hades 2 ea review

Hades 2 Early Access Review – Magickal Beginnings

Supergiant's first ever sequel is off to an incredible start.

While Supergiant Games have released hit after hit in the time they’ve been making games, nothing took off like Hades did when its 1.0 version launched in 2020. It’s arguably the poster child not just for the potential of early access, but roguelike games in general, masterfully weaving storytelling with a genre that requires creative approaches to narrative.

It’s no surprise that the critical and commercial success of Hades spawned Supergiant’s first ever sequel in Hades II. Doubling down on the early access gambit with an all new protagonist, story setup, gameplay elements, and a breadth of content that surpasses the original game’s 1.0 launch. While the full launch of Hades II might not be in the foreseeable future, what’s already here is an utterly fantastic and dense offering that sets the stage for what will undoubtedly be an impeccable sequel.

hades 2 ea review

Set some time after the events of the first game, Hades II shifts focus from the charming Zagreus to his ambitious sister – Melinoë. The underworld has been usurped by the Titan of Time, Chronos, who also holds Melinoë’s family captive. This setup feels like much more of an immediate threat in comparison to the familial melodrama of the first game, placing more focus on the politics of the Greek Gods and the task Melinoë is burdened with in the fight against her grandfather.

It’s instantly engaging and Melinoë is a markedly different protagonist from Zagreus. She feels partly responsible for the situation at hand and is constantly wrestling with her self-doubt and conceived shortcomings. She feels more flawed than Zagreus and is all the more interesting for it. The conflict with Chronos is also multifaceted in the way it involves the Greek pantheon as well as the denizens of the underworld. It’s clear that there’s a lot more to tell here, with run completions revealing new parts of the story to Melinoë and thus, the player, slowly unraveling the mystery of how Chronos managed to snatch away the underworld from Hades.

hades 2 ea review

This all new setting and narrative setup is also a great excuse to bring new characters into the fold. With Zagreus and his compatriots imprisoned by Chronos, you spend more time with other figures from the mythology that Supergiant have yet to explore. Melinoë’s affinity for magick has led to tutelage under the expertise of Hecate to prepare for the conflict to come, and characters like Odysseus and Hypnos have all been displaced by the wrath of Chronos.

This cast of characters pulled from the parts of Greek mythology gather at The Crossroads, a refugee camp built to evade the scrying eye of Chronos. It also serves as Hades II’s hub area between runs, serving up new dialogue and developments as you inch closer towards dethroning Chronos. While it isn’t as revolutionary as the first game, it’s still an addictively–engaging loop. Even if you don’t beat your best run, you know that new narrative tidbits and character developments await you at The Crossroads.

hades 2 ea review

Much like the original game, this hub area is also where you’ll setup your loadout for a run, but also serves a few new purposes that are unique to Hades II. Gone is the Mirror of Night in place of Arcana. Aside from being a more fitting system for Hades II’s theme and characters, Arcana allows you to activate cards for bonuses in any given run. Each has an energy cost called Grasp, with Melinoë having a limited amount to play around with. You can of course increase your total Grasp as you play, but it’s impossible to have all Arcana activated at once. Instead of putting points into permanent upgrades and forgetting about them, you need to consider how activated Arcana synergise with your Keepsake, chosen weapon, and goals for that run.

There’s also Incantations, which are more permanent upgrades that serve myriad purposes. Each one requires materials to craft, but feels impactful in the kind of options they unlock. These are incredibly varied. Some impact runs, allowing Melinoë to access rooms with healing fountains in each location or increasing collected resources. Others expand the range of systems you can interact with at The Crossroads, like being able to plant seeds to grow your own materials, or introducing a new vendor that brings some harder to find items and currencies. These are slowly doled out to you as you complete runs and encounter new locations, adding new wrinkles and layers to the gameplay loop and how you approach progression. My only real gripe with all this, is that there are so many currencies and materials to keep track of.

hades 2 ea review

Once you’re geared up and ready to go, Hades II feels familiar, but adds just enough to keep things feeling unique when it comes to playing as Melinoë. On top of having a traditional health bar, Melinoë also has a Magick bar. Charging any of Melinoë’s three moves will consume some Magick for Omega attacks, which often deal more damage, have heavier crowd control effects, or sometimes both. Magick is automatically refilled when you move into a new encounter, so you’re encouraged to spend Magick heavily throughout runs.

