Before you begin, we want you to know we polled absolutely no one on twitter and concluded the best way to read this article was with the Hades original soundtrack playing. If you’re concerned about reading with music on, no worries it is all instrumental and is guaranteed to embolden you as much as it will in-game amidst your bloody quest. If you don’t like music, play it anyways.
Hades presents a greek mythological adventure as if written by Homer himself. Initially, what appeared to be the offspring of a Diablo-Doom parent dynamic took shape into its own glorious game. Hades is by far one of the best games I've played in 2020 and if you appreciate greek mythology, Diablo-like hack and slash combat, or rogue-like dungeon crawlers, then Hades will deliver. Additionally, the upbeat soundtrack, angsty story tone, and the incredibly sharp art compliment the entire creative experience as you journey through the house of Hades and the layers of the underworld.
The overarching theme of this game is that you play Zagreus, son of Hades, god of the underworld and your mission is to escape to the surface. Being a defiant and disrespectful son is an area you excel in resulting in a complex and shaky relationship with your father. Reminiscent of Dante's Nine Circles of Hell, you quickly discover this adventure traverses through multiple levels of hell, each showcasing dark and dubious locations with unique demons. Each time Zagreus is slain, he is sent back down to the house of Hades to restart his journey but only after checking in with some of the underworld's most notorious guests. Little by little Zagreus becomes stronger, better equipped, and more acquainted with the various roadblocks the underworld places in his path after each run. Below I will dive into the Game Structure & Combat Mechanics, Weapons, skills, & Artifacts, the Characters, and our Conclusion & Rating.
Game Structure & Combat Mechanics
I'd like to clarify this game's leveling structure and combat mechanics up front because it wasn't entirely apparent to me. I’m sure part of that is because I watched 10 seconds of the trailer and was obsessed with the art so I purchased it immediately. At any rate, Hades utilizes a lite version of permadeath mechanic where upon dying, you start at the beginning, but not entirely. This lite version sends you back down to the House of Hades where your journey will restart with a chance for improvements. Some of you will read this and accept the challenge and grotesquely enjoy the grueling grind while others might want to stop reading at the end of this sentence. If the latter is you, don’t worry. To offset this, after each run you will acquire artifacts that can be used to increase your strength, improve your starting perks, and upgrade your weapons allowing you to start your next run at a slightly elevated position. Hades implemented this mechanic exceedingly well and while the game is anything but easy, I truly felt a slow creeping rise in confidence and destruction each time I came back and upgraded my features. The FOV and Diablo-like hack and slash flow seamlessly and the combat mechanics provide a variety of options depending on the boons you choose during each run and the weapon you select. An important note, Hades also offers a God Mode for those who choose to use it. God mode reduces the damage taken from enemies by 20%, and adds an additional 2% each subsequent run and finally caps out at 80%. If Hades looks like a game up your alley, but your not sure you'll enjoy the grueling grind at times, God Mode was made for you.
Weapons, Boons, and Artifacts
If I could go back and restart my Hades journey, I would have spent more time upfront understanding the leveling structure, artifacts, boons, and how everything ties together. Knowing these will strategically place you in a much better spot at a much quicker pace. Before each run, you'll be able to choose a weapon. As you progress through the game, you'll be able to unlock additional starting weapons, each providing new attack mechanics and even unique enemies and character interactions. At the end of most chambers, you will be given the option to choose a door. Above each door is a symbol representing what the next chamber holds. Some symbols represent a Boon from a god allowing in-run weapon enhancements. Others advertise Charon's Obol coins for currency, Chthonic Keys used to improve your stats, or juicier prizes from bosses that can be used to upgrade your weapons or the underworld itself. Understanding all of these items and how they work is a crucial element to your gameplay's success. If you don't, you'll end up like me, who, after 20 hours of gameplay, realized I could turn in Darkness at the Mirror of Night in my bedroom after each run to purchase Death Defiance. This skill lets you resurrect yourself after being slain without starting over. Don't be like me. I won't dive into any specific items, but you can find excellent content guides on understanding the Door Symbols from Polygon and the Hades Wiki from Gamepedia.
Every ounce of Hades is steeped in greek mythology and the lore is laden in every detail. The number of characters from mythological literature is the biggest portrayal. A complete list of characters can be found on the wiki here, but if you favor this aspect of the game, we recommend you go in blind and enjoy each surprise appearance. Even if this aspect doesn't strike your fancy, they'll ring a bell somewhere if only subconsciously from that time in high school when you were required to read Homer's Odyssey In English class but totally didn’t so you just read the summary of each chapter on Spark-notes. When it comes to these characters and the lore, Supergiant Games portrayed them wonderfully with a pinch of spice but also in a way that stays true to their origin. From the language used by characters to the naming of weapons and items, Hades litters every interaction with some mythological touch that will drive deep appreciation for lovers of the subject. Below I'll add a few of my favorite characters with a snippet from their dialogue interactions.
Nyx - is the Greek goddess (or personification) of the night. A shadowy figure, Nyx stood at or near the beginning of creation and mothered other personified deities such as Hypnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Death), with Erebus (Darkness). Her appearances are sparse in surviving mythology, but reveal her as a figure of such exceptional power and beauty that she is feared by Zeus himself.
Charon - is the boatman of the river Styx, responsible for ferrying deceased souls across the river and into the underworld. In Greek mythology, he required a single obol - placed into the mouth before burial - as payment for his services, or else the soul in question would be left to wander the banks of the Styx for a hundred years.
Sisyphus - In Greek mythology Sisyphus was the king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth). He was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action for eternity.
Conclusion and Rating
As always, you can check our BLG's rating description here, but we are giving Hades a five out of five taking the second Legendary rating this year. Hades delivered beautifully in game mechanics, but the entire experience was complemented exceptionally well by the the story and tone, gameplay art, music, characters, and the respect for mythology. It's also worth noting that just last week Hades was awarded the INDIE Live Expo Award's Grand Prize. Well deserved and our thanks to Supergiant Games for creating such an experience. We recommend, whether you're in love with the genre or not, that you not even think twice about giving it your time. During an era where game developers are contemplating increasing the cost of games, $24.99 for Hades is theft on the behalf of consumers, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.