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Hades II

Hades II Hands-On Preview: Killing Time has Never Been so Fun

Death to Chronos.

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Hades, Supergiant Games' magnum opus, is a game so beloved by fans of roguelikes that to many it is synonymous with the genre and the heights it can reach. Demands for a DLC or sequel were piling up as soon as the credits rolled for many. The only question for Supergiant, after delivering such a tremendous game, was where do they go from here? It turns out the answer is down.

I mean that in the most literal sense, as rather than clambering up and out of Hades, this time around we're fighting from the forgotten fields of Erebus all the way down and back into the depths of the Underworld, following the Titan of Time Chronos taking hold of Hades' realm and waging war once more on Olympus.

Hades II

Gone is the bloody, grandiose, and oddly welcoming House of Hades, along with most of the characters we held dear from the first game. The cheeky chappy Zagreus is currently MIA, and so it falls to his sister, the Princess of Darkness Melinoë to bring down the Titan. Rather than acting as the rebellious youth that we are in the first Hades, disobeying but never really betraying our father in the search for our mother, we are in Hades II thrust into the front lines of a war that threatens the very heavens themselves. It's a massive change in terms of what's at stake, and in less capable hands it could have felt incredibly jarring.

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There is a disconnect between Hades and its sequel, but it feels at all times intentional. From the barebones atmosphere of your camp at the Crossroads to the new depictions of the gods and goddesses as they prepare for war. As a long-time fan of the first game I couldn't help but feel slightly disheartened, longing for the peaceful, jovial atmosphere of the first game. Supergiant has done a great job here at making the new setting feel different without feeling alien. Like its predecessor, Hades II immediately transports you to and immerses you in a strange, dangerous place, that is still so beautiful and full of deep, interesting characters that you can't help but want to spend time there.

Hades II

Forgive me for blathering on about the narrative and setting so much, but this is where the most notable changes are in Hades II. Gameplay-wise, Supergiant's solid-gold formula shines yet again. Fast-paced combat revolving around hacking, slashing, and dashing is just as fluid and as fun to play as it is in the original Hades. Your regular attacks, specials, and cast can all be bolstered by various upgrades, the vast majority of which come from the gods up on Mount Olympus. Hestia, Selene, and Apollo are just a few of the new faces which make their presence known this time around, complete with new and lovely hand-drawn designs.

These new boons and the new weapons you can use shake up Melinoë's combat in comparison to Zagreus' fighting styles, but the largest change you're going to notice in the combat is that of a secondary resource you use for stronger special and regular attacks. As a witch as well as a goddess, Melinoë has many tricks up her sleeve, and thus her options are a tad more varied. Rather than her cast just being a projectile that sticks in and then pops out of enemies, Melinoë can trap enemies in a wide area-of-effect before blasting them for big damage if you hold the button down.

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There are some other, minor tweaks too, like the addition of silk armour you can pick up, giving your health an extra boost if needed, as well as an extra effect so long as that armour lasts. Outside of combat, Hades II has stepped up its game when it comes to resource gathering. Rather than just setting out with your fishing rod off into the depths of hell each run, Melinoë can equip herself with a pick to mine silver (often used for weapons), a tablet that can bring stray Shades back to camp (which provides an upgrade resource), a spade to dig for flowers, and of course the trusty fishing rod as well.

At the great witch's cauldron in front of Hecate at the Crossroads, you can upgrade your camp, add extra resources along your task, and further the story using the resources you pick up with each item you equip. The only problem is you're only allowed to bring out one item with you on each run, so if you spot some silver and you've only got your trusty spade, you're out of luck.

Hades II

So far, I would say I've struggled to say whether Hades II offers more or less of a challenge than the first game. In some senses, it is more difficult. You only get one Death Defiance, for example (or two, if you equip a certain keepsake). Your health starts off much lower and the ways to recover it have been largely nerfed by the looks of things. On the other hand, Melinoë herself feels a tad stronger than Zagreus in what she gets in her basic kit. The ability to ensnare enemies is very strong, and can get you out of tight spots quite easily. It also feels like it's going to take more time to properly fill out your upgrade branches as well, as unlike in the Mirror of Loss from the first game, you can't always beeline for the skill you want. Some are hidden until you upgrade their adjacent cards, and you'll quickly find yourself needing to save up Ashes from multiple runs just for one upgrade.

For the audio and visual experience, Hades II is an incredible feast for the eyes and ears. There's a song in the second zone which will quickly be going to my regular listening playlist when it becomes available, and otherwise the general music you hear while smashing your way through enemies is largely great, too. Characters and their designs are once more packed with personality. Some are exactly as I imagined their Greek myth counterpart, while others have gone in a different, but still visually pleasing direction. And of course those characters would be little without the stellar voice acting Supergiant is well-known for at this point.

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Hades II, unlike its predecessor, has an incredible amount of pressure put on its launch, even in early access. Four years after the first game released, most are hoping for a pretty complete experience right out of the gate, and I have to say Supergiant have done an impressive job in putting out a game that still has some ways to go, but in no way feels like a disservice to the original. There are certain things you'll spot as missing. Character portraits aren't all there, for instance, but on the other hand, a great amount of work has been done to bring about an experience that still exudes excellence all the same.

As Melinoë is to Zagreus, Hades II is a worthy successor to the original game thus far. The plot has taken great leaps forward, and while some may criticise the gameplay formula for being largely similar to what came before, when you're onto a winner, it might just be for the best not to deviate from it. Even if it's not yet finished, Hades II is an excellent way to kill Time.

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