Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Private Division
Platforms: PC, Xbox Series X (Reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch
Release Date: August 13, 2021
Price: $24.99 – Available Here
Each year there are one or two games that appear on the top of every “must play” list and last year a certain title from Supergiant Games happened to be at the top of most of these. Hades had appeared on PC and Switch late last year and took the roguelite genre by storm but for many who preferred playing on other platforms, all they could do is wait. Now that the wait is over with Hades arriving on Xbox and PlayStation platforms with a few small boosts, is this game still one that manages to live up to the hype?
It wouldn’t be a tale of Greek mythology without some type of family discourse and that just so happens to be what Hades focuses on. Players take on the role of Zagreus, the son of Hades, who has grown tired of living in the Underworld and is looking to escape to the rest of his family up on Mount Olympus. With the help of Nyx, his own allies in the Underworld, and the other gods of Olympus providing him boons and various buffs to aid in his journey, it will be a long and death filled journey for Zagreus as Hades has ensured that all manner of undead monsters, beasts, and even his own soldiers are standing in the way.
Few games, especially roguelikes, are willing to weave their storytelling into game mechanics quite like Hades does as players will begin the game knowing absolutely nothing other than who they are playing as, the fact they wish to escape the Underworld, and that the gods of Olympus are helping them on their way. In fact, should the player be lucky or skilled enough, they may even get to their first boss before ever learning more about the world of the game. This is because the storyline for Hades is told through interactions with the numerous residents of the Underworld who only come up with new bits of dialogue and lore the further players progress and die during their escape.
By combining elements of the story with failure players never really feel like they are losing out should they fall in combat as it only means that there will likely be new interactions with a number of characters at the starting point. It is even worth noting that the main story elements, including major plot revelations, character development, and even Zagreus’ reason to escape, are almost entirely tied to having to restart a run. Speaking of the characters, while we won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers, it is clear to say that they truly make for some of the best moments in Hades. Gods will chime in every time they grant a boon to Zagreus and even make remarks about how they are doing, other gifts they may have been blessed with, and more while Hades and other denizens of the Underworld will make remarks about the player’s playstyle, progress, and even how they died.
Obviously going too much into detail here would spoil things but this storyline, thanks in part to the strong writing of the characters and their interactions, is an incredible one that serves as a major driving force for constantly diving into battle and seeing just how far the player can get. There is even a codex that players can fill out that provides additional background details for nearly every element of the game providing extra lore for those wanting to truly sink themselves into the game’s world.
Players will find themselves immediately thrown into the fray in Hades as the game doesn’t try to bog them down with countless tutorials and instead aims for a more nuanced approach to teaching players various aspects of the game. Hades is, at its core, a roguelike that tasks players with running through rooms filled with randomized enemies that must be slain to progress with various bosses standing in your path at certain intervals. Should Zagreus fall in combat, he will be sent back to the home base and forced to start every run from the beginning, requiring players to make their escape in one run.
Zagreus can make use of basic attacks and special attacks that vary depending on the weapon he is wielding, cast magic, dash around to avoid damage, and more to try and survive the randomly generated rooms he must venture through. Every room players travel through will vary in monster and trap placement though and they can only progress once every foe has been slain. More often than not Zagreus will find two seperate paths to choose from when leaving a room with each path showing a specific icon that hints at the next room providing a certain buff, money, a shop, or even an encounter with an ally. This style of progression is a simple but highly addictive one as players will never feel like they are truly getting thrown into something they cannot face down, especially since there is such a wide range of customization available to them.
As mentioned before Zagreus will be awarded various boons from his allies on Olympus as well as others who wish to see him succeed in his escape attempt. These boons range from simply increasing the amount of damage players deal to completely changing the type of magic they can cast. Each of these boons can be powered up and even synergized with one another to become even stronger. Of course, considering the rewards of each run are randomized it is entirely possible that a run can simply end up being unlucky with poor boon rewards but for every run that feels like the odds are against you, there is one where nearly everything comes together and you make it much farther than ever before. This variation and the feeling of never quite knowing just how well your powers and boons will come together makes for a highly enjoyable game that always feels like it is begging the player for “one more run.”
Throughout the player’s various escape attempts they will gather a number of different pieces of currency that can be used to make their next runs a bit easier. The most plentiful happens to simply be gold that resets every time the player dies, but can be used to purchase items from Charon’s shops and wells. These items can be anything from other types of currency, a temporary boost to various abilities, an extra boon from a god, or healing making it the type of currency players will freely want to spend to extend their runs. Other items include Darkness that can be used to unlock various abilities for Zagreus such as dealing extra damage from a backstab, extra lives, and more, Cthonic Keys that can unlock extra weapons for the player to wield as well as unlock extra abilities, and even Nectar to gift to the various NPCs that players meet on their journey to unlock useful items and extra dialogue. There is even a bit of base customization as players can use gems earned from their runs to unlock new elements in the Underworld as well as cosmetic items in their home. All of these extra bits of currency help ensure that players always feel like they are growing stronger, one way or another, even if their runs happen to run early.
Visuals & Audio
With Hades making the jump to the Xbox Series X the game has seen a small improvement as the graphics have seen a jump to 4K resolution which is a great thing here as the title’s art style is absolutely wonderful. The level of detail placed on the character portraits for the various gods and denizens of the Underworld is exceptional and, although a few rooms may begin to feel repetitive, the varied , randomized, and interestingly colored nature of every run keeps things from ever feeling bland.
It is also worth noting that the game is fully voiced to the point that Zagreus will even respond to the narrator as he discusses events. The massive amount of varied dialogue that most NPCs will have with the player depending on their playstyle is all voiced by some great voice actors and the soundtrack just so happens to feature a number of outstanding tracks that stand well on their own.
There are games that come along and feel truly exceptional and while many people had the chance to experience Hades‘ quality last year, now that the title has made the jump to more platforms it is easy to see just why it is a must have even for those who never thought about trying a roguelite game. From the art style that compliments everything in the world to the way that the game blends its narrative and gameplay elements together flawlessly it is easy to say that Supergiant truly has found something special with Hades.
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