I’ve always had a soft spot for the indie game scene, even though my tastes tend to lean more toward the AAA titles. There always seems to be one or two indie games each year that really stand out and hold my attention, causing me to put aside the big name blockbusters and really lose myself in a smaller title that isn’t afraid to wander off the beaten path and make its own way in the gaming universe. Usually, when I find myself looking for a more casual game, I’ll take my time browsing different indies until I find one that sticks. This process can take some time and more often than not I wind up spending so much time on the hunt that I give up and return to a more familiar game until the mood strikes me again.
There is however one exception to my indie developer vetting process, and that is literally anything made by Supergiant Games. Ever since I lost myself in Bastion on the Xbox 360 back in 2011, I decided that I would buy anything they released sight unseen with absolute certainty that I would be receiving a fantastic video game. So it was with Transistor in 2014, and again with Pyre in 2017. With all of that said it should come as no surprise to know that I picked up the full release of Hades on the nintendo switch when it launched this past Friday and I can’t. Stop. Playing it!
Hades is a third person, hack and slash roguelike set in the time of ancient Greece that tells the tale of Zagreus, who after a heated argument with his father, Hades the god of the underworld, has decided that enough is enough and it’s time to leave home for good and seek greener pastures in the world above. To reach the surface however he must first work his way up from the depths of Hell, battling it out with its residents as well as servants of Hades sent to send him home at all costs.
Each run begins with Zag choosing one of six ancient weapons originally used by the gods of Olympus to slay the titans and have since found their way back to the house of Hades. Each of these weapons have their own story to tell and upgrades to make them more powerful. For the sake of time I will simply list them by their basic forms. There is the sword, the spear, the shield, the twin fists, the bow, and the railgun. The last being a surprising twist on the conventional weapons of the time and even the game is quick to point out what an unusual addition it is.
While each of the six weapons is powerful enough in its own right to carry Zagreus to victory, he will have to rely on more than his martial skills alone. The gods of Olympus have learned of his plight and offer assistance in the form of a “boon” in the hopes that once he escapes he will join them in the heavens above. Boons provide anything from enhanced attack damage to general stat buffs and even the ability to summon one of the gods to fight alongside you in battle. Each instance of a godly blessing gives you three boons to choose from so there are literally thousands of different combinations to make each and every run unique.
With weapon and blessings in hand you are now ready to guide Zagreus to victory above. The gameplay sees Zagreus exploring the underworld room by room, fighting off enemies in each in order to claim the prize at the end. Each room has a different random reward which is indicated via a symbol on each door, so the choice is yours. For example a Centaur heart icon indicates an increase to max health at the end of the fight, whereas a lightning bolt will provide you with a blessing from Zeus himself and a boost to your attack. There are also shops and more unique rooms that might include new characters for Zag to chat up and acquire special rewards and upgrades. Almost every room will provide you with a choice between these rewards and the end result is hopefully a build of buffs powerful enough for Zagreus to take down the boss at the end of each of the game’s four areas, with the final boss awaiting him at the surface.
With Hades it is clear that Supergiant has taken everything that they’ve learned from their past games to create a wonderful run based dungeon crawler. Combat is fast paced but tightly controlled, giving me flashbacks to Bastion. At the same time each room requires a bit of tactical thought as to how to approach it, much like the critical thinking required in Transistor. Every weapon has its own playstyle and boons that were created specifically for them. Enemy design varied and every room is sure to provide a new and usually more difficult challenge than the rooms that came before. However, as smooth and varied as the combat may be, Hades is still a very difficult game and much like other games in the realm of roguelikes you will die frequently and with gusto.
Upon his untimely demise, Zagreus, being the immortal prince of the underworld isn’t gone for good. Instead, he drifts along the river Styx, eventually washing up back home in the house of Hades, the final stop for all things dead. While every other soul is asked to form a line and await judgement from the big man himself, Zag is free to roam about where he pleases as it is still just a home for him and not a final destination. In between escape attempts you are free to speak with the other residents of the house to learn more about them and the general goings on in Hades. There are several fan favorites in attendance such as the mighty Achilles, Orpheus, and the bestest boi of the underworld, the lovable Cerberus. Additionally there are original characters as well such as the lovable Dusa, a gorgon head that is the caretaker of the house, or Skelly the undead training dummy who exists only to assist Prince Zagreus in practicing with his weapons before each run.
Zagreus can chat with each and every resident in the house and each character in turn has their own story to tell, their likes and dislikes, as well as their general opinion of Zag and his attempts to leave home forever. The game keeps track of everything that you’ve done in the past and your interactions with the people of the house can often reflect that. In my opinion this is where Hades really stands out among any other roguelike game. I’ve come to look forward to the space between runs. I adore roaming the house and speaking with everyone for good or bad. Additionally you can spend treasures earned during each run to decorate the house as you see fit, adding things like flowers, new seats and even a jukebox to the house to really create a feeling of being lived in. With every death you get to see something new, be it a conversation between two characters or a more personal moment between Prince Zagreus and his subject, and more often than not a snarky remark from “dear ol dad” about how you’ve failed to escape yet again. Most impressive however is how many of these conversations there are. There is a ton of dialogue in this game. I have been playing for almost 40 hours and I am still seeing new conversations every time I return home. It’s an amazing feat of writing that has only served to keep me playing over and over again much to the detriment of my family or social life.
All in all, I’ve never been a big fan of the roguelike style of gameplay. Super high learning curves and a general feeling of failure with little to no reward for the time invested in them had always left me with a bad taste in my mouth, causing me to lose interest and move on quickly sometimes even in the same day. Hades is a perfect example of taking every weakness of the genre and turning it into a strength. Each run is fast paced and exciting and each death leads me to riveting new content that I’m eager to experience, and with the average run lasting a little over 30 minutes I never feel like it’s wearing out its welcome; quite the opposite in fact as I find myself saying “Just one more run” more often than I probably should. Should you pick up the game for yourself you’ll find that I’ve left out quite a few more specific details about the game. This is by design as I don’t want to spoil any of the fun little jokes and surprises that make the game truly shine. Supergiant Games has once again knocked it out of the park with Hades and once again affirmed that I will be a fan of theirs until the day I die.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve yet to complete the game with the railgun and Cerberus is due for a snack and some pets. See you in Hell!