EDITOR'S NOTE: Hades won "best Switch game" at the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.
After bathing in the blood of 1,397 demons through 27 chambers in nine failed escape attempts, I had finally slipped out of the clutches of the underworld. Or so I thought.
When I entered the next area, Hades himself plucked me from existence and claimed that the underworld is "still under renovation." To which Zagreus (main character and son of Hades) responded, "I can wait. You can't just keep this place on lockdown for eternity. The mortals up there wouldn't stand for it."
So, I go on to repeat the cycle, laying waste to the available underworld with the aid of colorful characters from Greek mythology in this highly addictive, rogue-like dungeon crawler. And I'll keep going until hell opens itself up for business once again.
Hades kind of flew under the radar, as it launched in early access during The Game Awards exclusively on the Epic Games Store for $20. I am not a fan of early access games, as some fail to improve and most end up flying under the radar of popular titles even if they do get better. However, Supergiant Games wrapped me around its finger by delivering a challenging title with enticing combat, engaging characters and gorgeous art design. This is why I love Hades.
Journey to the Surface
While the game is titled Hades, it's actually about Zagreus, prince of the underworld, who is hellbent (literally) on escaping his home and reaching the surface. The game isn't eye-gougingly difficult, but it's challenging enough, especially because each death lands you right back in the House of Hades, where the proud god constantly gloats over your failure.
The combat is designed with four key moves in mind: Attack, Special, Dash and Cast. Each weapon, like the Stygian Blade or Heart-Seeking Bow, has its own unique attack and special ability, while your dash and cast abilities are constants. The dash serves as your dodge, of course, and the cast is a limited-range attack that can be fired again only after you pick up ammo.
Each of the four moves can be enhanced through the boons from one of Zagreus' relatives, such as Zeus, Ares or Aphrodite. These buffs are temporary, lasting only as long as you're alive. You can earn these boons, as well as other rewards, by entering different chambers.
The combat is relatively simple, and you can grow a general play style for each weapon. However, the boons throw in new dynamics, giving you a really strong upgrade to an ability you don't use often. The randomness of the boons means you can play each run in a completely different style from the last.
Sometimes, you'll hit a fork in the road, and one door will be a symbol of a Centaur Heart (health) and the other will be Charon's Obol (gold). Some symbols are god-specific, while others will lead you to Charon's shop, Darkness shards, Skeleton Keys, the Pom of Power, the Daedalus Hammer and Ambrosia, which will all aid you on your journey.
This adds an extra layer of strategy to the game. I can't tell you how many times I had to choose between an additional power-up and extra health. Do you go for the extra damage and have confidence in your ability to survive? Or do you go for the health and run the risk of being too weak when you have to fight a boss? Each decision can make the game even more dangerous.
On top of that, there are also chambers with skull symbols below the reward, which means that spot will grant you a greater reward of that type. But you'll have to fight tougher enemies, specifically ones that don't stagger.
And occasionally, you'll come across a chamber with two boon symbols, meaning that you have to choose between them, but the god that you pass over will be upset with you. I noticed that you can get around this if you've previously given an Ambrosia (gift to gain an NPC's favor) to the god who you don't choose. That way, at the end of the chamber, they'll show up to give you their boon anyway (this loophole will probably get patched later).
The sweet release of death does have its rewards. When you get your mangled corpse back to the House of Hades, you can redeem all of those Darkness shards and Skeleton Keys that you earned, trading them in for new weapons and permanent upgrades that'll make your next run slightly easier. You can also give Ambrosia to NPCs, and they'll give you Keepsakes, which provide specific buffs like the ability to revive from the dead with 10 health.
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Carry on, My Wayward Son
Hades' premise is somewhat generic. But I'm driven to continue this game long after beating what’s currently available because of the incredibly well-written dialogue among all the characters. It makes this world feel alive.
Zagreus' insatiable will to rebel against his father and escape the underworld infected me. Whether it's Zagreus' charming voice acting or the way Hades mocks my failures, something about fighting my way out of hell thrills me to the bone.
I just loved hearing lines like, "Well, time to go get killed again," when I arrived back at the House of Hades, and, "Never gone this far," when I finally made it past my chamber record. It feels like Zagreus is actually with me on this journey, whereas in other games you are the only voice inside your head.
On top of that, there's the badass 2D art-style, which makes everything look as deadly as it is gorgeous, with the use of bold colors and sharp edges. However, I am waiting on more polish for the 3D art, specifically Zagreus' character design. He and a few other characters look inexplicably blurry, which comes off as awkward in the more-vivid environments.
As you could probably tell from this game's trailer, the soundtrack includes some epic guitar riffs along with beautiful orchestration. Hades also makes great use of ambient sound as well as solid weapon-foley work, so the game sound as chaotic as it looks.
Early Access Teamwork
I respect that Supergiant Games is building this game with the community, via constant feedback on the company's Discord as well as other social media platforms.
While the game currently has only two major areas (Tartarus and Asphodel), Supergiant Games plans on expanding the underworld and adding new features, events, characters and powers.
And even though the next major content update is going live Jan. 15, 2019, the company has also been patching the game pretty consistently since launch. Supergiant Games even stated in its first Developing Hell YouTube video (a series that follows Supergiant through early access) that Hades will receive updates for at least a full year before it's complete.
Needless to say, Supergiant Games cares about its baby, and the company is treating the title with the respect it deserves. Hades will live on, making it well worth the purchase in early access.
There are plenty of rogue-likes that you can compare to Hades, but none of them is as charming as death itself. The overall presentation of Hades combined with the tight gameplay keeps me crawling back to this title even long after I successfully completed the last chamber.
Hades continues to scratch a burning Greek mythology itch with a well-written cast of characters who are brought to life by solid voice acting and captivating art design. I am thoroughly excited to see what comes next for Hades and even more thrilled to continue Zagreus' quest to the surface. Until then, I'll get stronger and wrack up that escape-attempt counter.
Credit: Epic Games