Hades Review – Hell On Repeat

When discussing the indie scene and how it’s grown over the years in gaming, you’d be hard-pressed to find a conversation that doesn’t mention Supergiant Games. It’s clear that all of their titles have a palpable amount of love and care poured into them, and their latest venture, Hades, is no different in this regard. Where it is different, however, is that Hades has been in early access for the last year and a half, taking in community feedback and criticism to develop and evolve the roguelike over time. Having followed the game through this timeline, the end result is a hallmark Supergiant experience that’s arguably their best work yet.

The player is placed in the shoes of Zagreus, Hades’ son, who’s decided he’s had enough of his father’s realm of the dead and wants out. Hades doesn’t feel similarly and employs the forces of the Underworld to stop Zag from escaping at all costs. It goes without saying that the plot goes much deeper than this, and most of the narrative is told across the numerous attempts you’ll undergo to make it to the surface. It’s a captivating way to have a narrative unfold, and to see it in its entirety requires ten successful escape attempts, which provides a stark sense of longevity and adventure as you play.

You’ll interact with a myriad of Greek mythological legends including Hades, the Furies of the Underworld, and countless Greek Gods. As you interact with these characters you further deepen their bonds with Zagreus and you also find out more about the state of the world and how everyone is entangled in a web of family drama. It’s this slow, drip-fed style of narrative that kept me coming back to Hades for new runs, even after unlocking the true ending.

While story and characters are what make Supergiant’s titles special, they always back it up with interesting, engaging gameplay that is unique from their other titles. In true roguelike fashion, Hades asks you to die again and again to improve, as you gain resources and experience with each run, regardless of whether you succeed. As you clear arenas, Zagreus will receive Boons from the numerous Gods of Olympus, with each God providing unique advantages. Some modify attacks, provide damage over time, or even just flat out buffs to your attack and defense.  You can also opt for rewards like Obol, the game’s currency, or even Darkness, which is the main required resource to upgrade Zagreus’ stats.  This means that no two runs will be the same, the sheer number of combinations and builds that you can curate as you play is staggering and provides a commendable amount of replay value.

As you unlock the various permanent and impermanent currencies, you can unlock new weapons for Zagreus to equip and use in future runs. These six weapons, called Infernal Arms, all provide unique styles of play, both melee and ranged. From Zagreus’ trademark Stygian Blade to a full-size Rail Cannon, each one feels great to use, and while some are definitely stronger than others, there’s a multitude of ways to build around them to complement what they’re good at. Each archetype has a light attack, special attack, and dash attack, with the Boons alternating and augmenting the way that each of these abilities behaves. Zagreus also has a cast attack, which allows him to fire a projectile at an enemy that stays lodged in them until they’re slain. It’s a simple, yet satisfying combat system that’s further deepened by the systems surrounding it. As you progress further into the game, you’ll unlock even more variants of these weapons that behave slightly differently, providing even more replay value and player customisation.

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Additionally, you can gift certain items you find in the world to the game’s non-playable characters, netting you Keepsakes that provide you with passive bonuses, and small morsels of info and world-building. As you play, you build your relationships with these characters and learn more about the world, leaving the narrative and world, feeling as if they evolve and change as Zagreus grows closer and closer to escaping from the Underworld. It’s brilliant stuff, and even though I’d be well approaching over 100 escape attempts now, I’ve yet to see half of the interactions you unlock from deepening your relationships with the folk of Olympus and the Underworld.

The Pact of Punishment system, which unlocks after your first successful run, allows you to change the difficulty of a run by fiddling with various modifiers, substantially improving the challenge, if you want it to, but also providing you with more rewards. There’s a total of fifteen different conditions that you can modify, and you can mix and match to your heart’s content. It enables a plethora of challenge runs to be attempted in-game, and they come just as Zagreus feels like he’s getting a little too strong for regular runs. The resources you acquire from these higher difficulties are extremely valuable, making the challenge all the more enticing.

Over the years, Supergiant Games have been honing a very particular art style across their titles. They almost always flaunt superbly detailed backgrounds and environments alongside 3D character models which really pop amongst all the other visual bliss. Hades is much the same, but arguably offers the most vivid and varied scenery than any other title from the studio. It’s clear that there’s a lot of love and pride poured into the presentation of Hades, and there’s no doubt that the time spent in early access has fine-tuned the experience to a tee. It performs excellently and is impeccably well polished, to the point where I experienced no bugs or crashes during my time with the final version of the game.

Whenever I play a new Supergiant title, I always find myself absolutely enthralled with it, transfixed by its visual allure and engaging gameplay. After playing their second title Transistor, I was convinced that they wouldn’t be able to top themselves, but I stand corrected. Hades is a perfect amalgamation of everything that makes Supergiant Games one of the best independent developers out there, with a killer gameplay loop, heartfelt story, and writing that will have you hinging on every single word. This game deserves all the attention it’s getting and more, and I implore you to play it for yourself.
A heartfelt and captivating main narrative
Engaging character interactions and world building
Incredible amounts of progression, and near-limitless replay value
Simple and satisfying combat system
Oozing with style and polish
Some weapons feel weaker than others