Death is inevitable – a fact that is especially true in Supergiant Games’s newest title, Hades. This roguelike (or roguelite if you prefer) puts you in the role of Zagreus, son of Hades as he tries repeatedly to escape from the Underworld of Ancient Greek myth. As with all games of the genre, death is something you’ll experience often, especially in the beginning as you face down the daunting challenge of escape.
In short, Hades is a blast to play. The combat is fast-paced, fun, and full of exciting moments. The various enemies, worlds, and bosses you encounter are each unique and require different strategies to handle. Each run presents you with an assortment of boons from Zagreus’s relatives on Olympus, ensuring that no escape attempt is quite like any other.
That’s not even delving into the various meta-level decisions to be made before you even begin your journey through the Underworld. Each run starts in the House of Hades where you can talk to various characters (more on that later), purchase permanent upgrades with the various currencies earned on your previous run, and select which of the six different weapons you want to use – once you’ve unlocked them, of course.
While Hades is built around the experience of grinding your way through a dungeon, it’s also simply fun enough to make the experience worth coming back to time and again. The game encourages varied styles of play by granting players more resources if they select different weapons rather than sticking with just one, and all of this doesn’t even touch on the Pact of Punishment, which lets you set your own difficulty through the game. All told, Hades is an incredible game that will have you coming back to it even after you see the credits roll.
Hades main claim to fame is the way it tells its story. The narrative is woven around the roguelike nature of the game, with characters remarking on your deaths and defeats each time you perish. You can’t actually see the whole story without dying multiple times as certain dialogue only activates after repeated conversations and on specific events.
Aside from this, Hades will be very familiar to anyone who’s played previous Supergiant titles such as Transistor and Bastion. It has its own mechanics and systems, of course, but it shares the isometric view and the satisfying combat of those games. You can see the echoes of previous titles in Hades, but in a good way as the game captures their best qualities and adds its own unique flair.
There are two perspectives to consider regarding accessibility – how well does the game teach players its systems, and how much of an effort does it make to be playable by everyone? Hades shines in each category, with only a few minor oversights. The game is very straightforward from the beginning as you initially only have access to one weapon and no permanent upgrades. From that point on, the game slowly builds in complexity as you unlock more challenging weapons, invest in skills that unlock new mechanics, and even discover new skills to obtain. Once you unlock the Pact of Punishment, the game can be as easy or as difficult as you want, making it beginner-friendly while also presenting a challenge for more experienced players.
There are also some nice features to accommodate anyone who can’t for whatever reason, play the game as intended. A generous God Mode grants increased damage resistance each time you die, a number of options let you toggle subtitles and screen shake, and the controls can be remapped however you like. The notable absentees from the options menu are subtitle font customization and colorblind modes, which could serve to make Hades that much more accessible if they’re ever added in a future patch.
Look isn’t just about how detailed the graphics of a game are, but also the art design and animation. Hades excels in this area as beautiful character portraits accompany every snippet of dialogue and each zone is visually striking. There’s no confusing the dungeons of Tartarus with the lava-flooded fields of Asphodel or the verdant land of Elysium. Each power up you acquire changes the appearance of your moves as well, and the weapons themselves have aesthetic changes that reflect their upgrades.
On a smaller note, the House of Hades where you begin can also be customized to your taste. Everything from rugs to flowers to paintings can be changed. You can buy new furniture for various characters, renovate the lounge area, and furnish your bedroom however you wish. It’s a small addition that nevertheless allows everyone to bring their own style into the game.
Without getting into spoiler territory, Hades has an excellent story. It’s interwoven into the roguelike mechanics, inseparable from the experience of dying repeatedly as Zagreus tries to make his way out of the Underworld. Even apart from this unique twist on video game storytelling, the actual plot is very compelling, granting you more than enough motivation to reach the surface even after dying for the umpteenth time.
Any discussion of a Supergiant title would be incomplete without talking about the voice acting. Whether it’s the narrator in Bastion or the transistor in, well, Transistor, Supergiant Games has a history of exemplary voice work. Hades goes all out in this department as every character is fully voiced with thousands of lines of dialogue packed into the game. All of the gods, furies, shades, and floating severed gorgon heads come to life with their own distinct personalities. Hades is a masterpiece of both voice work and storytelling, each of which complement each other perfectly.
Hades is an incredible game, full stop. It has a few minor (very minor) stumbles here and there, but nothing that should put anyone off of buying it. Even if roguelikes are usually your cup of tea, there’s a very good chance that you’ll wind up loving Hades.
Final Tally: 23/25