Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5 (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch
Release Date: August 13, 2021 (on Xbox and PlayStation)
When Hades first launched in 2020 for PC and Switch, I initially held off. The word “roguelike” usually makes me want to claw my skin off my body and run in the opposite direction. For me, the word inspires visions of endless dungeons, lost progress and a sense of patience I typically do not possess. However, I couldn’t resist the draw of developer Supergiant Games’ pedigree and signature art style on a next-gen console. After many, many attempts to escape the underworld, I’m hooked. Hades is a challenging game that will send you straight to hell again and again. But with such an interesting cast of characters and a compelling upgrade system, death doesn’t have to be a punishment. Read our full Hades review for more information.
Hades review: Gameplay
As you might have gathered from the title, Hades leans heavily on Greek mythology. You play as Zagreus, whose dad, Hades, just happens to be the king of the underworld. In a typical act of youthful rebellion, Zagreus desperately wants to escape the land of the dead and find his long-lost relatives on Mount Olympus. You’ll meet several of these familiar faces throughout the game: gods like Zeus, Hermes and Aphrodite make appearances from time to time, to help you on your quest.
The underworld comprises four themed dungeons, though the actual number of rooms and encounters varies from run to run. Each room contains various enemies doing everything in their power to stop you from progressing. You’ll fight off detached skulls, gorgons, vermin, chariots and dozens of other foes, with the difficulty steadily increasing. Every run through a dungeon is different, but each section ends with a major boss fight that will put all of your skills to the test.
Whether you prefer a melee or ranged approach, the various weapons in Hades let you tailor the combat to your own personal hack-and-slash fighting style. Sword, gauntlet, spear, bow — no matter which weapon you choose, you’ll have regular and special attacks, as well as a magic “cast” that shoots projectiles at foes. These weapons are adequate on their own, but reach their full potential only with Boons from visiting Olympians. These Boons might make attacks more powerful, add area effects, deflect enemy fire, or even let you summon the gods' strength for a moment or two. Choosing Boons carefully is key to success, and it makes Hades’ combat feel more strategic than simply hacking and slashing.
That said, even if your favorite weapon receives favorable boosts from the gods, you’re going to die. A lot. It can be daunting, and even frustrating, to be sent back to the House of Hades after a particularly good run, but every death opens up new possibilities. You can purchase new skills, have revealing conversations, equip different accessories, switch up your weapons, and even pay for strategic and cosmetic upgrades. You can also check in on your adorable pet, the three-headed guard dog Cerberus, who’s a very good boy.
Hades review: Death is just the beginning
At first, escaping the underworld feels like a Sisyphean task (quite literally, since you might encounter Sisyphus on your journey). But after defeating Megaera at the end of the first biome, Tartarus, things start to click. You’ll have a better sense of how to use weapons effectively, and which Boons best enhance your gameplay style. You’ll balance keeping your health up with collecting chthonic keys, darkness, gemstones and nectar, which are various forms of underworld currency, used to unlock abilities and upgrades. You’ll get a little further during each run, until Olympus is practically within reach.
Then you’ll die again.
You’ll get up, wipe the blood off, and try again.
My one major annoyance in Hades was having to repeat the same boss battles over and over. I know that permadeath and losing progress are a big part of roguelike design. But after battling it out with Meg and her sisters a dozen times over, that boss fight became a real drag. I wish there was some way to spend darkness or some other currency to skip bosses you’ve already defeated, which would also take a bit out of the string out of the many, many deaths.
Of course, dying repeatedly is a little easier to swallow when a game looks as good as Hades. Supergiant’s games are known for their incredible art styles, and this one is no exception. Despite its hellish themes, Hades is actually quite colorful, with masterfully hand-drawn artwork. I’m sure it looks gorgeous on any platform, but it really pops on the PlayStation 5. Everything about the presentation is close to perfect, from the graphics, to the dialogue and music, to the buttery smooth animation that never misses a beat.
Hades review: Verdict
Hades is one of the few games that can make losing all of your progress feel like a fresh opportunity. Even if (like me) you don’t typically go for roguelikes, it’s nearly impossible not to succumb to this game’s many charms. It’s a wonderful interpretation of ancient mythology, and a colorful vision of the afterlife. Once Hades clicks, it’s just so satisfying. You might get sick of those early bosses, but you won’t tire of feeling godlike after pulling off a skillful finishing move.
If you missed Hades last year, don’t make the same mistake, especially now that it’s also available on Xbox and PlayStation systems.