The hook of rogue style games is their replayability, constantly shifting dungeon designs, upgrade choices, and the quest to get just a little farther in each subsequent run. Hades takes elements from these games, and blends them with a gorgeous exterior (as most games developed by Supergiant tend to have) and clever dialogue to create one of the best - and most accessible permadeath dungeon crawlers since the genre’s inception. The game centers around the ceaseless struggle of Zagreus, prince of the Greek underworld, who wishes to escape Hades, and must slay mythical creatures such as shades, minotaurs, and satyrs in his gradual ascent to reach the surface of the mortal realm. The concept is simple, but the constant progression of weapon, character upgrades and story content kept me engaged from my first run until I saw credits.
Combat is fast and fun. The isometric view and stylish combat blend surprisingly well, with gameplay that demands both speed and precision. There are six weapons Zagreus may choose, and each may be customized in truly unique ways. A sword can be upgraded to place a protective field that disrupts projectiles, or a spear’s spin attack modified so that it instead launches a flying whirlwind projectile. These upgrades are available until later in the game, but by then you will have gotten a handle on the six basic weapons, and “the infernal arms” upgrade system will be just what you need to pull you back in, hungry for more runs. On top of these weapons, players receive “Boons” from the Olympic gods, which give Zagreus 3 different upgrade choices based on the god endowing them. Poisodon can imbue Zagreus’ dash with a tidal wave that knocks enemies back for great damage, and Athena can allow him to deflect enemy projectiles, among others. Each boon is extremely creative and mechanically unique. I always felt excited to get through each dungeon room, because I knew an exciting new upgrade was usually in store.
Combat doesn't wear thin even after dozens of escape attempts
Hades is perhaps the best written roguelite I have ever played. It is one of it’s greatest strengths and the story it tells could only succeed in this genre. Zagreus, son of Hades, is trapped in the underworld and is attempting to escape into the mortal realm to reunite with his long lost mother. Through each escape attempt Zagreus meets with several of the gods of Olympus, who grant him temporary upgrades that are both visually and mechanically distinct. Even better, the dialogue between Zagreus and his fellow gods is incredibly diverse; there must have been hundreds if not thousands of voice lines recorded by the development team at Supergiant. Even after dozens of escape runs, I was still hearing new bits of voiced dialogue from each character. For a game you are going to be playing over and over, this is almost essential for the story to succeed. While you would think a story built around repeated playthroughs would get repetitive and stale, the story drip in between combat and escape attempts is immensely satisfying, particularly because of the wide amount of story content sprinkled throughout each satisfying combat sequence. While some may find this structure frustrating (you are going to have to successfully escape the underworld many times before reaching a narrative conclusion) I felt that it gave me even more reason to try another run.
Each character design is dripping with creativity
Hades is a rogue-lite, and not a roguelike, the difference being that while dying sends you back to the start of the underworld, you do retain several powerful upgrades that make the game significantly more easy the more you play it. This is a double edged sword. I like the idea of being able to complete the game as long as you are committed to the endeavor, but at the same time, once I got through dozens of runs I felt that the first half of the game was completely trivialized, and I was basically beating the first two worlds and bosses in my sleep. If you play it enough, you will eventually find yourself breezing through the majority of the game with your only worry being whether or not your current build is strong enough to beat the final boss and escape. Luckily, Pacts of Punishment, which allow you to increase difficulty in a variety of ways in exchange for goodies, largely negates this concern. The game can get immensely more difficult the more features you enable, and anything from increased enemies to new boss abilities will make your life much tougher the more you enable. Unfortunately, this system really only materialized as I was finishing up the story. It’s a small hangup, but I feel like the game’s difficulty could have used slightly more fine tuning.
Zagreus can use his loot to customize the Underworld Palace in a variety of ways
As with many rogue style games, you will be dying a lot in Hades. But unlike many where death is a crushing blow, I was actually excited to get back to the underworld palace and bond with the gods of the underworld, buy new furniture for my bedchambers with the gems I collected during my previous run, and purchase new permanent upgrades to aid me on my next escape attempt. I know I did criticize the difficulty curve previously, and these upgrades contribute to that, but they also did provide that pull I felt towards my next run attempt. Hades is inspired by roguelikes, but while many of those games are unflinchingly punishing, Hades is a game that wants the player to succeed, and does a great job at bringing them back again and again. And at the end of my time with Hades, I still felt that pull. Even after playing through 30 runs, and completing 10, I still felt like I wanted to go back, not only to experiment with new builds, but also to see what new dialogue and character interactions were in store for me each new run. And for a roguelite, that is the best quality it can have. Hades is one of the best roguelites on tap right now, and one of the best games this year, straight up. Buy this game, or risk missing out.