How many deaths does it take to escape Hell? The answer is in Supergiant Games new release.
After a long journey through early access, Hades is finally available on PC and Switch, introducing Supergiant Games' approach to the roguelite genre. The creators of Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre have this time travelled to the underworld of Greek mythology, conjuring up a rich story made possible by the game's well-designed structure.
Zagreus, son of Hades, is the protagonist of this adventure, and he's fed up with living in his own father's Hell. Zagreus is not, however, a lost soul like ordinary mortals, as he has a physical form, exceptional abilities, and lives in a palace full of luxuries. Still, it is Zagreus' desire to reach the surface and leave the underworld behind, even against his father's will. Fulfilling this wish, however, is no easy task, since it will be necessary to cross countless rooms full of enemies.
Fortunately, Zagreus will have the support of several other gods and characters from Greek mythology, including Poseidon, Athena, Aphrodite, Ares, and even Zeus himself. These gods cannot directly help Zagreus, as their power is limited in the kingdom of Hades, but they can grant him special abilities and effects. The protagonist will also be able to interact with several characters in the palace of Hades, such as the three-headed dog Cérebrus, the witch Nyx, and the teasing Hypnos.
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Although it is a roguelite game, Hades has a strong narrative component, which, in true Supergiant Games style, is enriched by excellent dialogue that has been brought to life by some fantastic performances from the actors. To unravel the whole story you will need to get out of hell several times, but we won't reveal anymore, as otherwise, we would be entering spoiler territory.
It is impossible to hide the fact that Hades is a Supergiant game, as it includes several of the defining characteristics of the studio's earlier games. The very bold and colourful 2D art style, the isometric perspective, the fine-tuned gameplay, and the vivacious soundtrack, are elements common to virtually all games in the studio, and Hades is no exception.
This is, however, the studio's first roguelite, which in other words means that Hades has permanent death, randomly generated levels, and soft progression between attempts. These elements are however very well connected to the story, and work in a way that is not as frustrating for the player as in other roguelites since the sense of progress - even with permanent death - is great.
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When Zagreus dies he resurrects in the bloody pool in Hades' palace, always willing to try again, but this is recognised by the story and the characters, who comment on his progress and events that may have happened during his last attempt - like defeating a boss. Zagreus also retains a number of items that he can use in the palace, which will help you become stronger for your next attempt.
Darkness is an item that you will pick up during the adventure, and it allows you to unlock attributes that are most useful for survival, such as the ability to be reborn once when you die or to gain some health whenever you change rooms. Keys are another type of item, which can be used to unlock additional darkness attributes or gain access to different types of weapons. There is also a whole section of buildings that you can visit, to unlock special areas in Hell and the palace, furnish Zagreus' room, and even change colour schemes.
What is not kept with each attempt are the powers of the gods, which have to be regained whenever a new passage through hell begins. Coins are another item that disappear on death, but they can be used during each attempt to acquire items or skills from the merchant Charon.
As for gameplay, Hades works like a typical action-RPG. Each weapon has a primary and special attack, but you will also have access to a dash and a ranged attack. The long-range attack is used through a special crystal, but after throwing the crystal, you have to recover it to use it again. If you hit an enemy, the crystal will become 'trapped' within its target, and can only be retrieved after you eliminate them.
These four actions are the basis of the gameplay but can be changed in several ways. The most obvious is weapons - the sword is ideal for hand-to-hand combat, while the bow is ideal for ranged attacks, for example. That said, the gods' offerings also guarantee certain effects that can slightly change gameplay. You can increase the direct damage from attacks or over time you can damage effects. You can even improve or change special attacks, and add a reflective effect to the dash, or additional damage to it, and even the long-range attack can be reinforced or changed completely.
Each offering from the gods comes in three options, and it is up to the player to choose which one best suits their play-style. You can choose to be more offensive or defensive, go for frontal or flanking attacks, and even become more agile or resilient. There are lots of possibilities, and there will be plenty of opportunities to explore as you repeat your journey through hell.
This is perhaps Hades' biggest problem - the repetition inherent in the roguelite genre. Although the rooms change, the fact that the gameplay is so focused on combat ends up making the experience a bit repetitive. We think that some variety in the gameplay would have helped to make the experience less repetitive, such as an occasional puzzle, secrets, or even platforming sections, but the game is all about combat.
Fortunately, it is a very good combat system, with fine-tuned gameplay, several types of enemies, and exquisite scenery. If you like the roguelite genre, Hades is an excellent proposition, and of course, if you're a fan of Supergiant Games, it's mandatory - as long as you are prepared for the repetitive structure of the genre.
8 / 10
Superb visual style. Compact gameplay with fierce action. One of the best roguelite structures. Captivating characters. Huge depth and replay value.
We wish we had more active skills. Lack of gameplay variety gets a bit tiring.