Disclaimer – My opinion of Hades is based on my experience with the Nintendo Switch version of the game.
The Underworld rarely sounds like a fun place. Fire, brimstone, torment, and a fair amount of torture tend to give the impression that it’s a place you’d want to avoid. Despite my genetically ingrained dislike for such a horrific Hellscape, after I played Hades by Supergiant Games, I think it would be quite the hoot to fist bump the various denizens and have an extended stay in the abyss.
You play as the cocky, somewhat supercilious, yet loveable Prince of the Underworld, Zagreus. Your Father, Hades, has been quite the bugger recently and after some incredibly spoilery confrontations, you have decided to pack your bags and make your way to the surface world. This being the eternal prison of all mortal souls, leaving is not exactly an easy feat, even for the son of the gatekeeper himself. To get out, you will have to brandish your legendary blade, Stygius, and send all of Hell’s various guardians back to…well…Hell, I guess.
Hades falls neatly into the category of Roguelike, which means if you are not killing everything in sight, you are being brutally murdered and sent to the blood pits of your dear Papa’s House to be reborn once again. Death is an inevitable eventuality, and will likely visit you countless times before you claw your way to victory. This cycle of live, kill, die, repeat is one that is not only incredibly thematic but also relentlessly addictive. There is a reason this genre has taken off in the last decade or so, and it just so happens Hades is one of the best examples of this concept being executed not just well, but perfectly.
Perfect is not a world I like to throw around lightly, and in fact, many games I have deemed “10/10” have been riddled with various flaws, but Hades stands amongst a very small crowd of games that has positives so transcendent, that any flaws it may have, are forgotten before they even grace my frantic stream of consciousness. Hades succeeds so thoroughly due to a complex string of mechanics, design, and polish that few games could ever hope to muster…so enough superfluous babbling, let’s look at them, shall we?
The primary system you will be interacting with during your time in Hades (the game, not the God/parent…) is its combat. You are given a whopping array of weapons to mess around with, although you will only be able to use the aforementioned Stygian blade, Stygius when you first start. Hades is incredibly generous with its unlockables, and I was able to unlock all 6 weapons in a couple of hours of play. Each weapon is unique, providing distinctive playstyles based and a varied array of moves that can be combined into combos.
The combo system itself is incredibly simple – on the surface. You have a basic attack button, a slightly more flashy special attack button, a snazzy dash that can be used to perform a dash attack, and a special ‘cast’ button which we will discuss in more detail in a tad. These controls are very simple, meaning you can pick up any of the six armaments and know roughly what to do. The game even provides a handy weapons guide whenever you pick up a weapon, letting you get to grips with how it interacts in combat.
Once you have battled through a few rooms, or even floors (if you’re particularly skilled), you will be given the ability to unlock ‘Aspects’. Aspects fundamentally change how a specific weapon mechanic works, therefore adding more depth to each weapon. Whilst you may technically still be using the deadly spear, Varatha, applying the ‘Aspect of Achilles’ not only changes its moveset but also morphs its playstyle radically. Each weapon has 4 Aspects, bring the total weapon count to 24, which is bonkers.
Not being satisfied with an arsenal that would make even the most seasoned warrior blush, Zagreus can also equip a relic of some description that provides him with a variety of passive bonuses. These could be a free revive should you die, an increased number of starting resources when you start a run, or even just an increase to your starting stats. Initially, these can only be changed at the start of your run (making the free revive quite enticing once you unlock it), but as you progress you will unlock the ability to change them at the end of each floor, letting you tailor your build to the challenges you are about to face.
All of this is quite impressive, to say the least, but combat really gets crazy once you start a run. Now and then you will encounter one of the mighty Gods of Olympus. Each God is willing to bestow upon you a potent Boon. Each God has a hefty list of potential Boons, with each Boon not only increasing your combat potential, but also changing how your attacks interact. The ever drunk Dionysus may lace your bow with a deadly poison, whereas the ever-arrogant God of Gods, Zeus, could infuse your attacks with devastating chain lightning. Recognising what God is likely to do what, will come with time, and with that, comes a complex and satisfying build…building. Not to mention if you get certain combinations of God’s to help you, you unlock incredibly potent, combo enabling ‘Duo’ Boons which can skyrocket your potential into the stratosphere.
I wish I could stop there, but Hades is a beast that simply keeps on giving. Whilst you have a chance to encounter a God, and therefore a Boon, you will always receive something after you successfully clear a room. This could be something comparatively mundane like gold (Charon’s Obols if you want to get technical), or something even more exciting – a Daedalus Hammers. If you thought 6 weapons split into 24 Aspects, infused by a seemingly infinite combination of God-powers was cool, Daedalus Hammers will blow your mind. These bad boys completely change how a weapon works. Where before your sword was short-ranged, it now fires satanic death lasers…or half kills you and gives you potential immortality thanks to the ability to drain life, etc. Hades’ combat and progression is a series of beautifully decadent layers, and when taken as a whole, is revealed to be a particularly indulgent cake.
