Developer/Publisher: Supergiant Games
Release Date: September 17. 2020 (previously early access since 2018)
Played: February/March 2021
Hades nearly won the Game Award. No not any Game Award. No, it won two of those. But hell, Jump Force (currently holding 56% on Metacritic) was nominated for Best Fighting Game in 2019. No, Hades nearly won one for Game of the Year. So it must be a good video game. So you should not need another review. I should just go even more home than I already are. So why am I writing it anyway? Money? Fame? No you fool! Fun, of course. What else could it be?
The game sees the son of the god Hades Zangreus battle his way up through the underworld and toward the surface, the mortal world. The Player sets out from the House of Hades to do so. (I can ensure you there is only one more thing in the game Hades called Hades apart from the house, the god and the game itself and that one will not be covered in this review.) Starting by picking out a weapon the player enters Tatarus. Every room in a run gives a specific bonus, resource or a boon of the gods as a reward upon completion. The boons then give a specific peak to an ability of the prince - his attack, special, cast, dash, call. In true roguelike fashion, the player must see how far he can venture before he dies and has to start all over. But a death is as always just the beginning. While money - Charon's Obol - is lost at the end of each run, other resources are taken back to buy upgrades for Zag himself, his weapons or the House of Hades.
Nine Layers of Hades
Hades is complex. There are a lot of things not only in a run but surrounding the game. Most roguelikes have a kind of hub and some material to update your character. Hades is a bit complexer. There is Darkness which is just to enhance the main character Zagreus capabilities. There are gemstones to rebuild the house of Hades - but some of them use diamonds. There is more. While keys unlock new weapons and more, these can be updated with the Titanblood. There is a lot of depth. And all of it is presented in a nice way. Everything is not just in some menus that need to be flicked through. You have the House of Hades to run around in and talk to the inhabitants. With many of these resources being unlocked over time it gives Hades a nice progress curve and spares the player from being overwhelmed.
Boons to pick - gameplay and progression
But there are even more layers. Starting you out with just one weapon it will not take long to unlock the others. All of them play rather differently and therefore change up the runs nicely. Especially then taken into consideration, that they can be changed further with Titanblood. Even more differences bring the boons of the gods. Every god has a specialised area of damage and abilities. And with the random nature of the game, it makes the runs really versatile. Also the boons build on top of each other. There are some that are requirements for others and while I can not say for certain it seems to me, that other boons are likelier depending on playstyle and boons of other gods. And these are separate from the “duo-boons”, that are specific for the case, that you picked up several others of two gods and combine the damage types the gods focus on.
Every room in Hades is about the fight first. The Fast paced combat is front and center. Everything else can come later. Therefore the rewards only appear later as well as any other distractions. And what combat it is. The enemies are varied even in the first area. Something that is especially important in a roguelike, where you need to rerun a lot of sections several times. But they will change up a lot in each of the four biomes. These enemies change things up even in the late game. With enemies that use shields and are impervious to attacks from the front or some that cause status effects coming into play later. Together with the mini bosses and the big ones at the end of each biome, enemies are exactly the write kind of challenging. Allowing the Player to learn their attacks and patterns. And with Hades tactical elements of caining together attacking, dashing around, using the special and hitting enemies from the back for some extra damage combat feels frantic and great. And in combination with the diverse weapons and boons combat will not feel old for a long time.
Story and Worldbuilding
Most people know something about Greece mythologie. Some people know a little more. Many people I know know way too much about Greece mythologie. So Hades' story could just be familiar. The same old epics retold. With something new, something different. But just a little. More action or if it was a movie some well known actor to gather more attention. Hades is not that. Yes, it means a lot of what the story makes out can seem established. But that is also a chance the developer has taken. Because of the familiarity the game doesn’t need to explain everything there is, rather than using a codex in which you can dive to read up on all the gods and heroes you meet along the way. Therefore Hades can center more on the relationships between the characters and Zagreus struggle to escape the underworld. The well written story is nearly fully voiced. And with nearly fully voiced I mean I found one dialog that was not and devs said over two thirds of it where voiced. Voice actors and the unique tones and dialogues bring all of Hades story to life just as does the beautiful artsyle and the pctures of the different characters.
But the real special thing is that a roguelike has a story that actually works for the reruns. Dialogs are part of a priority system with the options of what a character might say to Zag being determined from who the player last talked to, who killed him and how far he got or what weapon was used. It is really something special. (If you want to learn more about it check out People Make Games video on Hades.)
Hades is an exceptional roguelike with an impactful story and fitting gameplay. The story and world are as refined as is the impactful and varied Gameplay. If you like roguelikes at all, I can not recommend Hades enough. But if you can just only tolerate their gameplay loop but do not like constantly dying, I encourage you to make an exception for this masterpiece. The story is well worth it. I for one think that with the setup of roguelikes being that you will die and death is not a punishment, I am really enjoying roguelikes - but that could be a whole article in of itself. Hades is also the culmination of everything Super Giant Games has worked on before. A refinment and advancement of systems and ideas of their past games. So if you are a fun of the studios past games Hades is a must play even more. One of the best games of 2020.
A perfect game 10/10