BY NICK McCOY
There are a few genres of video games that, for a long time, I never really got into. Horror games, for example, have never been my cup of tea, until I played a certain game that’s worthy of its own article. Aside from that, the survival genre wasn’t something I dipped my toes in, either. Sure, I played Minecraft, but the blocky sandbox we all know and love has a lot more going for it than just surviving the night. I have also yet to play a single real-time strategy game.
But the thing is, horror, survival and RTS are all genres I had a decent knowledge of or at least ones I have heard of. But roguelike is a genre I knew nothing about for a while. But it’s never too late to discover something new, is it?
So, I finally decided to pick up a roguelike title and try it for myself; that game was the 2020 title by Supergiant games, Hades.
Well, let’s just say that if this game is anything to go by, I’m really going to enjoy roguelike games from now on. Hades is not only an incredibly fun, action-packed roguelike dungeon crawler with fun combat and insane replay value, but also contains a captivating story, an amazing cast of characters, and an addictive formula. You’ll find yourself still playing well after you’ve said “Alright, one more run.”
Hades was first made available via early access in 2018, before being fully released for PC and Nintendo Switch in September 2020. This was followed by versions for Playstation and Xbox in August of 2021. The game was developed by Supergiant Games, who are known for their previous titles such as Bastion and Pyre, both of which garnered critical praise.
Hades is quite similar to their previous titles when it comes to the isometric viewpoint, where the camera focuses on the main character’s back while keeping environments in clear view. While Supergiant’s previous games are more in the action role-playing genres, Hades is a roguelike.
A roguelike has the player explore dungeons or arenas, battling various enemies and collecting random rewards and weapons that help them progress further.
The basic story follows Zagreus, the prince of the Underworld and the son of the God of the Underworld himself and the game’s namesake, Hades. You play as Zagreus as he attempts to escape from the underworld (also called Hades), fighting his way through Hades’ four levels: Tartarus, the very bottom pits; Asphodel, essentially the hell of the underworld; Elysium, the heaven of the underworld; And finally, the Temple of Styx, which bridges the gap between the human and spirit world.
All of these levels have their own challenges and enemies and are more difficult than the last. Each world also has a boss at the end, who is sure to halt your progress during your early runs. When you finally reach the surface, you have to face the big man himself, Hades. If you thought the previous bosses were tough, Hades is guaranteed to give you a bad time and end a long run right then and there. Along the way, Zagreus meets various gods and figures of Greek mythology, who either aid or try to stop him from completing his mission.
What makes Hades stand out is its death mechanic. A large staple of roguelike games is permadeath; when you die, you lose all the weapons and the upgrades you acquired from the previous run, and have to start completely over. When Zagreus dies, and he will die a lot, he is sent back to the very bottom in the House of Hades, which serves as the game’s hubworld.
Following this, you will need to go back to the armory, grab your weapon of choice, and start your next run from the beginning. You also have a chance to take care of some miscellaneous things, such as decorating the house and your room using the gemstones you collected.
While this may sound awful and even ruin the experience for some, death is hardly an obstacle. In fact, not only is it expected, but it actually may benefit you in more ways than one. After you die, you have the chance to upgrade various aspects of Zagreus through the mirror in his bedroom, such as his health, damage, and other specific perks.
As you progress further and eventually are sent back to the House of Hades, you unlock more weapons as well. After getting a certain amount of in-game keys, you can equip these new weapons. Each of the six available weapons has its own different playstyle and feel, and can drastically change how you approach your run. Also, all of the upgrades you get from the mirror will carry over between runs even after you die.
It’s not just the obvious gameplay elements that make death seem less bad. Each time you enter the house, you get a chance to talk and meet all of the amazing characters scattered around. From the fallen hero and Zag’s mentor Achilles, his mother figure Nyx, sleep incarnate Hypnos who greets you upon each death, the floating gorgon Dusa who serves as a maid, and the three-headed Cerberus, who is a giant puppy more than anything.
