If you have been on any form of social media over the past week and have friends on there that play video games, there’s a really good chance that you have heard about Hades – the dungeon-crawling rogue-like from Supergiant Games that has just left Early Access and also released on the Nintendo Switch. Chances are, you’ve also heard about how bloody good the game is too, with critics singing its praises across the board.
Well, believe everything you read. Hades is an absolutely astounding game that has set the bar EXTREMELY high for all rogue-like dungeon-crawlers that follow it.
Hades puts players in the role of Zagreus, the son of the titular Lord of the Underworld. You’d think it’d be a pretty sweet role being the Prince of the Underworld, but Zagreus has decided that he has had enough and wants to head high up into the clouds and instead roam Mount Olympus with godly folk like Zeus, Poseidon and Artemis. I’ve seen Disney’s Hercules and Mount Olympus looks pretty swell, and hey, he doesn’t have to worry about the viciousness of Kratos since he’s buggered off to mess with the Norse gods, so it’s probably a pretty sweet place to live.
Of course, getting there won’t be easy; it turns out that not even the Prince of the Underworld gets a free pass to get out of there. It’s not as easy as just marrying an American actress and pissing off over the Atlantic if you’re a Prince in Hades… instead, Zagreus has to battle through the Underworld, kill the many monsters in his path, and find his way to the glowing safety of Mount Olympus. If he falls along the way? He starts his escapade all over again, but this time with that extra bit of experience to progress further.
At face value alone, Hades’ tale feels a bit run-of-the-mill as far as video games are concerned. I mean, escaping the Underworld? I’m sure I’ve done that before. However, it’s the brilliance of everything that ties it together that makes the narrative one of the best I’ve seen in any rogue-like. This is a world full of wonderful characters that share some cleverly written interactions that’ll keep you smiling (and sometimes giggling) throughout, with a ton of wit to be found across the entirety of the game. It’s just does a really great job in engrossing the player in its story, with plenty of differences to be found in every run that change up based upon your actions.
Anyone who has played a rogue-like dungeon-crawler before will feel right at home with Hades, with it following the tried-and-tested formula that we’ve seen many times before. Combat sees you unleashing both light and powerful attacks, whilst you’ve also got a special ability that changes based on your weapon. Want to get out of the way of incoming attacks? Your quick-dash will help you there, with Zagreus able to swiftly move out of the way of foes. Progression is actually tied to killing all of the enemies around you – when you slay them all and clear a room, you’ll be able to enter another that’ll bring with it more enemies and a variety of different rewards. You keep doing this until you eventually succeed or, more likely, die… it’s simple, right?
Of course, there’s a lot more to Hades than that, even if its main gameplay loop doesn’t do anything that you wouldn’t have seen before. For starters, you’ll be able to get help from the Greek Gods who are cheering you on from Mount Olympus, with each bringing with them unique buffs. Taking on the help of Zeus adds a chain-lightning effect to your attacks for example, whilst Poseidon helps you knock-back foes. Hermes will allow you to move with much more speed and versatility, whilst Artemis ensures you dish out more critical hits. That’s just naming a few too, with plenty to encounter during your trek through the Underworld that bring with them buffs that increase (or decrease) based upon your relationship with the corresponding God. Be warned though: these assists are temporary and when you die they disappear. With different ways to earn this help and the Gods actually taking it PERSONALLY if you don’t choose them though, it makes for a unique system that allows for a lot of experimentation.
No matter who you choose, it always compliments the combat mechanics which are satisfyingly fast and fluid throughout. There’s a decent selection of weapons to unlock in Hades, with the player starting out with the Stygian Blade at first but eventually earning the likes of the Heart-Seeking Bow, the Shield of Chaos, and the Twin Fists of Malphon. Each weapon feels vastly different to use, with attacks offering varied combos, speed, and range that will suit different player’s playstyles in a variety of ways. Each weapon also comes with a special attack, which can certainly get you out of tough situations if you find yourself overwhelmed.
I’ve played around with the vast majority of weapons in the game and they all feel brilliant to use. Whilst I found myself sticking with the Stygian Blade for a long time, I soon found that the Eternal Spear suited me a lot better thanks to its range – it meant I could pick off enemies from a distance with plenty of room left for me to manoeuvre out of the way of incoming attacks with a dodge-roll. Add to that a special attack that let me throw it with supreme force and… well… it was just awesome. As you progress through the game you’re also able to upgrade your weapons, so something you didn’t get on that well with before can become even more powerful if you commit yourself to it. It just goes to show the great levels of depth that Hades offers within its combat, with all different manners of ways to slice up foes and imbue your weaponry with the help of the Gods.
