Early access laid the path to escape Hell.
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Review game Hades, Early access laid the path to escape Hell.
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In the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus, a poor soul endures the eternal punishment of pushing a boulder uphill without rest. Every time he tried to lift it, it would roll back down, forcing him to start over. But what if your Herculean ascent uphill consisted of amazing combat against a variety of randomly selected enemies as you battled your way out of Hell, equipped with an array of divine abilities that developed and combined in intriguing ways as you advanced? And what if, each time, instead of starting over from scratch, you gained a little bit of strength with the aid of a vibrant cast of allies and enemies who kept track of all of your attempts? That’s the idea behind Hades, and developer Supergiant’s Greek mythology-themed rogue-lite game makes visiting Hell enjoyable.
As you take on legions of vibrantly animated undead that fill the screen with danger in every randomly ordered room you pass through, the story of Zagreus, son of Hades, as he travels through the maze-like Underworld towards the freedom of the mortal realm, is told from an isometric perspective. Luckily, Zag is a formidable fighter who can use six different weapons, each of which has four variations. Every one of these Infernal Arms is designed to work best with a particular playstyle. Do you want to engage fully and defeat some evil forces? Then think about the simple Stygian Blade. Would you rather peck at enemies from a safe distance? Then take out the bow and unleash your inner Artemis. Later on, you’ll be able to access a spear, a bashing shield, and other items. Each of these plays very differently, adding to Hades’ numerous replayability layers.
Zag can use a dash to get out of trouble or into a more advantageous position, regardless of the weapon that he chooses. Few things in life are quite as satisfying as a well-executed last-second dodge that positions you to stab an opponent in the back for bonus damage, I’ll tell you that.
The forces of Hades will eventually overcome you.
The last move in Zag’s arsenal is the cast, a skill-shot-based projectile that deals a short burst of damage to an opponent by launching a red jewel at them. It is not always the best idea to aim the jewel at the biggest and meanest enemy in the room, as it embeds itself in the target and prevents you from casting again until you kill the enemy and recover your ammunition. To use it effectively, Zag’s moves require a careful balancing act between reward and risk.
The forces of Hades will, however, almost certainly overwhelm you at some point, and each death sends Zag back home to begin anew, with the exception of enduring currencies and developing relationships with the amazing cast of characters that live in the Underworld, ranging from Lord Hades himself all the way down. It will therefore take a lot of time for you to get to know everyone, but it will be time well spent.
A rebellious beauty named Zag is attempting to navigate his place in the world between Mount Olympus and Hades. His endearing coming-of-age tale drew me in, but what truly won me over were his witty back-and-forth with the disembodied voice of the Narrator and his sardonic observations on the world around him.
All of the personalities are delightful to observe and feel like a true retelling of a well-known Greek myth.
Outside of battle, however, Zag’s interactions with numerous Greek mythological characters and gods, such as Achilles and Orpheus, are what really make Hades tick. It turns out that the key to effectively utilising a sizable cast of compelling characters in a rogue-lite was to add a dash of dating simulator mechanics. All of the personalities are delightful to observe and feel like a true retelling of a well-known Greek myth. For example, the portrayal of Sisyphus as an optimist you meet during a break when the gods aren’t looking on, rather than as a tragic figure, adds to the delightful observation of the personalities. His boulder, named Bouldy, responds to touch with a carved smile that remains silent. By focusing on Zag’s interactions with every character, you can uncover intriguing backstories, contribute to the world-building, unlock new side missions, and even find items that will help you in future escape attempts.
The attempts to reunite Achilles with Patroclus, his lifelong partner, or Orpheus with Euridice, his long-lost muse, are not only genuinely touching and harken back to the kind of melodrama the ancient Greeks were so good at, but there are also gameplay benefits! Reaching a certain point in these relationships gives you enduring mementos and allies, both of which are vital resources to help Zag escape from home. Naturally, some mementos are more valuable than others. If I had to choose between the Lucky Tooth, which gives you another chance to live if you die, and Olympic keepsakes, which raise your chances of getting better drops, I would always choose the latter.
