Review – Hades
Supergiant Games has become one of my favorites developers over the years. I was introduced to them a little late in the game, with Transisitor being my first title I played a couple years ago. However, that game was all it took for me to get hooked and I proceeded to go back and play Bastion and Pyre. Now I’m not normally a huge fan of roguelikes/roguelites, but when Supergiant Games announced that they were releasing a new roguelite that was inspired by Greek mythology (a personal favorite of mine), well I knew I just had to give Hades a try. Thank the gods I did.
In this game you don’t play as the titular Hades, but rather his son, Zagreus, the Prince of the Underworld. Zagreus is desperate to escape the Underworld and frequently tries to escape while his paperwork laden father watches in ever-growing irritation. That’s right, in this game Hades, the intimidating Lord of the Underworld, is revealed to have been relegated to not much more than a frustrated paper-pusher. And honestly, I love it.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m not normally a fan of roguelikes or rougelites. The main reason for this is that often times games don’t have a real reason for you to be doing the same thing over and over again, except to get a little further for your own pride. In Hades however, this concept makes perfect sense. Zagreus keeps try to escape the Underworld and Hades makes sure to change up the paths and rooms to make it so Zagreus can’t memorize the way out. This is the perfect premise for a roguelite.
Now if Hades was nothing more than some unfamiliar protagonist trying to beat enough levels to escape, I probably would have gotten bored with it. However, that’s not the case. Yes, the meat of the game is having Zagreus attempt to escape, but little bits of his past are revealed throughout the game. This provides a great incentive for you to keep playing, as the game constantly gives little snippets of the story and insights into the gods after a few runs and interactions. Not to mention the glorious combat.
Supergiant Games has made a name for themselves for having fast-paced, responsive combat and Hades is no exception. Zagreus starts off with the Stygian Blade, a greatsword, but he unlocks various other weapons along the way, such as a bow, a shield, and a railgun. Each have their strengths and weaknesses, and playing around with them is a ton of fun. Each weapon can be temporarily upgraded by collecting Daedalus Hammers, but these buffs are lost whenever Zagreus perishes. Eventually he can upgrade them permanently by using Titan Blood, which is difficult to find and involves defeating bosses with each weapon type. These permanent status effects are far more effective than the temporary buffs and will make later rooms much easier to complete, so it’s well worth the effort.
Even so, Zagreus will still need all the help he can get along the way. Luckily, every so often he will discover a chest with some goodies inside, which will only unlock after he’s dispatched all of the enemies from the room. He’ll also occasionally run into Charon, the ferryman who takes souls safely across the river Styx. Charon doesn’t ferry a boat in Hades, instead he acts as a merchant who will show up from time to time to sell Zagreus health or artifacts with status buffs. These are a godsend (no pun intended), especially when you are getting dangerously low on health or looking for an edge over the tougher enemies.
Zagreus will reunite with his Olympian family along the way, as they offer him assistance by providing boons. Each of these boons will grant Zagreus status increases and buffs, but like the Daedalus Hammers, they’re only temporary. Each time he dies, he’ll start right back at the lobby of the House of Hades with his father smugly awaiting him. There is a way he can permanently upgrade his stats though. In every escape attempt he’ll earn Darkness points. Darkness is one of the few things that Zagreus gets to keep when he dies. He can then spend his Darkness points by gazing into his reflection in the Mirror of Night inside his bedroom chamber.
He can also keep several other items from his runs, like Chthonic Keys, Gemstones, and Nectar. These allow Zagreus to unlock new weapons, renovate the House of Hades, and give as gifts, respectively. Renovating the House of Hades will open up additional rooms for Zagreus to explore. Giving jugs of Nectar as gifts to the gods and other mythological beings will occasionally result in a trinket that will also grant Zagreus various buffs. All of these items offer ways to keep your gameplay feeling fresh and unique with every escape attempt.
Visually, Hades is simply stunning. Every character and room has been expertly hand-painted with vivid and bold color palettes. The various gods have been designed in ways that perfectly match their powers and personality traits. For example, Zeus’s beard looks like clouds and wears a crown made of lightning bolts, while sleepy-eyed Hypno has a robe adorned with lamb’s wool. Even Charon is wearing a cloak covered in golden coins. I love that the developers really took their time fully researching Greek mythology to not only give them the proper look, but also to craft their personalities to match. Fortunately, they took the often severe nature of these characters and gave them a healthy amount of humor without being overly zany.
I’m also pleasantly surprised that Hades runs so well, even on Switch. It runs at a stable 60fps and never falters. No matter how many enemies are onscreen, the performance will remain buttery smooth. This is crucial in a game like this where you’ll have tons of enemies and projectiles flying across the screen all at once. There are no framerate dips or stutters, which means you’ll be able to annihilate droves of otherworldly enemies uninhibited.
The sound department has always been a high point in Supergiant games and Hades continues this tradition. Darren Korb has nailed it again with another beautiful soundtrack. My only small issue is that the songs, while fantastic, can get a little repetitive at times, as there is only one track per section. Since you’ll be revisiting the same areas over and over with every new run, it’s only natural that you would hear the same few melodies.
I was initially bummed that I didn’t hear any songs featuring Ashley Barrett, another Supergiant staple, but she did pop up later in the game for another hauntingly beautiful tune. Darren Korb also put his vocals on display as the lamenting Orpheus to Ashley Barrett’s hopeful Eurydice. They each perform separately at first, but you can hear their duet later. It’s heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. I could listen to their music for hours (and I have).
The voice acting is top notch throughout and each performance is perfectly delivered. Logan Cunningham (another Supergiant veteran) is once again performing the narration, as well as most of the Olympians. I was shocked to learn that the voice of Zagreus is performed by none other than the composer, Darren Korb. It’s wonderful to see him branching out into other avenues within Supergiant games.
I have to say that while I was expecting to enjoy Hades mainly on the merit that it’s a Supergiant Games title, I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did. Everything from the premise, the art style, sound design, and combat are masterfully done. I can’t put this game down and I’m not even a big fan of roguelikes. Fans of the genre cannot miss this one and even people who don’t care for the genre should still give it a try. It’s an absolute masterpiece in every way with some of the most replayability I’ve seen in a game.
The hand-painted art design is bold and striking. Each character is beautifully detailed in clever ways that best represent their powers. It runs at a stable 60fps and is buttery smooth regardless of how many enemies are onscreen.
The combat is fast-paced and incredibly satisfying. You’ll unlock several varieties of weapons as you progress, each with their own strengths and styles. Each run will grant you different boons and rewards, which makes every run feel completely different.
Darren Korb has done it again with another beautiful soundtrack. My only small issue is that it can get a little repetitive after a while as there aren’t too many songs. However, the voice acting is all top notch.
Coming from someone who typically doesn’t care for roguelites, I couldn’t put this game down. The premise and combat combined with how the story is parceled out, will keep you engaged for hours upon hours.
Final Verdict: 10
Hades is available now on PC and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Hades was provided by the publisher.