Developer Supergiant Games has a terrific pedigree, starting with their groundbreaking debut title Bastion. They then released the stellar Transistor, the odd but interesting Pyre, and now their best video game yet, Hades.
Hades started as an Early Access title on the newly launched Epic game store in December 2018. The initial game was extremely enjoyable but was obviously incomplete and still a work in progress. Many updates followed, adding features, weapons, and new Gods, and there was a Steam release in 2019.
Eventually Supergiant was able to add all of their desired features and released version 1.0 of Hades across both the Steam and Epic platforms. It’s a rogue-like game so it was perfectly designed to fit the Early Access mold, as replaying the game over and over is part of the core design.
Hades, in no uncertain terms, is a masterpiece of aesthetics, design writing and sheer fun gameplay mechanics. The core principal of the game has us guiding the anti-hero Zagreus, son of Hades, on his quest to escape the Underworld.
Zagreus is a demigod who has access to six mythical weapons that have ever-changing powers and forms to help him battle through the realms as he tries to escape. During his travels various Gods and other mythical entities will help or hinder his progress as he tries to escape.
The game is structured pretty routinely but with major dynamic modifications keeping it eternally fresh. Every room entered has a possibility of a reward once cleared. This could be currency, keys, health/power upgrades or interactions with Gods.
The real meat of the game comes when Gods or enhancements are encountered and they offer a skill or power tied to one of Zagreus’ actions. Zeus will enable lightning bolts after a dash movement, Athena will trigger a seeking arrow after every attack, or Dionysus will make you able to lob a grenade of intoxicating brew among many other varied powers.
These powers sometimes stack, use different actions, or add a duo effect when combined, but all are worthwhile in different ways. The ability to also augment or modify the powers is sometimes found in a cleared level, which greatly helps progression and the ability to survive the journey.
There are also many other ways to change the powerset of Zagreus as he attempts his journey out of the Underworld. Gathering resources allows him to upgrade his ability to come back after defeat (keeping his journey going after multiple deaths), enhance the types of powers given from the Gods, and other perks.
It doesn’t stop there. Chaos and other mythical creatures can be encountered and enable powers, and shops allow temporary bonuses when levels are cleared. The weapons can even be transformed with resources to change their abilities and appearance.
Bottom line, there is nearly a limitless amount of loadouts that can be built as Zagreus does a run. Of course when he finally dies (his last death if perks are enabled) all loadouts reset but there are permanent perks that can be built up.
This diversity of options makes every single playthrough a true discovery experience as powers and perks are mixed and matched during the run. With the varied weapons, a brute-strength approach, melee approach, or ranged approach can be considered, making each attempt truly fun and different.
The action is fast, varied and incredibly fun, especially as different powers and abilities are stacked. Dashes, quick attacks, area attacks and casts all execute in delightful ways. As all the weapons handle very differently the action always feels quite different on successive playthroughs.
All of this is amazing and makes the game a pile of fun, but the icing on the cake is the truly inspired art style, design, writing, and stellar audio. The game is stunning in motion and sounds fantastic with a killer soundtrack and voice acting.
The design of the Gods and mythical creatures is another triumph in the wonder that is Hades. They all both meet the stereotypical ideal of the personas and vary them in gender, look and feel in a truly great way. There is not a single design in this game that did not impress me in the look, sound and personality.
There are more good things to say about Hades than I can manage in this review. It is a triumph of the Early Access model, improved with every revision but always fun and playable. The full release of Hades out now on Steam and the Epic Games Store is a refined and robust version of the stunning game I started playing nearly 18 months ago. All this time later I am still having a blast with Zagreus as I try to escape the Underworld over and over again.