Hades Review: A Hellacious Good Time

by David Sanchez September 28, 2020 @ 8:00 am

Hades on Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on Switch

There’s been no shortage of awesome roguelikes and roguelites the past few years. A lot of credit goes to Spelunky and Rogue Legacy, which helped bring this style of game to modern audiences. Since then, we’ve gotten so many great games, and this once-niche genre is now more massively accepted and adored than ever. Well, you can add another rad roguelite to the ever-growing list of titles you should play, because Hades from Bastion developer Supergiant Games is truly a standout.

Can You Escape the Underworld?

Hades game story screenshot.

You play as Zagreus, the son of Hades, as he continuously attempts to escape the underworld. Hades doesn’t take too kindly to his son trying to get away from him. As such, the underworld is filled with traps and demons standing in the way of Zagreus’ freedom.

Most roguelites are get-up-and-go experiences that are light on story and focus almost exclusively on gameplay. Hades is mechanically strong, yes, but it also has a strong focus on story. During your repeated attempts at escape from the underworld, you’ll meet a large cast of mythological characters. Hades does a good job of mixing imposing, chiseled personalities from Greek mythology with silly, lighthearted characters. It’s a nice blend that keeps things from ever feeling too heavy or serious.

There’s a lot of unique dialogue in Hades. You’ll die and retry often, but the character interactions never become stale thanks to the fact that there are so many recorded lines of voice-over dialogue. In addition, the story continues to evolve with subsequent retries. So when you get deeper into the world and die, you’ll unlock new story beats that shed light on Zagreus and Hades, as well as the other beings inhabiting the underworld. This stuff is genuinely interesting, and moving the story along is just as fun as exploring the world itself.

The Journey of Zagreus

Hades hack-and-slash gameplay.

Like most other roguelites, Hades features procedurally-generated levels. Even then, the game feels very focused and intent on providing you with the tools necessary for progression. In fact, Hades is actually pretty upfront as to what you can expect in most of its stages. Not only will you gain plenty weapon upgrades and buffs per run, but you’re given hints as to what’s next. If, for example, you clear an area and see two doors, each door will have an icon showing you a hint of the upgrades and items that will appear in the next room.

This style of progression is great because it allows you to focus on specific upgrades or adjust depending on what you need. So if you’re low on health and see a heart icon on a door, it’s likely in your best interest to go that route. Alternatively, if you’re trying to increase your damage output, you can go for a more aggressive, buff-focused run.

You’ll earn temporary upgrades and permanent currencies during your runs. All of these come fairly frequently, so you’re constantly improving Zagreus’ stats. That said, the journey in Hades isn’t a cake walk — as you get stronger, the enemies get tougher, too.

Combat in Hades is fast-paced hack-and-slash action. You’ve got basic, special, and ranged attacks. As you progress, you can unlock different weapons such as a spear, shield, and bow. Of course, if you’re happy with your starter sword, it’s a fine choice, too. Experimenting with the different weapons is a great practice as they all have their nuances, so finding the perfect fit might take a few runs.

To Hell and Back

Hades game boss fight.

When you die, you return to Hades’ chambers. Here Zagreus’ old man will berate and laugh at him. You can also talk to the many underlings of the lord of the underworld. You can even talk to the three-headed Cerberus and give the big ol’ hell-pooch some head scratches. Most importantly, though, you can purchase permanent health, attack, and defense upgrades to make future runs much smoother.

The gameplay loop of Hades is highly satisfying thanks in large part to the upgrades you gain along the way, as well as the story that slowly unfolds with each death. It’s not as addictive or smooth as other roguelites like Dead Cells or West of Dead, but Hades still manages sink its hooks into you due to just how polished the whole thing is.

Supergiant Games has included an optional God Mode in Hades. Toggling this option makes it so that you instantly take 20 percent less damage from enemy attacks. It’s important to note that God Mode doesn’t make enemies weaker in terms of attack or defense, nor does it make your own attacks stronger. It basically lowers the overall amount of incoming damage you receive. Furthermore, each subsequent death will lower incoming damage an additional two percent, with a cap of 80 percent reduced damage.

God Mode is a great feature if you’re struggling in Hades, especially in later areas as the game truly has no remorse for your soul. Of course, it’s totally optional, so if you want to tough it out, you can. God Mode is simply there if you feel you need it, and it doesn’t take away from the overall focus on high challenge.

The Wrath of Hades

Hades roguelike on Nintendo Switch.

For a game that takes place in the dark underworld, Hades sure looks really nice. The comic book art direction of the game features bold colors and hard outlines. This creates a rich aesthetic for each of the character designs, as well as the many areas you’ll visit on your journey.

The entirety of the game’s story and character dialogue is presented with impressive voice acting. From the narrator and Zagreus to Hades and the rest of the gods and demons you encounter, every character is superbly acted. The music is a little hit-or-miss, with random metal themes mixed in with funkier beats. It doesn’t really fit the look of the game, and it kind of stands out a little too much without enhancing the audiovisual experience.

There have been a lot of great games in 2020, and you can add Hades to that list. While it’s been available in an early access state for a while, this complete version is the real deal. The addictive gameplay, evolving characters and story, and solid presentation all come together to create one of the most well-rounded roguelites of the year.

Score: 8 out of 10

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