Over the period of the past year plenty of us have been jailed in isolation, but have you ever been trapped in the Underworld under Hades' watch? The good news is you can escape from the grasp of Hades, it might take 40 attempts to do so but, with Zagreus in your command, anything is possible!
If you have heard of Supergiant Games, the chances are you think highly of them, and for good reason: Pyre, Bastion, Transistor and now, as of September of 2020, Hades. Although out for reasons pertaining to user feedback and such for almost two years prior, the official release of Hades resulted in a total of over a million sales worldwide, and that was just for the Switch and the PC! In a few days’ time, August 13th to be precise, Hades comes to the ninth-generation consoles: the Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation 5. Hades is the product of a laser-focusing of resources from Supergiant Games, resulting in a title that has quickly become a reverential genre-favourite. A game you can simply pick up and play time and time again, taking up only 5.7GB on the Switch, meaning that Hades will be one of those games that will comfortably slot in between larger titles on the consoles. Despite its small size, Hades is a rogue-like game that is worth every bit, quite literally, of data it reserves.
'Hades is the product of a laser-focusing of resources from Supergiant Games, resulting in a title that has quickly become a reverential genre-favourite. What is the context of Hades?'
Gamers play in a reminiscent Isometric view as the heroic Prince Zagreus, the godly son of Hades and his Cerberus hounds, who is trying to dissent against his father by escaping the Underworld he is bound to. Waiting on the surface is Mount Olympus are a group of Zagreus’ conspiring cousins, urging him to defect against the rule of Hades and reunite with them so as to join the posturing on the mountainside. The game takes us through a panoply of randomly ordered rooms, and for the most part, enemies in typical rogue-like fashion, in a bid to reach Mount Olympus for reasons of Zagreus’ that become clearer later in the game.
How does the game look?
Any review on Hades should begin by commending its various art styles – credit where credit is due. I was taken aback by the quality of the animated cut-scenes Hades uses to assist its plotline, a product very much of a respectable anime quality. An adaptation to an actual anime series would have an easy line of work cut out for it – the character art is virtually finished already. Hades, as we will see, is an already unprecedented rogue-like title, but it is the art-style of the game that never fails to impress fans and myself alike. Both in the auditory and visual department does Hades excel, placing it in the upper echelons of rogue-like games for this reason alone despite the games’ other notable achievements. As you travel through the four primary chambers of the Underworld, all comprised of many a room, it feels as though Zagreus should have some Greek-version of the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack…and that is exactly what he gets. In between the grunts of battle and the clashing of steel we get to serenely enjoy a composition of strings, harps and drums in what I imagine to be the classic Ancient Greek style; Hades pays its dues to the revered culture in every chance it gets.
'Both in the auditory and visual department does Hades excel, placing it in the upper echelons of rogue-like games for this reason alone despite the games’ other notable achievements.'
Plot matters to me! Is the game written well?
Seldom are rogue-likes dungeon crawlers imbued with the quality of narrative that Hades possesses; Supergiant have forecast different avenues and duly generated a broad script, resulting in a game where you are in fact lucky to hear the same line uttered twice. The superbly designed characters somehow recall prior conversations had, they remember previous battles fought and remark on Zagreus and his actions in an oft comical form. Hades in this way is a game of its genre like no other: not even triple-A open-world titles have the breadth or calibre of dialogue that Hades does. As much as Hades is impressive, it is also a game that routinely makes you chuckle through various relationship dynamics, the narrator of the game mocking Zagreus who responds quickly in the typical puerile child-to-parent manner – it seems not even superpowers grant you immunity from your elders.
What can we expect from combat sequences?
We fight our way through the Underworld’s protection racket using a fit-for-a-hero Hack and Slash combat approach. Zagreus opts for dash defences, magical cast abilities and special attacks, the latter two being abilities granted by Boons (usually a choice of three) that are gifts from the abetting Olympians, even Zeus. Zagreus is fortunate enough to have Achilles as his mentor, so it is safe to say that Hades is not a game where the protagonist takes an epoch to be able to swing a sword. Our enemies lie primarily in Hades’ mafia team, a group of mercenaries whose chief job it is to prevent any of the Underworld’s denizens from escaping to the surface. Occasionally, we bump into powerful friends of Hades as well as those who Zagreus has done wrong in the past, like spurned lovers, who act as the bosses we have to struggle to beat. A lot goes on during Hades’ fight scenes: our attacks are ridiculously varied when using the myriad Boons and abilities available, when going for one of the myriad combinations we can piece together. We go to town on our enemies, leave some remarkably lifelike blood stains on the floor, some burn streaks scarring Hell’s floor and then we collect the items dropped by our adversaries, recover and move on to the next room.
'Zagreus opts for dash defences, magical cast abilities and special attacks, the latter two being abilities granted by Boons (usually a choice of three) that are gifts from the abetting Olympians, even Zeus.'
Seems like a lot of dying. Is that really any fun?
Hades is no stranger to the standard unforgiving rogue-like approach to death that instils such tension in the genre, the game does however put its own spin on things – it would, this is Supergiant we are talking about. If we die, if our HP runs out, we are sent back to the House of Hades where we abscond Lord Hades’ lecture only to try to escape again. This is really the ethos of Hades: a try-fail-try-fail sort of game. That said, upon inevitable death we don’t lose everything - we retain our earned currency of Obols and our forged relationships with the cast of the Underworld. If the truth be told, Hades expects us to die, and the storyline is far better for it. We are in the Underworld for crying out loud, a place where a dish of death is served for breakfast! Death is life for the Underworld! To truly appreciate Hades as a game, to really delve into character development (of which romancing is part), we have to die not once or twice, but probably dozens of times. It is still mildly frustrating when we fail, but it is not as though all is wasted. In another perspective, you get your money’s worth from Hades if you do repeatedly die. Upon death we ruefully strut out of a pool of blood where we are welcomed back with loving arms into the House of Hades. Instead of sulking about defeated with our head down, the game persuades us to visit Charon’s store to use our blood-stained Obols (another nod to Ancient Greece) to purchase weapons and other various upgrades. Otherwise, we can recover certain items from previous run throughs in the House of Hades and romance some of the Underworld Princesses as we recuperate for another run through. All in a days’ work.
Unsurprisingly, Hades was highly acclaimed across a board of top publications, receiving an average score of 9.3/10 and winning Best Indie Game at Several prestigious gaming awards ceremonies. If the Ancient Greeks could and knew how to play rogue-like titles on the ninth-generation consoles, like the Xbox Series X|S and the PlayStation 5, I am sure they would be thoroughly impressed! Although the Switch is perhaps the perfect host for titles like Hades, Supergiant want to leave no one stuck in the Underworld, hence the decision to release Hades on all eighth and ninth generation consoles next week on August 13th. Hades has an incredible amount to offer even if you are not too much into rogue-like, dungeon crawl titles – don’t miss out on the experience of a life/death-time!
Written by Joel Gunner
Images sourced from Supergiant Games.