Aside from that, the age-old mantra of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, rings true here. You’ll move through larger locations comprised of encounters, each one rewarding you with minor or major pickups that’ll help you along your run to the underworld. From Godly Boons that bolster your general abilities to potions that increase your total Magick. There’s a load of new gods that weren’t present in the original game, like Hera and Hestia that offer fun new build crafting opportunities not found in the first game. There’s also new vendors to find on runs like Arachne, who can spin-up powerful armour for Melinoë that protect her from damage and yield additional effects.

hades 2 ea review

It really is more of that same great loop from Hades, taken to the next level through fun new gameplay ideas that shake up how you approach Boons and the kind of Melinoë you want to build for any given run. While Hades felt like it had a few truly dominant Boon types, Hades II feels better balanced in its current state and runs feel better for it. There’s still clear winners here for sure, but I never once felt short-changed by the options presented to me when choosing my next reward. It also just feels damn good to play, and gets truly chaotic when you’re deep into a run.

The big changes in actual runs comes down to a lot of the level design that Supergiant employs in each location. While Erebus is very similar to what you’d find in the first game, the Fields of Mourning are much more non-linear in their progression. They offer wide open fields with major and minor upgrades to find, and it pays to explore these encounters to the fullest before you move on. Oceanus is similarly distinct in how it uses traps to create dynamic arenas. Each location’s boss fight is also fantastic, each one testing you in different ways and expanding the world and sense of place.

hades 2 ea review

While you might think this applies to regular runs, Hades II switches things up a bit by having two distinct runs. One where you descend into the underworld to confront Chronos, and another where you head to the surface to halt his siege on Olympus. The former is far closer to completion than the latter in this early access build, but it’s clear that Supergiant wanted to flex their creative muscles a bit when it came to designing these two runs. They also vary in difficulty, so once you complete the underworld, you can continue challenging yourself above the surface.

To shake up these runs even further, this version of the game has a whopping five weapons to choose from, each with their own Aspects that shake up their combat loop. They also feel very distinct from what Zagreus could choose from. Melinoë’s magickal inclination has her wielding staffs, dual blades, projectile hurling wants, and even a giant axe. There’s so much variety here before you even start playing with the Aspects, and prospect of a sixth Nocturnal Arm on the way is an incredibly exciting one.

hades 2 ea review

It’s also just astonishing how much attention to detail has been poured into Hades II. The dialogue of bosses and characters back at The Crossroads changes and evolves based on the weapons you use, what you accomplished in that run, and more. It’s incredible to see the game react to your achievements and failures alike, while also giving some deeper insight into how Melinoë feels about the current happenings.

While Hades II doesn’t reinvent the visual style of the original game, it takes it to the next level. The hybrid of 2D and 3D graphics is still mesmerising, but approached with a darker, more detailed touch than what was found in the first game. Hades II in general leans into darker colours, leaving behind the fire and brimstone of the first game for more ethereal greens, purples, and blues. It fits the narrative tone quite well, and Supergiant has proved once again that their 2D character designs are some of the best in the business.

hades 2 ea review

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the music. It’s something that Supergiant always deliver on, but the original Hades stood out in its uniqueness and approach to audio design. Hades II echoes the same qualities, and takes them to the next level. From the absolutely banging title theme to thrilling combat tracks, to a whole boss theme that evolves as you take out each member of a musical trio in Oceanus. It’s head bopping stuff and just when you think you’ve heard all Supergiant has to play for you, they pull out the next hit.

The most remarkable part of Hades II in its current form is that, it doesn’t at all feel like an early access title. Everything here is so polished, and feels content-rich in the way the first game was. The idea that there’s more coming over the next year or so is ridiculous given its current state. Supergiant Games are out to reinvent the genre once again and Hades II is a wholehearted step forward towards that goal.

hades 2 ea review
Very rarely does a game launch in early access like Hades II. It paints a promising picture of an ambitious and content-rich sequel that surpasses the original in every way. That's a tall order for a sequel to a game of the year contender, but it's clear that Supergiant are pulling out all the stops, and then some.
Engaging narrative setup and protagonist
Great gameplay loop with excellent new additions
Diverse suite of weapons and magickal abilities
Another sublime Supergiant soundtrack
Gorgeous colour palette and art direction
Too many currencies to keep track of