Platform: Nintendo Switch
Available on: PC, Mac
Genre: Hack n’ Slash, Beat ‘em Up
Developer: Supergiant Games
Released: September 17th, 2020
As of this writing, I have made 17 escape attempts, killed 3,727 undead denizens of the underworld, and only made it to the gates of hell itself once. Despite my clear lack of skill in playing Hades, it is by far one of the most addictive and enthralling hack n’ slash action games I’ve ever played. For those of you already on the fence reading this, you have my full permission to finish going through the checkout and picking this one up.
For the rest of you, idly googling by here or just looking to pass the time on your daily commute to wherever; let me explain…
The Walls of Tartarus
As Zagreus, son of Hades, your mission is simple, escape the underworld and take your rightful place among the Greek gods of Olympus. The catch is, no one has ever successfully escaped the underworld and since you don’t exactly get along with daddy Hades the task set before Zagreus will not be made easy.
The conceit here is that, since you are already in Hell, the threat of death is diminished since every time you are vanquished in combat you’ll simply wake back up in Tartarus, resurrected and ready for another round. This is the rogue-like gameplay twist that Supergiant Games has employed. With a mix of hand-crafted scenarios and procedurally generated dungeon crawling for good measure.
The only constants are your own persistence and a heavy dose of stats, weapons, and buffs to help you along in your journey. Since you are attempting to escape the clutches of the veritable black sheep of the Greek god family Hades, your distant relatives are more than willing to offer their boons to help you along the way also.
To Live is to Die, Again and Again and Ag….
If it wasn’t already clear, you will die a lot as you progress through this game. But death also happens to propel the story along, slowly revealing itself with each escape. Initially I wasn’t too taken with Zagreus, first impressions marred him as cocky, selfish, and stubborn to a fault. All the ingredients necessary for me to write off a character entirely.
However, the further I progressed, the more my initial impressions were proven wrong. Instead of cockiness I saw desperation. His apparent selfishness, a mask that hides a clear sense of hurt and abandonment by an absent father. Where stubbornness presided, instead revealed a confused young man not knowing his place in the (under)world. None of this is outright told to the player through heavy exposition either.
Instead, a mix of clever writing, environmental storytelling and well directed voice acting drive home these feelings and if you allow yourself to get caught up in the drama for a moment, the game becomes less about escaping and more about discovering.
Even in the antagonists and bosses you face, Hades hides his growing respect through biting criticism of Zagreus through each failure. The Valkyries are clearly in some form of familial civil war and desperate for their master’s favour. The pleasant demeanour of Zeus, speaking to you from Mt. Olympus, belies his hidden agenda towards his brother Hades.
Nectar of the Gods
Check out our Noclip Q&A here!
Combat is a wonderful balance of tough but fair hack n slashery. With an abundance of weapon types that consistently change up how you can approach your runs. Is the stygian blade (your starting weapon) just not quick enough for dealing with mobs? Perhaps switching to the Eternal Spear for quick jabs and ranged advantage will work. Or better yet why not use the Shield of Chaos to Captain America the s**t out of enemies instead!
The consistency as well, is important. As the repetitive nature of this rogue-like, if the balance wasn’t just right, would feel like a chore otherwise. This is a title that revels in learning enemy patterns and min/maxing your stats to give you the best chances and compliment your mood/playstyle. You’ll spend most of your time learning how enemies move, boss attack patterns and as importantly, learn what boons to accept from the gods themselves.
By this I mean, each god, your Hermes, Zeus’ and Aphrodite's of Greek fame, all offer stat buffs to help you along your journey. However, gods being gods, there’s a catch. Some will not like you favouring one over the other and demand sacrifice (usually a combat trial) to prove your loyalty. These stats will affect things like health, damage and cooldowns on your abilities so choosing the right one will become crucial to your success as your skills improve.
So, What’s the Verdict?
The sense of discovery here permeates throughout every aspect of Hades. The optional dialog between characters as they comment on your adventures, either to you or in spite of you, is always enticing and yet never intrusive. This is a title that offers you as much or as little as you are willing to commit and its respect for your time is what will keep you coming back for more.
With some fast-paced, addictive combat, a story that isn’t worried about shoving itself in your face and a richly detailed world to explore there is plenty on offer. To say nothing of the pitch perfect music by Darren Korb that will stay in your head long after you’ve put down the controller. In the middle of every big AAA release, Hades can stand head and shoulders with the best of them.
Play this game if….
You are looking for fun, fast-paced action in a tight package
Your curiosity is often piqued by anything resembling mythology
You’ve read this or ANY review out there for Hades
You want to see just why it won Indie Game of the Year 2020.