The way that Supergiant Games uses these enduring relationships to navigate the challenging path of marrying story to gameplay elevates the straightforward loop of Zag’s escape into something that is truly unique and special about Hades. A failed run is usually not considered part of the story in the world of most rogue-lites (apologies to Rogue Legacy). However, in Hades, a death brings ridicule (usually from Papa Hades) when Zag returns home. Death transforms from a failure state commonly seen in video games into the very fabric of the in-game world. Characters remember your successes and setbacks with an astounding amount of incidental dialogue, which gave me the impression that even in my failures, I was continuously adding new details to Zagreus’ story. After some time, I came to embrace death as a chance to learn and reconnect with friends who were once in the House of Hades to see if they had anything new to share. I no longer feared dying.
Death was no longer a fear for me; instead, I saw it as a chance to grow and reconnect with friends who had perished in the House of Hades.
You will die a lot, so it’s critical to overcome your fear of dying. It took me thirty-one tries to successfully escape, so hopefully my number is about average. Luckily, Zag’s aunts, uncles, and cousins up on Olympus are willing to support his rebellion, despite the fact that relations with the Underworld’s residents may be complicated. This is partly because they genuinely care about him and want to rub Lord Hades’ nose in it if you succeed. Their assistance takes the form of run-specific tokens from the gods called boons, which give Zag godly power-ups and alter according to Zag’s abilities, making each run seem fresh and different. Some are more subtle, min-max stat-worthy advantages that frequently feel like a daily vitamin; you may not notice the difference they make while playing, but over time, they add up and tilt all the numbers behind the scenes in your favour, so it’s probably for the best.
Naturally, you also strengthen your bonds with the Gods of Olympus with each run by giving them tokens of gratitude like the nectar and ambrosia you gather. These tokens not only give you access to their own collection of mementos but also increase the likelihood that you will receive heroic, epic, and rare versions of their boons, which have progressively better stats.
Greek mythology aficionados already know that the gods are erratic. Treks through Hades occasionally bring Zag to a Trial of the Gods, a chamber where you can choose between speaking with one of two deities. Poseidon might have been your closest friend early in the quest, but if you side with Dionysus in a later trial, he won’t think twice about making your life in this specific chamber a living hell. If you make it through, your reward will be to have two boons instead of just the usual one.
And believe me when I say that rabbit hole is very deep.
And believe me when I say that rabbit hole is very deep. You can obtain numerous boons and combinations, and even after multiple runs, new ones will continue to appear. Similar to any other excellent roguelike, Hades compels you to make tough choices that will either enhance your present setup or, if you’re lucky enough to survive long enough, attempt a riskier build that might pay off four chambers later.
It all contributes to Hades’ remarkable replayability. I’m astounded once more by Hades’ enormous amount of content. Even though you might constantly encounter the same bosses, they will also grow accustomed to your increased strength. These ingenious changes to boss fighting mechanics kept boss encounters feeling new, whether it was in the form of siblings lending a Street Fighter-style assist or fancy new armour. Given that the bosses recall their prior successes and failures against you, it also makes sense in the fiction. Every fight feels more like a rematch between adversaries than a rematch.
Hades is a unique rogue-lite that raises the standard for inventively fusing wildly disparate genres and utilising their advantages to unexpectedly enhance one another. By combining character interactions reminiscent of a dating simulator, satisfying twitch-based action with endless replayability options, and utilizing failure to advance the plot, Hades creates an experience that surpasses the sum of its parts. Hades deftly negotiates the millennia-old baggage of ancient characters, reimagined through a modern perspective that makes them seem like they belong in an animated series that was decades ahead of its time. I’ve been in Hell for more than 50 hours, have made 70 escape attempts, and I can’t stop thinking about my next visit. I never want my time in Hades to end.