The internet is horny for Hades. The roguelike action-RPG from Supergiant Games is packed with charming characters, an addictive loop, and oozes style. Having incubated on Steam Early Access since December 2018, early adopters can be forgiven for screaming “we told you so.”
The premise is simple enough: escape the underworld and reach Mount Olympus. The player takes control of Zagreus, prince of the underworld and son of Hades as you fight through the hordes of hell. Zagreus’ personality is magnetic, his crisp and calm tone belies the otherwise frantic nature of his quest. Listening to him banter with the narrator is a delight.
While voice actor Darren Korb’s line delivery is pitch-perfect, so too is the soundtrack – which he is also responsible for. The battle themes are full of adrenaline but the more somber tracks manage to capture the atmosphere perfectly, granting a breather from all the chaos. It would be surprising not to see it nominated, at the very least, for awards at the end of the year.
Gameplay fitting for the Gods of Olympus
Each encounter becomes more frenetic than the last as you climb through the underworld and tackle unforgiving bosses at the end of each stage. To make your life easier, Zagreus’ extended family help out by offering boons which grant both passive bonuses and status boosts to both your attack and defense. Each of the Gods of Olympus are beautifully realized through their alluring character design and snappy dialogue.
The opportunity to take diverging paths with different rewards that reward the short, medium, and long term creates a multi-layered system. It means that there is no one sure strategy to succeed. After a failed escape attempt you can upgrade your stats or change your weapon, adapting and learning from your mistakes.
Repetitive grinding can often lead to monotony in narrative-heavy games. Side quests can become a chore if you carry out the same task or hear stock dialogue. Here the narrative is used as a reward for failing a run. Hades keeps things fresh with thousands of lines of unique dialogue. They are triggered depending upon the progress that you made or didn’t make in your previous run.
Hades is fair and fun
There’s much to admire about Hades. Perhaps above all else, the game is a joy to play. As the enemies evolve the encounters become more challenging, but it never enters the realm of unfairly punishing. Supergiant has worked tirelessly during early access to implement feedback from the community, particularly when it comes to accessibility.
It’s easy to grow tired of the hype cycle that the juggernaut that is video game marketing perpetuates. However, when a game’s final build drops a day after being announced, the platitudes and excitement are more organic. This is your free pass, to get caught up in the hype of Hades and sink your teeth into one of the best games of the year.
It’s perhaps fitting that the underworld would be a place packed with temptation that prevents you from leaving. Such is the nature of how the story unfolds and the addictive gameplay loop. I almost enter each escape run looking forward to failing.
To be honest, Hades wasn’t even close to being on my radar this year. However, it has managed to drag me into the depths of hell, and it will keep me here for the foreseeable future.