Since launching into Early Access two years ago, Hades has grown from being an excellent roguelite with a surprisingly touching story and beautiful art and sound design into being, well, still an excellent roguelite, but now with even more content and a surprisingly heartbreaking story. It’s the kind of constant improvement that shows off just how good Early Access can be when done right, and the end result is that Hades might just be one of the most exceptional roguelites around.
Hades tells the story of Zagreus, son of the titular god of the underworld. It tells this story through small conversations you come across in the down periods between bouts of intense isometric action. The story is perhaps the most remarkable thing about Hades because I’ve played a lot of roguelites and I’ve never come across one that tells a story quite as well as this one does.
Now, if you follow Supergiant, that might not be much of a surprise. They debuted with Bastion, which had an excellent and innovative way of telling its story, then came Transistor, which was a little more straight-forward but not less enticing, while Pyre made up a whole new sport and got you invested in all of its characters as you played. The story being good in Hades probably isn’t that surprising, but as a roguelite, it’s kind of a first.
It’s also impossible to really discuss without spoiling things, but suffice to say that it’s been a joy to see how each update has expanded the story and the satisfying ending that you can now work toward earning. This requires multiple successful runs through the game, but you’ll know when you’ve seen the last of it when you get there, I promise.
This story is all wrapped around Hades’ compelling action gameplay. You dodge, use a basic attack, a charge attack, a special attack, and a magic attack. The dodge is a constant, the weapon attacks are all based on which of the six weapons you’ve got equipped, and the magic attack is dictated by whichever god you’ve decided to cosy up to.
You see, outside of the permanent upgrades you can unlock, the vast majority of your power-ups come in the form of boons offered to you by the gods of Olympus. While each of the gods offers basic improvements to your stats, they also specialise in some kind of status effect or alteration. Zeus, for example, is all about lightning. Ares, the one true god of war, gets two effects, one called Doom which does heavy damage a short while after you’ve hit something, and the other called a Blade Rift, which basically summons spinning swords in set places.
Because of this, your build is going to be absurdly fluid and will be vastly different from run to run. It helps that each of the weapons also feels completely different too. My personal favourite is Malphon, a pair of gloves that lets you punch and Flash Kick your way through everything. If that sounds a little vanilla to you though, you could always go for the Exagryph, which is basically a machine gun.
You get special rewards for using each of these weapons and beating the bosses as you make your way up to the surface, and each of those rewards unlocks some other kind of permanent progression. It’s all just very clever, and you can even build your relationship with each of the characters you meet to learn more about both them and yourself.
The enemies and bosses themselves are kind of a joy to fight. I say kind of because some of them are hellishly difficult (hur hur). You even get variants of some of the bosses to keep things interesting, and again, this often feeds back into the evolving story.
The whole thing is wrapped in the Supergiant’s typically gorgeous visuals and stunning music. One thing that this game does that they’ve not done before is to make sure that nearly everyone you meet is as hot as Hell. That’s not a necessity in a game, but it’s always nice when it’s there. There’s also some serious chemistry between Zagreus and Thanatos, but I’ve yet to reach the end of that little plotline…