Hades is a roguelike hack-and-slash game made by Supergiant games, an indie studio based in California with an impressive back catalogue including Bastion, Transistor and Pyre. Rather incredibly, Hades is actually the first ever video game to win a HUGO award, an impressive achievement for any studio, but especially for an indie studio!
Get Down On It
In the game, you play as Zagreus, the son of the God of the Underworld: Hades. You live with him and your adoptive mother in the Underworld. (For anyone wondering, Cerberus, Hades’ 3-headed dog, is in the game, and yes, you can pet him!) Zagreus and Hades have a difficult relationship, to say the least. Hades believes Zagreus needs to buckle down and accept his responsibilities. But instead, Zagreus sets off on a quest to reach the surface to find out what happened to his real mother, and where she is. You must traverse through the five realms, each of which has numerous rooms containing an impressive variety of enemies. As expected, the enemies become more and more difficult to defeat the closer you get to the surface, with a boss battle at the end of each realm.
Fight Like Hell
The combat system relies heavily on boons, which are perks given to you by the Gods and Goddess’ you meet. It’s a very fun system that forces you into using a variety of strategies, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can also upgrade and change your skills and abilities in a number of different ways. There’s the mirror of the night, 6 different weapons, and keepsakes, which are little items with perks given to you by the gods you meet along the way. There’s also a practice range, where Skelly, a skeleton with a New-York accent, hangs out in the weapons room for you to practice your fighting on. Not even Zagreus knows where Skelly came from, which creates a really comedic subtle break in the 4th wall. Once you’ve completed the story, you’re given the option to make life harder for yourself and use the pact of punishment, which offer little drawbacks and conditions that add an extra level of difficulty for the game. You can even unlock more content by using them. It’s safe to say, the game isn’t short of variety, which is always a worry with this genre.
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In terms of the visuals, the game looks amazing! It’s a lively, isometric 2D game designed to be presented in 16:9. Each character, environment, nook, and cranny is packed with detail and yet it manages to be busy without becoming overwhelming. The audio in the game is wonderful, its soundtrack is simple but packs a punch and really maintains the motivation levels. Because roguelikes send you straight back to the start every time you die, it can be rather difficult for them to keep the story and gameplay fresh, but the way they’ve crafted Hades holds your interest almost perfectly. I say almost perfectly because the initial time you beat Hades, (the character, that is), it feels incredibly cathartic. But the elation is cut short by the realisation that you must beat Hades a total of 10 times to finish the story. That’s right. Ten. Times. Although this works from a narrative point of view, it unfortunately has become a place where many players put the game down. The game does a brilliant job of supplying you with hits of motivation throughout, so the lack of a push when you most need it is pretty disappointing. But that really is the way with roguelikes, it’s a bring-your-own kind of situation at times.
Speaking of, this means the game can be quite lengthy, particularly if you’re not familiar with the genre. It didn’t feel long for me, (bar the moment of horror when I realised I hadn’t actually gotten past Hades), there are countless dialogues, endless boon combinations, and there’s lots of exploration to be done. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t take a while. Whether it feels long or not, you will need the time to play. Part of the appeal for indie games for lots of people is that they’re usually 18 hours at most, some not even reaching 5 hours, so Hades does prove to be a problem for anyone looking for a long play and done for the afternoon. But for roguelike fans looking to dungeon dive on regular runs then it’s perfect, even more so for the Switch port which lends itself well to the style of play.
Tale as Old as Time
Drawing heavily on Greek mythology, narratively, it ticks all the boxes. The dialogue is a notably well executed part of the game. You can speak with your House Contractor, and I absolutely love that if you decide to decorate the place instead of doing “useful” things, Hades almost always has something to say about your choice of decor, or how useless you’re being. The dialogue adds a wonderful comedic element to what’s really quite a sad story. The voice acting is great when it comes to the delivery, but I just couldn’t get past Zagreus’ accent. Although good in intonation, it’s just a little off, which is perhaps because his voice actor is American. It’s not a bad accent by any means, but as many of my fellow British indie gamers have also noted, the way he says ‘mate’ doesn’t just isn’t quite right.
But, in all seriousness, Zagreus is a wonderfully relatable character, with a desperate need to spread his wings and know who he is, past, present, and future.
Death isn’t the End
Hades is such a unique and original concept, in almost every aspect. It works as a great introduction to roguelikes, or a fresh take for those who’ve tried others of the same genre and been disappointed. It seems like an intimidating game to tackle, but within a few hours of playing I realised it was actually quite the opposite. Although it requires a fair amount of time investment to really hit its stride, once you’ve got your teeth into it the game nails the sensation that every successful roguelike should – the compulsion to fight through just one more room.