Let me preface this by saying two things: I’ve never enjoyed any of the roguelike/rogue-lite games I’ve ever tried and I’m also an extremely cheap person.
In the past I’ve tried games like Enter the Gungeon, Risk of Rain 2, and Immortal Redneck and just never enjoyed them. It might have been the lack of an interesting narrative, or of gameplay that really grabbed me. It’s also hard to justify spending $10+ dollars on these games when I could purchase other games I knew I’d like. So despite trying the aforementioned titles for a bit, I always ended up refunding them. Perhaps playing them for a bit longer might have changed my opinion about the games, but I don’t like forcing myself to try to have fun.
I’d been struggling to find a new game that I could put a good chunk of time into for about six to eight months. I’d end up in a loop of playing PUBG, Halo MCC, Valorant, and the occasional spree modding Skyrim, playing it for a bit, then forgetting about it. This was the loop I wanted to break free from.
Fast forward to September. I open up Steam, and a banner for Hades pops up. \ Greek mythology, fantastic artwork, soundtrack seems like a banger from the trailers, and “Overwhelmingly Positive” reviews galore! This looks like a great game! The trailer has me sold until one word pops up: roguelike.
Well, shit. It can’t be that bad right?
So I buy it, play it, die at the first boss, and refund it.
That could have been the end of it. But it wasn’t. I couldn’t get this game out of my head, (mostly because Steam kept slapping the banner in my face). So twenty-four hours after I returned it, I purchased it again, and decided to give it another shot. I’d just play it once more, I thought.
And then I didn’t stop.
The story of Hades is told through the interactions between the protagonist, Zagreus, the son of Hades, and those he meets along the way as he attempts to escape his father’s domain of the Greek Underworld. He has some, um, daddy issues and he would like to run away to Olympus. Yep, that’s basically the premise without any spoilers. Despite what my crappy synopsis might imply, the characters and story are complex and rich. Every character interaction either adds to the story, allows for character development, and/or is just plain funny. It’s exciting when you see a dialogue bubble pop up, informing you that someone has something new to say. The characters all have their own personalities, from the residents of the Underworld who want to keep Zagreus locked up, to the Olympian gods themselves, who are keen to see their nephew leave the Underworld and his father behind and ascend to Olympus. The voice acting is on point; as Yahtzee put it in his review, every character seems to be voiced by someone incredibly sexy in real life or an actor in a Bond movie.
The combat is incredibly smooth, responsive, varied, and so much fun. There are six weapons for you to choose from, once they are unlocked, and each comes with a unique play style and upgrades. Add to that the various “boons”, or power ups, presented by the Olympian gods and you have an incredible variety of builds you can use on any given run.
Each time you beat the game, you can increase the difficulty of your next run to not only be more challenging, but also increase the rewards you receive upon completing it. I found myself tinkering with different boons, weapons, upgrades, and difficulty modifiers a lot, with no intention of beating the game but just to see how viable the build would be.
Of course, doing so meant that I died, a lot.
Once you die, you show up at the House of Hades to be reprimanded by the God of Death himself, telling you that there is no escape. Eh, whatever daddy-o. All the resources that Zagreus gathered in the past run stay with him upon death, which you can use to increase his powers and abilities. This added RPG element ensures that you feel more powerful, more prepared for the next run. In addition, there are mini-story progressions and additional unlocked dialogues, even in death, which provides a small sense of advancement even in failure.
For all the praises that I’m rightfully singing for Hades, I wouldn’t call it perfect. The biggest issue I had was that once I found a working combination of weapon, boons, and upgrades, I found it fairly easy to beat the game by aiming to collect those boons and weapons. After my fifth or sixth run with the same build, it started to feel stale for me. Now this is partly own fault; I didn’t feel like trying to break out of a working formula, but I wished the game tried to encourage switching up builds a bit more.
Trying out a new weapon felt like a inconvenience at first, but you truly get to see how each weapon/boon combination handles different scenario better than another. For example, I primarily used the spear with an Athena/Poseidon boon combination which worked very effectively for the general mobs. However I found my DPS against bosses to be lacking. Switching over to the bow with an Artemis/Ares combination however, bosses simply melted. So it really does fall on the player to experiment in order to master each weapon and bring out its true potential.
If there is one word I can use to describe Hades, it would be refined. Maybe even polished. There is no aspect to this game that feels like it was added as filler, no element that makes me roll my eyes and curse the developers for a minor inconvenience. I cannot praise this game enough for what it is. Hades is right up there with Metal Gear Solid V and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as the best game I’ve played in 2020. It is smooth, it is engaging, and it is fun. And fun I believe is what matters most when it comes to a video game. Hades has that in spades.
Call it $20 very, very well spent.