Hades Review – Our Gameplay View!
The roguelike genre has come an incredibly long way, and Hades is a testament to that notion. Subjecting you to the vicious circle of dying and beginning again, these titles have gone through a cycle of iterations since the release of the first rogue game in 1980.
The concept itself has been fused with other genres such as card games and beat-em-ups to form entire subgenres with their own cult followings. And although the original concept has been light-years behind, the core ideology remains. Hades is by no means a pure rogue game.
However, it strikes a near-perfect balance of brutal challenge and addictive gameplay. It’s the culmination of decades of building on ideas from other games long past, cherry-picking what constitutes the vicious cycle of death, and putting together a good executed action game a new fun is started.
Even if the “Academy of Games” denies its legitimate claim to be game of the year, it makes it unmistakably clear that it is actually a game that is not that easy to beat.
What Hades makes clear about itself is that it spares no detail and only aims to be the total package. This is immediately apparent through its impeccably written story.
As the prodigal son of the Greek god of the underworld, Zagreus, you have chosen to escape the desolate and gloomy land of the dead. The Olympian gods sensed this and are eager to help you rise to where they are and live among them, likely to belittle Hades.
So you begin your escape attempt, but papa, dear, won’t just let you walk through the front door. He has alerted all denizens of his domain to stop you at all costs, even if it means killing you.
Luckily, as a descendant of a god, you don’t actually die, you just return to the house you detest. Thankfully, there are a few allies willing to help us along the way.
Most roguelikes tend to either have very thin stories or use discovery mechanisms to surface their narrative. Hades continues throughout the year by telling a good video game story, complete with voice acting, cutscenes and lots of dialogue.
Each and every one of these elements is created and written with the utmost care. The attention to detail is of such a high level of quality that it puts some modern AAA titles to shame. Forget for a moment how superbly delivered each line is.
The sheer scale and variety of dialogue for all of the characters in the game is overwhelming. After countless cycles, I still get new jokes from Hypnos every time I recover from death.
And making so many different lines is hard enough. I don’t think I’ve come across too many jokes, comments, and snoops that haven’t at least gotten a smile or a giggle from me. Hades is just so well written.
With each new run you will learn more about Zagreus and his relationship with his father. Whether he’s scolding fellow underworld denizens like Nyx about Hades, or clashing head-on with the big man, you’ll learn a little more about just how troubled his childhood was.
More importantly, progression in the game uncovers the fate of Persephone, the mother of Zagreus, who left the House of Hades to reach Mount Olympus. Although the offended god of the underworld strictly forbids her name to be mentioned, Zagreus still wants to know where she is and if her escape attempt was successful.
These elements, along with a variety of subplots, mini-stories, and character portrayals, create a complex and profound overarching narrative that delves into the heart of life in the Greek underworld.
While you might think it’s just fire and brimstone, its portrayal in Hades is more nuanced. As with most roguelikes, the game is divided into acts, which you progress through by defeating their respective bosses.
Each act represents a different biome, complete with its own distinct set of enemies that become progressively more mechanically complex and, in some cases, a bit annoying.
Each biome has its fair share of details that define each of them. Some of these nuances are purely cosmetic, and some of them affect gameplay as well. The first biome feels like a series of halls of the House of Hades laden with candles, pools, and treasure.
You have to be careful though, as the floors often have traps that will severely damage Zagreus if you’re not careful. Each biome has its own set of traps, triggers, and little touches that make it unique and showcase the sheer amount of love that has gone into this title.
At its core, Hades is a fast-paced action game played from a top-down perspective. Zagreus has a set of basic attacks based on the weapon he wields.
His normal attack can be crushed for a quick combo. He also has access to a stronger attack that can be charged with other properties for a stronger attack. For example, when Zagreus unleashes a charged Eternal Spear, he spins wildly in circles, hitting multiple enemies around him.
On the other hand, Chaos Shield can be aimed in any direction while charging, and when released, Zagreus will charge in that direction, distracting and damaging enemies in his path. Part of your typical arsenal also includes a long-range attack that stays on its target until it’s destroyed before you can pick it up and use it again.
