Hades is the fourth game by independent studio Supergiant Games, whose previous work includes Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre. Initially released on PC in 2018 via early access, Hades was released in full in September 2020 on Switch and PC.
The premise is simple: Zagreus, son of Hades, just wants to leave home. Unfortunately for him, “home” is the Underworld, and death has a reputation.
But Zagreus is undeterred. Having learned that his mother is not Nyx, Goddess of Night, he’s willing to stop at nothing to find his true mother and find out why she left. If that means fighting his way through the entire Underworld over and over again, so be it.
Roguelikes are an interesting genre of video games. By design, a roguelike is a randomized dungeon crawler in which you are expected to die, repeatedly. Beating the game is less about getting through the dungeon and more about learning the game. It’s about taking what the run gives you, slotting that in with what you’ve already figured out, and using it to get further every time.
In this, Hades succeeds utterly. Each run begins with a weapon upgrade or an ability from an Olympian deity. Maybe Zeus will bestow your sword with lightning. Maybe Poseidon will let you summon water to push away your foes. Maybe Ares will make every attack that much more deadly.
Within a matter of rooms, you’ll get another boon. Maybe Athena will help you deflect attacks. Maybe Artemis will guide your strikes to do more damage. Maybe Poseidon will give your enemies a raging hangover.
No matter what, it’s different every single run. No two runs are ever the same. Even if you get the same two gods, they’ll offer a different selection of abilities. The possible combinations are beyond staggering in their variety.
And each and every one is wildly fun.
As an early access game, Hades went through extensive playtesting, tweaks, and improvements, and it shows. Good grief, does it show. Almost no ability or upgrade feels like a waste. Each run has nothing but potential, and it’s up to you to learn the game and keep moving forward.
Until you die, and go back home to your shitty dad mocking you for not even making it out of the first area.
Hades is a roguelite, which basically means it has RPG elements. What Hades does so incredibly well is value your time. Maybe you died in Tartarus, sure. But you still got some materials to upgrade your abilities. Little by little, each run lets you push further.
And when you do return home because the Fury Megaera killed you again, you can progress your relationships with the other characters. Achilles has some advice for your next run. Hypnos, god of sleep, keeps track of what exactly killed you. Orpheus, the court musician, is strumming the lyre. Megaera’s right there in the lounge, wondering why you keep bothering. And your three-headed dog, Cerberus, can always use some more pets.
Once you’re done catching up? Time to go get killed again.