Hades Review

When it comes to video games of the roguelike genre, I often find myself hesitant to jump in. Not because I fear their generally unforgivable difficulty or their repetitive nature, but because everytime I start playing one, I can’t help but sink an insane amount of hours into them. For example, when it comes to The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (one of my favourite games of all time), I’ve played a whopping 449 hours, and I could easily still sit down for many more. Despite my hesitance to fall in love with another roguelike, I couldn’t help but be won over by Hades, the latest epic offering by esteemed indie developer Supergiant Games.

Hades sees you assume the role of Zagreus, the dashing Prince of the Underworld. Despite being the son of Hades and growing up in the Underworld, Zagreus seeks to break free of his fathers realm, for greener and presumably less deadly pastures. His extended Greek mythological family who reside on Mount Olympus are so keen to have him visit in fact, that they empower him with special upgrades known as Boons, to assist Zagreus on his underworld escape attempts.

You’ll quickly come to learn when playing Hades just how much it prioritises its narrative, something that isn’t particularly easy to achieve in roguelike experiences where the gameplay loop involves repeating the same core process again and again. Instead of going all in on a large and emotional overarching narrative, Hades instead drip feeds most of its story through its large cast of brilliantly written and voice acted characters, who serve to build up the character of both themselves and the world. In saying that though, the story that plays out as you successfully escape the Underworld is still really intriguing,

Each character in Hades has an insane amount of dialogue, and most impressively, it seems to adapt itself to the way in which you’re playing the game. You only engage in short conversations with characters between or during escape attempts, but each time you do, you get to learn a little bit more about the characters and world of Hades. It all works so well to make the world of Hades feel lived in, yet at the same time malleable enough to be shaped based on how you approach the game. From Hypnos recounting how you died in your previous escape attempt to speaking to Megaera in the House of Hades lounge after encountering her countless times as the boss of the Tartarus biome of the Underworld, most conversations feel catered to your experience, making them far more engaging as a result.

Zagreus also succeeds at being an enjoyable protagonist, with his quippy fourth wall breaking remarks and badass looking visual aesthetic making him a quality character that I loved controlling. I could talk about basically all the characters in Hades with the same level of positivity, but this review would likely take far too long to read. Ultimately, Hades redefines how stories can be told in a roguelike experience. It uses its repetitive gameplay loop nature to its advantage, instead of using it as an excuse to not put effort into the story. The pain you expect to feel from dying in a roguelike is still there, but the opportunity to build up not only your stats but your relationships with the characters of Hades makes death more tolerable than they’ve ever been for me in a roguelike adventure. 

When it comes to gameplay, Hades is a thrilling hack and slash roguelike with an overwhelming amount of depth. As Zagreus, your aim is to escape the Underworld, which requires you to clear various isometric dungeons full of deadly creatures across four different zones. Each zone features a final boss, with Zag’s father Hades, whose frosty relationship with his family on Mount Olympus paired with his detest of Zagreus wanting to escape, sees him pose as the final roadblock between the underworld and the outside world.

Before attempting to escape the Underworld, you must first pick your weapon of choice. Initially you only have access to a sword, but your arsenal will quickly expand as you collect Chthonic Keys, which can be used to unlock other weapons such as a spear, bow, fists, shield, and even a gun! Chthonic Keys alongside Darkness, Gemstones, and Nectar are collectible items that will return to the House of Hades with you upon death. Everything else collected throughout runs is lost.

These items that return home with Zagreus upon death are key to getting stronger and progressing further through the underworld. Keys can be used to buy weapons of course, but can also be used to purchase more upgrade options on the Mirror of Night, a mirror in Zagreus’ room that can be used to purchase upgrades that carry into runs. Purchases are made using Darkness with the abilities providing handy buffs to aid in future runs. Death Defiance for example is an ability that allows you to be revived upon death with 50% of your health, an ability that is almost essential if you want to conquer Hades. Gemstones can be used in the House of Hades to purchase upgrades from the contractor. Some abilities are purely adding furniture into Hades crib, but some are handy permanent upgrades to the underworld zones, with one such upgrade increasing the likelihood of finding money in rooms. Nectar lastly can be used to further the relationship between Zagreus and it’s recipient, resulting in being rewarded with a Keepsake, which is an item you can equip prior to a run that can provide buffs aspects such as health or attack.  

The rooms of each zone either contain encounters, which are combat rooms that must be fully cleared of enemies before progressing, or combat-free rooms such as Charon’s Shop or NPC Chambers that grant you with different abilities depending on which zone you’re in. When leaving a room for the next, you may have the choice of what chamber to enter, with the emblem above the chamber door notifying you as to what the reward is for clearing the subsequent room. Room rewards include the aforementioned Boons, items that grant upgrades to your abilities such as your various attack moves and dash. They can also contain health, money which can be spent to buy new boons or health items, keys, darkness, gemstones and more. As you can probably tell, the amount of depth in a run of Hades is quite intense, not in the sense that it’s hard to manage, but more the fact that there are a plethora of items and upgrades to unlock.

Combat is extremely addictive, with the various weapons all feeling distinct and entertaining to use. You’ll likely gravitate to a favourite (mine was the Hunter’s Bow) but each weapon is good fun to use. You’re often incentivised to get out of your comfort zone too, as each time you’re about to start a new run, one of the weapons is imbued in a darkness aura that grants you a higher amount of the darkness currency throughout the duration of the run. You don’t have to do it, and on multiple occasions I didn’t, but it does serve as a nice way to try out new weapon playstyles and be rewarded as a result. If it weren’t for that, I may never have been weaned off of my trusty bow. There’s just something thrilling about dashing and slashing your way through a multitude of enemies, and it’s yet another thing that Hades executes near perfectly.

My beautiful PS5 copy provided by Private Division

In summary, Hades is a fantastic roguelike journey that exudes style in all facets of its design. The visuals are gorgeous, the soundtrack is epic, the narrative is buoyed by a lovable collection of well written and voiced characters, and the hack and slash gameplay while excellent alone is made even better by the overwhelming amount of variety that is afforded to you by the various Boons, Keepsakes and Weapons among various other items. While there’s still a very soft spot in my roguelike loving heart for The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, the sheer quality of Hades’ gameplay and narrative may now see it assume the role as my favourite roguelike of all time. Regardless of whether or not that eventuates, Hades is a gem that demands your attention. Even if roguelikes aren’t a genre you’ve tried or enjoyed, I implore you to at least give it a chance. 

This review utilised a PlayStation 5 key and physical copy provided by Private Division. Hades is available now on PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, and PC.

#gameonAUS


Written by: @GrumpyGoron

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