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Hades is the most recent game developed and published by Supergiant Games. Previous Supergiant releases include the well known classic Bastion, and the highly regarded Transistor. Hades was initially released on Steam as an early release game in December of 2018 and was released for Nintendo Switch, Windows and Mac on September 17, 2020.
In Hades you play the role of Zagreus, the son of Hades as he tries to escape his father’s underworld domain. The game is full of recognizable Greek gods, heroes, and mythological creatures. The major gods provide their assistance to Zagreus in the form of boons and trials, other minor mythological characters will be present either in Hades’ home or be found throughout the game’s levels. At its core, Hades is rogue-lite, hack-and-slash, isometric game that has a similar visual and camera look to Diablo. The combat meanwhile, is highly reminiscent of a game like Dead Cells. Zagreus has 3 major attacks: attack, special, and cast. He also has a dash that can be turned into an attack, a dash attack, and a call which summons a specific god to directly assist. At the beginning of each run, Zagreus can pick one of the six infernal arms. Each of the weapons, sword, spear, shield, bow, fists, and the railgun, has their own very unique play style and different attacks.
Typical to the rogue-lite formula, each escape attempt has a procedurally generated map, and the boons and the potential rewards are all random. Your success or failure isn’t completely decided by the gods of randomness, each room has between 1-3 exits, and you can see what the reward will be for clearing that room. Rewards consist of one of the many forms of currencies, an upgrade, or a boon from the gods. The various currencies are used for permanent upgrades like improvements to Hades’ home, new rooms that appear in the dungeon areas, new passive bonuses, new weapons, weapon upgrades, and relationship improvements between Zagreus and the NPCs in the game. The majority of the rooms contain waves of enemies that must be defeated prior to receiving your reward. Meanwhile, other special rooms can contain NPCs, shops, and healing fountains. Each level biome has a unique look as well, which ties into the level of the Underworld that you’re traveling though.
The boons are what make the runs unique. There are two types of boons; active and passive. The active boons add special effects and increased damage to your basic attacks, while the passive effects can improve the potency of those special effects, and provide other bonuses like damage reduction or global damage boosts. Each god’s boons have a unique element or theme to them as well. For example, Dionysus the god of wine and revelry, adds a hangover effect to your attacks which is similar to a damage-over-time poison effect, while Zeus adds lightning to your attacks. During gameplay, every boon changes the visual look of your weaponry as well. Some effects are subtle like a shimmery pink swoosh from Aphrodite, while some are explosive in your face like Zeus’ lightning bolts, or Poseidon’s water attacks. All of the game’s characters are hand drawn, and have a great anime feel, which refreshes the stereotypical imagery of the Greek gods we are so used to.
To anyone familiar with the rogue-lite formula you will know that dying is an expected part of the gameplay loop. Where Hades really shines is that death doesn’t feel like a bad thing. Each time you die Zagreus is returned to Hades’ home, where you can purchase upgrades and more importantly, interact with the characters. Hypnos will usually talk about how you died, Hades himself will poke fun at Zagreus’ failed escape attempts, and the other characters all have unique dialogue not only with Zagreus, but also between each other. Supergiant has recorded approximately 10 hours of voiced dialogue in Hades and it truly adds so much to the experience. In a game like The Binding of Isaac, death only means you’re restarting your run, whereas in Hades each death pushes the storyline forward.
Even when you beat the final boss and “escape” the game is far from completed (I’ll try to keep this spoiler free). The first time you win you can continue to play with increasingly difficult modifiers added to the runs. This “heat” system provides even more rewards in the form of bounties for each weapon, and as you clear them, the required heat level for the bounties is increased. Heat is also needed to enter Infernal Gates which provide a unique challenge to Zagreus, but also offer much higher rewards than a standard room. Rogue-lites are tough to “finish” and every player’s definition of finished will be different, but even after 50+ hours of gameplay I am still unlocking items and collecting upgrades for my trinkets and weapons. Eventually currency items become less useful, but you can still purchase upgrades that increase Zagreus’ health or power when those currency items are collected.
I played the game in both handheld (720p/60fps) and docked mode (1080p/60fps), and in about 50 hours of gameplay at the time of writing, I noticed almost zero performance issues on my release day Nintendo Switch. The game tends to run very smoothly, but does suffer slightly when there are a lot of enemies and visual activity. However, the slowdowns had no negative impact on the game and resolved themselves quickly. In an era where it seems like it’s expected that games be riddled with bugs and crashes on release day, Supergiant has created an amazingly stable product. Even with all the visual effects on screen during combat, there was barely any slowdown, which is impressive for a game that was developed, and went through early access, solely on the PC.
Hades has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard in an indie game. It comes as no surprise though as the duo of Darren Korb and vocalist Ashley Barrett performed the Hades soundtrack. Darren and Ashley have previously worked on the soundtracks for Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre. The song above is sung by Ashley, but Darren has a version sung by Orpheus where he provides the vocals as well. The first time hearing this song in the dungeon made me pause and appreciate the calmness and how well it fit into the game. As I noted previously as well, Supergiant has included over ten hours of recorded voice overs and dialogue. Darren voices Zagreus in addition to some other minor characters. The dialogue in the game runs the gamut from comedic to emotional, as Zagreus builds his relationships with the game’s NPCs, and learns the truth of his origin.