And hey, sometimes across multiple runs you’ll get actively encouraged to use different weapons by earning additional rewards for doing so. If that doesn’t encourage you to experiment with your loadout, I don’t know what will.
As mentioned, Hades is a rogue-like, so if you die you can expect to start the run all over again. Fortunately, you’re able to permanently upgrade your capabilities to make subsequent playthroughs all the more easier, whether that’s with your attacking stats, your defensive manoeuvres, your health, or even allowing yourself to be revived when slain. Whilst death might mean the end of your run, it doesn’t mean the end of Zagreus – it means you get another chance to succeed, albeit with improved stats or better weapons to challenge the beasts of the Underworld with.
I’m just scratching the surface of it there too. There are so many different stats to improve, Keepsakes to equip to give yourself a buff, relationships to build with the Gods based upon your actions, epic bosses to battle that are as stylish as they are challenging… honestly, Hades is a game that is full to the brim with depth and it just feels so damn satisfying to play. I’ve poured hours in already and I’m still discovering more about the game world and shaping Zagreus in all-new ways. It just constantly kept me coming back for more – I could keep writing about everything that makes Hades so fun and all of the minor details it features that shows the love that the development team have poured into perfecting the experience, but you’ll just have to trust me when I say that it’s outstanding.
It all comes together to make for a thoroughly entertaining but ultimately tough experience, though it’s never in a way that feels unfair. There are relentless challenges to face across the Underworld, whether that’s with the hordes of enemies that’ll overwhelm you or the tricky bosses that really push your skills to their limit, but it’s all intricately designed so that any mistake or death is because of the player’s lack of skill. Not once did I blame the game for some stupid element of design because I died… it was always because I just wasn’t quick or powerful enough to withstand the brutality of the Underworld.
Did I stop coming back for more? Hell no. The satisfying loop that comes with Hades’ gameplay, the elements of progression, and all of the different ways you can experiment to see what works best for you just makes the whole experience feel incredibly addictive. Honestly, I could’ve died within the first five-minutes of every run I faced and I’d have STILL been coming back for more.
I do have a deep, dark secret though: I’ve only finished the game in the optional God Mode so far, which gives players an easier time. I know, I know, it’s a cheap way to approach the game and I should ‘git good’ in order to progress, but in the interest of seeing the game out it had to be done. I’ve been guilty of dying in rogue-likes so much in the past that I didn’t see the ending, so it felt NECESSARY here for the sake of the review… it was a necessity, ok! It’s worth mentioning that the God Mode will be perfect for those new to rogue-likes though, with it not locking players out of content and giving them an extra bit of resistance against the many challenges that the Underworld is made up of. It doesn’t make the game super easy to beat by any stretch of the imagination, but it’ll give you more of a fighting chance if you get a bit fed up of having to start the loop all over again.
I’ve got a WHOLE lot of love for Hades and have had an absolutely brilliant time adventuring through its chaotic representation of the Underworld, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of the flaws that it has on the Nintendo Switch. The frame rate is guilty of dropping a little during some of its busier sequences, which can be pretty noticeable – it never feels unplayable by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ll definitely notice some stuttering to the action. It can also be a little difficult to make out all of the action on the Nintendo Switch’s handheld mode during some sequences too, with a whole lot going on across the entire screen in some sections of the game. Again, this isn’t a big problem and it’s not a common occurrence, but it’s still something that will be noticeable to some.
Are they game-breaking issues that’ll ruin your time with the game? Definitely not. Hades manages to run superbly on both the Nintendo Switch’s handheld and docked modes for the most part, so I’m being a little fussy even mentioning those issues – it looks absolutely beautiful too, with Supergiant Games excelling once again with the animation, character art, and environments of the game. They’re just the ONLY things that I could think of that some gamers may notice… otherwise, it’s a pretty flawless experience.
Hades is as close to perfect that a rogue-like is going to get, with its engaging story, robust and enjoyable combat, and satisfying sense of progression coming together to make for a breath-taking experience. It absolutely looks the part too, with Supergiant Games’ trademark beautiful visuals on show across the entirety of the game.
It does have the occasional technical hiccup here and there on the Nintendo Switch, but it wasn’t enough of a problem to even slightly hinder my experience with the game. Hades is simply gaming perfection that both newcomers and veterans of the rogue-like dungeon-crawling genre are sure to adore… just do yourself a favour and buy it. Immediately. What are you waiting for?!
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Supergiant Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC