Developed by Supergiant Games, Hades isn’t exactly a brand-new release. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you’ve heard the name and probably seen the game. Hades was already critically acclaimed before it fully released (it was even nominated for GOTY!) and has seen massive success on both PC and Nintendo Switch. Finally, after almost a full year, the game is coming to Xbox. And to Xbox Game Pass at that.
So now the question is, does Hades live up to its godlike reputation or is the game forever stuck in the pits of hell?
In Hades, you play as Zagreus, the son of Hades and an original character. The game takes place in, well, Hades and sees you take control of Zagreus as he tries again and again to escape the underworld and the clutches of his father. Zagreus’ exact motivations for escaping (and Hades’ for keeping him trapped) get revealed little by little as you play the game, so I won’t go into too much detail. In fact, the entire story of the game is told in such a masterful way that it keeps you playing long after you should have stopped.
Helping you in your quest are the Gods of Olympus who are overjoyed to learn that they have another relative. These Gods grant you their boons and blessings throughout each playthrough and are (almost) always there to help.
Hindering you in your quest are the monsters of the underworld. As you play through the game, you’ll encounter numerous enemy types, with more than enough variety to keep you from getting bored, and several boss encounters. Where Hades excels here again is in keeping things fresh even after you’ve fought the same enemy several times. Which leads me of course, to the gameplay.
Let’s Kill Things Already
The core loop of the game generally revolves around entering a new room, defeating the enemies that spawn and obtaining the room reward. This reward can be several things, such as a boon from a god or a currency to be used both during and after the run. As you play through the game you encounter more variety in room types and objectives.
The player controls initially seem simple. You have an attack button on ‘X’, a special attack on ‘Y’, a ‘cast’ on ‘B’, and of course, a dash on ‘A’. You can unlock several weapons and each one has its own attack and special while the dash and cast remain unchanged. The ‘cast’ is a simple long ranged attack with limited ammunition that needs to be picked up after use.
The complexity in the gameplay comes in several ways. The first of which is in combo moves, such as the dash attack, and in the specific move sets of the weapons. Sometimes you can charge your attack or recall a thrown weapon. Other times you slam enemies away or interrupt them. Building off this is the ability to upgrade your weapon several times throughout the run. Using a room reward of Daedalus Hammer, you have the option to choose between three random upgrades to your weapon. These upgrades often change your entire play style and build so it’s essential that a player chooses wisely.
The second way to choose your playstyle is in the various boons the gods offer. Every god has unique blessings for each of your moves and its up to you to figure out which ones work best. You’ll have the option to mix and match the various blessings and you’ll quickly find out that some gods work great together while others, not so much. There’s so much more to say here but half the fun of the game is figuring out what builds suit you best.
The game has several weapons to choose from, which you unlock using keys you pick up during the run, and each one plays significantly different. The game also encourages you to change your choice in several ways, such as offering more currency with a specific weapon.
A Rogue-Like Perfected
Now to finally talk about the most important aspect of the game, the Rogue-Like elements. This is where Hades truly ascends from being a great game to a title that’s at the absolute top of its class. Like other games in the genre, the rooms and encounters are randomly generated and each time you die you start again from the beginning. During your run you can obtain several currencies that persist through death, and you use those to unlock permanent upgrades. These upgrades can range between increasing your health and damage, to unlocking rest rooms to heal during a run.
The above is all standard fare for the genre. Hades does it very well of course, but it isn’t something I haven’t seen before. Where the game really excels is in the “just one more run” factor. What often happens with the rogue-like genre is that after you fail a run you become frustrated. In Hades, each time you die you know exactly what went wrong and how to go about fixing it. This prevents the frustration yes, but what truly hooks you in is the progression of the world and characters.
Each time you return to The House of Hades you find the world has moved forward every so slightly. The characters have different dialogue, their conversations progress, their positions change, and sometimes entirely new characters appear. As you speak to your father and your friends you learn more about Zagreus and why exactly he’s so desperate to escape.
Basically, the world itself keeps moving forward. You never hear the same dialogue twice and each time you die you want to immediately check what and who has changed. The gameplay itself also advances as you unlock new abilities, upgrades, and locations to explore.
The Pits of Tartarus and a Muse Worth Praising
Hades is a beautiful looking game. From the room design to the weapon effects to the individual differences between each God’s boons, Hades never stops looking great. Whenever I entered a new area, I found myself taking a few seconds to just appreciate the art and design.
Coupled with the gorgeous backgrounds are of course the character portraits. Each and every character in Hades both looks and sounds completely unique. Supergiant have done a phenomenal job in portraying their individual characteristics. Nyx, the Incarnate of Night, for example, gives off an otherworldly feeling and each time you speak with her you know that she is a being of immense power. This is just one example of dozens throughout the game.
Soundtrack wise, Hades once again hits the nail on the head. As soon as you open up the game, the main menu music grabs ahold and you know you’re in for a wild ride. As you move from room to room the music adjusts the tempo to always suit the current situation. From a calming serenade during a rest room to a bombastic track when fighting a boss, the music in Hades doesn’t let you down.
Okay Okay, But What’s the Catch?
I noticed no hitches or frame drops in my playtime and the resolution always looked crisp. To be honest I’m hard pressed to find flaws in the game. I suppose one thing I would have liked is a higher res model for Zagreus but even this is something you only notice if you really look for it.
In terms of difficulty, Hades does have a “god-mode” where you get permanently stronger each time you perish. This is a great option for those who want to simply experience the story and events of the game.
Just One More Run, I Swear
We started off this review asking if Hades lives up to the praise and expectations. And the answer (which should be obvious if you’ve been paying attention) is a resounding YES. Hades has perfected several elements of the rogue-like genre and does a banging job on the rest. It is, by far, the best game of its type that I’ve played. But don’t let the words “rogue-like” scare you off – it is made in such a way that it is appealing to both fans and non-fans of the genre alike.
Hades is a game I firmly believe anyone even remotely interested should play. I guarantee that you won’t regret your time in The Underworld.