniesius would do damage over time with Boons like Drunken Dash. Boons come in four different rarities which impact how beneficial they can be overall. Additionally, you can level up Boons individually to increase the stat boots they give or their effects. Because of this I rarely ever had the same build twice, even if I was gunning for the Boons of a specific Olympian God.
Players can obtain Boons and Daedalus Hammers when selecting a room to progress through. Sometimes these rooms come with additional challenges or mini-bosses, which are indicated by a skull next to their icon. Rooms are generally random but you can choose to change what a room will provide with a specific trait from the Mirror of Night.
This item, located in Zagreus’ room, gives you plenty of passive skills to build from. I love to live dangerously so I pumped all of the Darkness and Chthonic Keys I would gain from subsequent runs into more dashes or passives that would reward me for narrowly missing enemy attacks. Like I mentioned, the possibilities are extremely expansive.
Hades is a deeply engrossing experience. Not only does it manage to be mechanically complex with a variety of different Boons, weapons, and weapon aspects, but the story and voice acting are absolutely superb. I tend to bounce off of roguelikes pretty quickly once I figure out the systems and min-max my way to victory. However, even when I had accomplished making extremely powerful builds the story kept me playing for upwards of eighty hours.
Players assume the role of Zagreus, the son of Hades, as he looks for his mother. Death is inevitable in Hades, and Zagreus seeks to escape the underworld to find his own truths, even if it means the occasional death. While the premise is simple Supergiant Games does a great job of making a compelling story.
When I say that Hades held my attention, I really mean that. There was a period of time when I would only want to play this roguelike. I was completely addicted to the thrill of discovering a more powerful or potent build and potentially meeting new characters that inhabited the various floors leading up to the surface. This feeling only increased when Thanatos was introduced into the game, as I was extremely eager to talk with him and learn more about his relationship with Zagreus. Since his appearance is conditional, and comes with a fun “mini-game” of sorts, I would throw myself back into Tartarus, Asphodel, and Elysium as soon as I would either complete a run or meet my end at the hands of a foe.
I won’t lie that a majority of my interest in seeing Thanatos is because he is a romance option for Zagreus. Outside of their conversations, which would provide me with little bits of lore every time I would see him and subsequently beat him at his own game, I loved seeing how their relationship continued to develop. Especially as a gay man, I was extremely pleased with the writing on this front. Their interactions felt natural and they had great chemistry with one another, which endeared me towards the both of them.
However, this chemistry isn’t only limited to interactions with romanceable characters in Hades. There are a handful of different mythological figures Zagreus can meet, each of them coming with their own codex entries and snippets of dialogue. This extends to short, cutscene-like instances that can happen at random or when your affinity for a character is high enough to trigger them. For example, while running through Tartarus, I stumbled into a conversation between Sysphus and Megara the Fury which gave me some insight as to how the pair regarded one another.
This provided extra context to the story that had begun to slowly unfold through Hades during its Early Access period. With the full release of the game, players can now make it to the surface to see what awaits them after defeating Hades himself. And the ending is a bittersweet one, with Zagreus caught in a cycle he cannot escape, even if he can find a brief reprieve throughout. While I was personally not entirely satisfied with the ending, I couldn’t have seen it go any other way. Despite this, Hades managed to weave an exciting tale that utilizes Greek mythology in a truly interesting and enrapturing way.
Places of fable are created with amazing visual distinction and flare. The dreary halls of Tartarus are offset by the boiling furnace that is Asphodel, and Elysium shines in greenish emerald hues. Enemy designs are specific to each area, and they come in a fairly substantial variety. And even when I would get accustomed to what each individual enemy would throw at me, I could always increase the difficulty if I felt like that game was no longer providing a sufficient challenge.
After you manage to reach the surface for the first time, the Heat feature will unlock. You can crank the heat (difficulty) up as much as you’d like, although there is a limit. I did my best to try to complete one maximum Heat run, but only made it as far as Elysium before I decided I’d had enough. However, this does create a greater replayability for those looking to truly challenge themselves in Hades. And for people that just want the story, or even for greater accessibility, there is a God Mode you can activate in the game that increases your resistance to damage. Every time you die this amount increases, making each run to the surface a little easier than the last.
Other accessibility options include subtitles with black backgrounds, which is great for legibility, and players can easily swap their buttons or keybinds around. The font size is also large enough to be read without any kind of major eye strain, and is stylized in a way that still makes it legible while conforming to the stylistic choices of the UI.
Performance was buttery smooth on both my PC and the Nintendo Switch. I had no crashes, graphical issues, or freezes on either platform. During my period with the full release, I also experienced no glitches or bugs to speak of either. Which was a relief, as I had experienced quite a few in Early Access. However, those problems don’t seem the plague the full release.
Hades sets itself apart from other entries in the roguelike genre with an intricate and engrossing story, while simultaneously creating a varied experience for both casual and hardcore players. With thousands of Boon possibilities accompanied by the different Aspects each individual weapon has and the perks granted to you by the Mirror, it gives players the opportunity to customize their builds to an incredible degree. Hades was more than worth the wait, as the full release is easily Game of the Year material.
Hades is available now for the Nintendo Switch and PC.