All of these characters are written and performed so well, you might die on purpose just to converse with them. Even Skelly, the skeleton in the armory whose sole purpose is to have Zagreus test out his weapons on him, is a fun and entertaining character to meet.
These are just a few of the characters you can meet in the house; there’s the fury Megaera, who serves as one of the game’s first bosses, who you can talk to after defeating her. There’s also the court musician Orpheus and death himself, Thanatos, who you meet later on.
Dying also progresses the story forward. While I don’t want to give away too many story details, the true purpose of Zagreus’ escape attempts is revealed. Plus, when you spawn back in the house, you have a chance to overhear a conversation between two different characters. These give insight into the characters’ relationship and place in the story, and help humanize them and let them grow.
On top of that, Zagreus has a chance to romance a few of these characters. One of the many rewards the player collects throughout the game is Nector, which can be given to other characters as gifts. While anyone can be given Nector, which will earn you various keepsakes that can change your gameplay somewhat, the characters of Magaera, Thanatos, and even Dusa can all be romanced.
As you give them Nector, you will need to perform a certain favor before giving them Ambrosia, another item unlocked as you progress further. Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about only pursuing one, as they can all be romanced at the same time without repercussions (which, if you know anything about Greek mythology, does make a lot of sense). While it doesn’t have a massive impact on the story, seeing the normally sour Magaera smile is completely worth it. No matter who you prefer out of those three, their arcs and their relationship with Zagreus are amazing to watch unfold.
Zagreus himself is a very likable and fun character to play as. His personality borders on a cocky prince and a gold-hearted rogue. His dialogue and interaction with the other characters are incredibly interesting and fun, thanks to both the fantastic writing and the amazing voice performance courtesy of Darren Korb. His story and relationship with his father are all captivating, and their banter is one of the most entertaining parts of the entire experience.
And let me remind you, ladies and gentlemen; these are all characters you meet in the House of Hades. Once you go out and begin making your way through the four levels of the underworld, you meet a whole other set of interesting characters.
Some of the ones you find include Sisyphus, the tortured soul who is pretty jovial considering his predicament. You also have Eurydice, the spirit of a nymph in Asphodel, and Patroclus, a bitter deceased warrior living in Elysium. Each of these people can only be encountered once per run, so if you see the symbol with the gold, purple and red gems, take it. All three of them not only have their own unique story to tell, but offer valuable goodies to help you in your run. There’s also Charon, the boatman of the River Styx who serves as the game’s shopkeeper. His shop offers various items, from health, power-ups, and abilities.
Now, it wouldn’t be a game based on Greek mythology without the Greek Gods, would it? Well, aside from his father, Zagreus encounters almost the entire Greek pantheon during his journey to the top. The Greek Gods assist the prince via boons: Various power-ups and abilities that can greatly increase the chance of a successful run. Not only do they add a crucial gameplay element, but their personalities are also going to make you just as excited to see their symbols on the door, if not more so.
I’m just gonna say it: The Greek Gods in Hades are probably my favorite portrayal of the pantheon in any medium. Sure, it’s no secret the Gods are terrible, and God of War’s portrayal of them is as accurate as it is entertaining. However, seeing the Gods portrayed as more than just irredeemable scumbags is always a nice change of pace.
The Gods you encounter (Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite, Dionysus, Ares, Hermes, and Demeter) are all friendly and amicable towards Zagreus, which does make sense given his familial relation to them. Each one offers assistance and guidance in their own way, and their individual personalities and quirks are sure to keep you entertained.
There’s the God of the Sea, Poseidon trying to be the cool uncle; the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, with her playful demeanor; the Goddess of the hunt, Artemis always offering Zagreus hunting tips; the God of War, Ares, constantly admiring his nephew’s killing prowess; the King of the Gods Zeus almost acting a like a true father to Zagreus; and my personal favorite, Dionysus the God of Wine with his laid back, party-loving big brother demeanor.