Having enemies to kill is almost as important as the means in which you kill them, and thankfully Hades is jam-packed with enemy types to keep you on your toes. Each enemy has an incredibly distinctive look; immediately making them stand out in the inevitable crowd. This is handy since each enemy also has a unique method which it will attack you, so being able to quickly register threats allows you to formulate a plan to eliminate them in the best possible fashion. Hades also comes with several bosses. At first, you will be fighting the same boss every time you reach a floor’s conclusion, as you progress the game will sneak in more difficult variants with different attack patterns.
To keep track of all of this chaos, the game has an incredibly handy codex that fills up throughout the game. Every enemy you encounter, every NPC you bump into and every weapon you acquire can be found here. Not only is this a fantastic way to keep track of your progress, but the more you kill a certain enemy, or talk to a certain character, you will unlock additional information under that entry. It is a wonderful little addition than I was constantly checking throughout my playtime.
Had Hades stopped here, had it just been a thematically cool game with a stellar set of combat mechanics, I’d walk away a very satisfied man. But it doesn’t, it goes many, many steps beyond which elevates this to an Achilles-level of legendary. Being dead is almost as satisfying and engaging as fighting through Tartarus or Elysium. This is thanks to an endearing cast of characters that make up the game’s main hub, the house of Hades. Once you have been reborn you are given plenty of time to interact with the various Gods and inhabitants who serve your Lord Father. The ever sarcastic Hypnos will crack a joke based on how you died, every time you died, no matter how you died, without repeating lines…seemingly ever. Hades himself will mock your failed escape attempts in an equally endless string of insults. Dusa, an adorable Duty-Bound Gorgon, seems to have a crush on Zagreus and acts like an embarrassed school-girl whenever you walk past. It is a real joy to interact with everyone in Hades, and after many, many hours of play, I cannot recall hearing a single repeated line of dialogue. Which is particularly impressive when the game is fully voice acted.
Zagreus himself is also a wonderful main character to play as. His personality is complex, his motives are interesting and the way he interacts with the various characters you bump into along your journey is endearing, to say the least. He is incredibly sure of himself and his ability to escape the Underworld, but at the same time will actively call out how nonsensical a challenge was when it kills him. Not to spoil anything, but a particular Bull may or may not be a cause for a heated conversation at some point, and it certainly gave me a good chuckle. I am also fairly certain the game hints at Zagreus’ sexuality, but does so in a way that is rather subtle and incredibly natural, which has no bearing on the plot at all. Typically games that dare tackle such a subject do so rather heavy-handedly, so it was refreshing to see it being touched on in such a…human(?) way.
Hades is fully aware its intriguing world and cast of Gods and deceased mortals is enticing and has provided options for players who want to experience that, without the potentially arduous task of grinding through the Underworlds numerous challenges. God Mode doesn’t make you invulnerable, nor does it makes enemies easier to kill. Instead, it makes you harder to kill, gradually ramping up his resistance to damage as you die. As a bonus, God Mode won’t lock you out of anything, making Hades incredibly accessible. On the other side of the spectrum, however, Hades also has a ‘Heat’ system. If you want to grind rare materials or simply wish to make the game harder (bearing in mind its already bloody hard), turn up the heat and have fun.
I could go on gushing over Hades until I’m eventually dragged there myself, so I think it’s time I jump onto the game’s graphics, which are beautiful. The game has a fantastic hand-drawn, cell-shaded style mixed with various hellish colours, fountains of blood and larger than life bosses (from time to time). The world and its characters are beautifully realised, and the game manages to maintain a mostly solid frame rate in both handheld and docked mode, meaning you can take Hades on the go, and maintain maximum enjoyment.
But the graphics pale in comparison to the sound design, Firstly, the voice acting is out of this world in places, and simply fantastic in others. The only character who I found didn’t quite fit at first was Meg, although that initial thought passed the more I talked to her and realised her voice acting was perfect for the character she was portraying. Heck, even the game’s singing is great (looking at you Eurydice). The game’s soundtrack doesn’t pull any punches either, whether the game is playing something slow and brooding, or heavy and rocking, Hades simply nails it.
Hades is easily a contender for this year’s Game of the Year. It is not only the best Roguelike on the Nintendo Switch, it may be one of the best games to have ever graced the system. I was hooked from the moment I entered the Underworld, to the second I finally got to the end. You better believe I am diving straight back into Tartarus the moment I finish writing this, and I may never return.
Toast Seal Of Overwhelming Approval
Hades is one of the best games to come out in the genre in a long, long time. That being said, if you want more Roguelike goodness, then why not check out my Quickie Review of The Binding of Isaac? If you like turn-based games, then Darkest Dungeon is a great combination of genres that you may be interested in.
Follow me on Twitter @gameswithtoasty, or join the Games With Toasty Facebook page here for exclusive updates on the future of the blog, as well as notifications for when the latest articles drop. Happy gaming.