Hades Review – Damned Great
HadesSeptember 17th, 2020
The image of the Greek Gods is everchanging. Some might not be able to picture Hades without the slick of blue flamed hair thanks to Disney, while others might see him more as a modern depiction of Death or Satan. The Ancient Greeks didn’t have a definitive look for each of the Gods, and the interpretations varied wildly. But for however many versions of Hades, Zeus, Poseidon and the rest there might be, SuperGiant’s Hades will probably always be the pinnacle.
And while I’m obviously talking about the game there, SuperGiant have had an incredible art style since Bastion first launched nine years ago, and they have once again beautifully constructed the world and characters in Hades. As you explore the labyrinthine underworld, you’ll get the chance to meet most of the famous Olympians and their underworld counterpart, and its genuinely exciting to see what they look like in this world. It might not always be what you expect, but it is nevertheless a fitting and beautiful design.
But beyond falling in love with the Gods of antiquity, Hades is also about Zagreus, the son of the titular God of the Underworld and his many, many attempts at escaping the underworld.
SuperGiant have something of a legacy of adding a truly unique spin to a well-established formula, and Hades is no different. Players will recognise the barebones of a roguelike here, albeit lavishly decorated. Each run awards a small progression and incremental bonuses, and with a bit of luck, you can get a little further each time. But while the foundation of the game might feel similar, the rest of the game is nothing like its contemporaries.
As you explore the many layers of the underworld, you’ll start gaining access to more and more weapons you can use in your subsequent escape attempts. Each one feels brilliant, with fast, precise, and punchy combat. Each strike feels perfectly weighted for the weapon, from the swing of the sword to the punch of the fists. On top of that, each weapon comes with a special attack, like the bows spread of arrows of the spears javelin throw, and your ability to cast out a red diamond that can damage. To avoid attacks you’ll have ready access to the dash, that lets you escape damage and navigate across the many traps and pitfalls in each of the chambers your explore. All of these make up the basics of the combat and on their own are a lovely, simple, familiar combat system to build a foundation on.
But from there the Gods have other designs. Throughout your journey, you’ll reap many boons, and the most exciting are favours from the Gods. These augment your abilities in various ways, and can completely change the way you play run to run. Zeus obviously imbues your attacks with lightning, while Hermes offers speed. Ares adds additional damage to each swing and Athena lets you turn enemy attacks back on yourself. While you might develop favourites as you make your way through, there’s no guarantee who you’ll meet along the way so you best be ready to experiment and adapt each time you play.
This constant change is really effective for making the game feel free for hundreds of hours. Not only do the rooms and enemies change, but so does the way you play. And while other roguelikes offer different equipment and bonuses for different runs, none of them are so expressive and varied as one escape attempt compared to another in Hades.
That said, Hades isn’t the pure roguelike you might expect. For better or worse, it is still a SuperGiant game and comes with their own brilliant storytelling that should not be ignored. While most roguelikes offer a small respite between runs where you can manage your upgrades and take a breath, Hades offers a lot more, but it is a lot more time consuming.
Having been slain by the Bone Hydra, one of the Furies or caught short by a random enemy that got the better of you, you’ll probably be desperate to leap straight back out the window and start another run. But for the true Hades experience, for the true SuperGiant experience, you’ll have to slow yourself down. Each run begins in the House of Lord Hades, filled with interesting figures that you can have brief conversations with. From Nyx to Achilles to Hades himself, these conversations filled in the lore of the world, as well as your own quest.
Your attempted escape from the underworld, the reason the other Gods are willing to aid you, and even the reason that Hades wants to keep you below are all explored in these conversations, delightfully teased out and hinted it as you progress each run. They are expertly written and performed, and so very interesting to watch unfold. SuperGiant have spent a lot of time and effort crafting these characters and to dismiss it is to miss on a whole section of the game worthy of your time, even if you can’t wait to get back into the action.
Missing these also overlooks potential bonuses in combat as well. On your journey, you might come across Nectar, the food of the Gods. This can be gifted to the various NPCs you’ll meet in the House and on the road who might just offer you a keepsake as a reward for such a lovely treat. This, on top of the Darkness and keys you’ll also collect throughout the underworld, are the primary ways in which you can improve your chances going forward. At first you’ll have no clue what each door symbol means as you race through the underworld chambers looking for an exit. But it doesn’t take look to learn what each reward can do and start making the right decision for your run each time you come to a fork in the road.
I haven’t even had the chance to mention the music, another staple in SuperGiant games and Hades is by far one of the best soundtracks that Darren Korb has scored so far, blending the unique sound of a SuperGiant game with something that fits so well within the halls and fields of the Greek underworld.
Hades is a fantastic game. While the soundtrack and visuals are unsurprisingly brilliant, everything else about is polished to the same bold, confident strokes. The story is much more gripping then it appears and is immersive for even the most fair-weather of Greek mythology fans. The combat is everchanging, ever exciting. The progression is satisfying, well-paced and you’ll always have a goal besides the simple desire to escape. There is, in short, not a single overstanding issue with Hades, and should any judge of the damned ever find the need to evaluate it, they would surely put it in the highest echelons of the afterlife.
Reviewed on PC.
Hades is near perfect, offering exactly what you expect and yet somehow exceeding your wildest expectations. From the art design to the gameplay to the narrative, Hades is proof of the incredible creative power that SuperGiant Games have been honing for the last nine years.
- Amazing combat
- Incredible art and sound design
- Hugely interesting story and characters
- Loads of replayability