To completely round out his loadout, Zagreus also has a dash, allowing him to move quickly in any direction, dodge attacks, and avoid certain death.
As you traverse the rooms of the various biomes, you will come across emblems of the Gods of Olympus, which they call down to lend you their aid.
This support comes in the form of upgrades called boons, with effects that vary depending on which one you invoke. Zeus naturally grants Zagreus lightning-like abilities that chain from one enemy to the next. Aphrodite’s Blessing allows you to inflict Weak or Charmed status on enemies, reducing their effectiveness and increasing your survivability.
All boons add different characteristics depending on which weapon you have taken and form the basis of your build. You can even boost your shooting attack by getting more ammo and giving it damage over time.
Suffice it to say that the Boon system is very flexible, and due to the nature of the game, you’re always encouraged to change things up and try new playstyles. At the same time, however, Zagreus’ collective abilities are so fundamentally simple to understand that you’ll easily find your way around with any new build you try.
Hades removes some of the sense of randomness that most roguelikes have by allowing you to choose between two rooms every time you clear one. After defeating all the enemies around you, you will receive the assigned reward and then you can choose where to go next.
Each door is clearly marked with the type of reward you will receive after clearing it. As mentioned above, some rooms allow you to summon a god that grants you a choice of three blessings. Some give you gold that can be used in shops for items, upgrades, and consumables.
You even have the ability to collect Darkness, a currency that gives Zagreus permanent boosts by accessing the mirror in his room. By choosing which room you enter, you can tailor your runs to specific goals. For example, you might want to maximize your darkness, so pick the purple heart doors when they’re available.
For progression runs, you can prioritize doors that lead to boons and deals in case you need to top up on health. In some cases, rooms contain random challenges, typically featuring Hades’ Wrath summoning large numbers of enemies in a confined space.
What’s really remarkable about Hades’ gameplay is the sheer amount of time you can spend in the game without getting bored. Combat is snappy and fierce thanks to the design of the various weapons.
While basic, I always felt I needed to improve some aspects of my gameplay to maximize my chances of exiting a room unscathed. While not every run will get you far, you always make some progress. It’s rare to walk away without darkness or another item that unlocks something.
Even if you die with very little to show for it, the amusing dialogue and story flow serve as a reward for just being in the world and trying. And if all else fails, you can always pet Cerberus, because yes, in Hades, of course, you can pet the giant three-headed dog.
I assert once again that Hades is the whole package. A superbly designed action game that will push you to the limits in terms of skill and excitement. There isn’t a moment in the game that you feel bored or that you haven’t progressed throughout the game.
The game’s characters, with their witty dialogue and masterfully narrated lines, draw you in from the start and show you a world that may have fallen into underworld despair, but still finds room for some humor.
Every inch of Hades’ visual design is a feast for the eyes, with vibrant and sinister color palettes combining beautifully to create a dark but fun environment full of lighthearted moments and mysteries.
It’s often debatable when a reviewer is willing to give a title a perfect ten, and if that were any other title in recent times I’d be inclined to agree. However, Hades is not just a triumph of game development, but one of a collective of art disciplines.
From the writing to the graphics to the sound design, every tiny part of this title is a labor of love, carefully crafted piece by piece to become the best game it can be. If that’s not what a perfect game should be about, then I don’t know what is.
For and against
- Excellently written dialogue and masterfully delivered voice acting
- Exciting and fast-paced combat that’s easy to understand and easy to experiment with
- Stunning 2D graphics in stunning color palettes that bring darkness and lightheartedness together
- One of the best tales deals with Greek mythology and its gods
- Endless instances of dialogue that will keep each run feeling fresh, progressing and uncovering the history of Zagreus and its relationships
- Endless possibilities for builds and play styles through a combination of systems
- You can pet the dog – enough said
- As with most roguelikes, the idea of dying and starting over doesn’t suit everyone
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