And to those looking for a more accurate portrayal of the Gods, they all have traits reminiscent of their true selves: They are all constantly competing with each other, and are quite spiteful. The latter is shown during the Trials of the Gods, where you are forced to pick one God’s boon over the other; the God you go against is never happy. Also, word of advice: If you decide to do the trial and Artemis is involved, ALWAYS pick Artemis.
Each of the Gods’ boons offer a different perk and ability. At the start of each run, you’ll be greeted by one of the Gods, and this boon that you earn will affect the rest of your journey to the top. Zeus offers various lightning attacks, Artemis can help you deal critical damage to enemies, Dionysus allows you to deal damage over time, and Aphrodite weakens enemies. You can also earn a God’s call; a powerful attack where one of them directly assists you in battle. This ranges from Athena turning you invincible, Ares summoning a blade rift around you, and Aphrodite making enemies fight each other.
Now, the gameplay itself is quite simple, yet has a decent amount of depth to it. You will have six weapons to choose from: Stygius, the Stygian Blade, your default sword; Varatha, the Eternal Spear, which once belong to Achilles; Aegis, the Shield of Chaos, an amazing offensive and defensive weapon; Coronacht, the Heart Seeking Bow, which does excellent damage at long range; Malphon the Twin Fists, which require you to get up close and personal; And finally Exagryth the Adamant Rail, the only true firearm in the game.
All of these weapons can be upgraded via the Daedelus hammer you find during your run; This hammer makes your weapon act completely different than before, and turns your original game plan on its head.
While the constant loop of death and starting over may make you think the game’s combat and overall gameplay would get old, that isn’t really the case. The randomized awards and chambers add a nice variation; some of the rewards include coins you use in Charon’s shop, dark crystals you use to upgrade Zagreus in the mirror, and Power poms, which you use to upgrade your boons.
There are also the items you receive at the end of each level; after you defeat a specific level’s boss, you earn Titan Blood, Diamonds, and Ambrosia. Diamonds are used at the House Contractor much like gemstones but are used to purchase new gameplay elements and complete story items. Titan Blood is what keeps the game from getting stale. The blood unlocks a new form, or “aspect” of each of your weapons. This not only gives your weapon a new look, but also completely changes the weapon’s playstyle. It does act similarly to the hammer, but unlike the hammer, you have that new playstyle for the entirety of your run. While the hammer sometimes spawns right at the beginning in place of a boon, it most often spawns in a random chamber later on.
Even after you defeat Hades and make it to the surface, the game is far from complete. Not only can you go on additional runs, but you also unlock the heat feature. This heat adds various different buffs and nerfs that make the game more difficult for our prince. While it isn’t too bad at around three or four heat, max heat is an absolute nightmare that only the most patient and arguably masochistic players should go for.
Once you ultimately complete Zagreus’ end goal (which, once again, don’t want to spoil) the game keeps going, ultimately leading to an epilogue where everything is resolved for good. To put it simply: There are hours upon hours of additional content to complete well after you’ve defeated the God of the Underworld.
Finally, the game’s soundtrack is much like its gameplay: simple yet effective. The main theme is just four notes, but those four notes are played in different ways that are both epic and catchy. Whether it’s the simplified version that plays when you boot up the game, to the louder, more aggressive version played when you fight Hades, you will be bobbing your head and, in the case of the latter, full-on headbanging.
Besides that, there are some absolutely groovy bass lines and guitar licks that play as you explore the four levels. Then there are the voice of both Eurydice and Orpheus, whose individual songs are worth listening to on their own. If the fun gameplay loop and amazing cast somehow aren’t bringing you back, the soundtrack certainly will.
To summarize, Hades is an incredibly enjoyable title that is the perfect introduction to the roguelike genre. From the addictive gameplay loop, the amazing characters and writing, interesting story and fun soundtrack, Supergiant Games’ latest title is worth your time and your money, and you better believe that your “one more run” isn’t actually the last.