Hades review — One helluva great time

Family issues and Greek mythology combine for a complete package.
holiday games 2021 Hades

Supergiant Games, the developer of Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre, has a new action rogue-lite title, Hades, and a lot could be said about it. The first thing would be that it’s, hands down, an amazing game as you’ll find out in our official review.

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First released in December 2018 as an Epic Games Store exclusive, Hades eventually made its way to Steam. Throughout this period, it remained an Early Access title. Its dedicated fans saw the trials and tribulations and additional content being introduced. Now, the recent 1.0 release/official launch isn’t just icing on the cake even if you’ve been trying the game for a while. It actually ties the entire narrative together while giving you more reasons to continue playing. Assuming you’re a newcomer, well, let’s just say you’re in for one helluva great time.

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A retelling of Greek Mythology

Hades puts you in the shoes of Zagreus, the son of, uh, Hades, God of the Underworld. The two are at odds, and Zagreus is more than happy to rebel and escape the depths of Tartarus. That’s the beginning of your journey. Along the way, you’ll meet a wonderful cast of characters from Greek mythology.

To say that Hades merely borrows from myths would be an understatement. It’s inspired by Greek mythology in many ways, sure. But, it’s also a fanciful retelling with many twists, keeping you engaged as you discover characters and as the story moves forward.

For a game set in the world of the dead, the developers have crafted something that comes to life. The motivations of the characters are wonderfully written, their personalities striking and unique, and the art design is nothing short of gorgeous. You’ll laugh and cheer at certain moments whether it’s meeting Megaera’s sisters (the other Furies), gaining the blessings of an Olympian, helping the lovers Orpheus and Eurydice reconnect, or just petting Cerberus.

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Hades‘ rogue-lite action

How exactly do you move the story forward? Well, that’s done by going through multiple zones in the Underworld. From the dungeons of Tartarus, you’ll eventually reach the lava flows of Asphodel and then the fields of Elysium. Finally, you’ll make your way to the Temple of Styx. Each zone is capped off by a boss fight. There’s one involving the aforementioned Furies, another with Theseus and the Minotaur, the secret boss Charon, and, of course, Hades himself. Make no mistake: the game will often challenge and test your mettle whether you’re duking it out with elite mobs, unique encounters, bosses, or the “alternate versions” of those bosses.

Repetition, a common fixture in the rogue-lite genre, is a given. However, your runs always lead to new developments. Perhaps Zagreus died in one of the zones — that still counts as an escape attempt. Once you respawn in the House of Hades, the game’s hub, you might discover additional dialogue from various characters. If you managed to complete a successful run, then, naturally, there’d be some semblance of the story advancing further (which I’ll get into detail later). The changes will matter too. For instance, the moment Zagreus called the Lernaean Bone Hydra “Lernie,” the game started to refer to that boss by that nickname. In another example, when Zagreus met a particular character, others chimed in about that individual.

Likewise, time investment versus failures and starting from scratch — a dilemma that’s evident in the genre — won’t create issues. Most clears will last 20 to 30 minutes (even shorter for failed attempts). Hades even lets you carry over several resources and items that could be used to gain weaponry, character boosts, and cosmetic designs in your abode. The point is that your runs aren’t wasted since you’re progressing in some way, shape, or form.

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The boons of the Olympians

Retracing your steps and redoing your runs would be a problem, though, if the combat itself isn’t exciting. Thankfully, Hades manages to excite and entertain in this regard. This is due to the core mechanics and exploration. Every zone in Hades has multiple rooms filled with encounters. You’re often given a choice of which room to enter with an icon showing what you can obtain. Perhaps it’s an item/resource such as gemstones or nectar; perhaps you’d get a boon from a god.

After battling your foes, you’d get your reward. If it’s a boon, this will either replace your attack, special, dash, or casting abilities, or provide you with a passive/support skill. You could zap foes with Zeus’ lightning, push them back with Poseidon’s waves, or freeze them with Demeter’s chilling effects. Meanwhile, Athena lets you block projectiles, Ares lets you throw spinning blades, Aphrodite weakens and charms hostiles, Artemis empowers your critical hits, and Hermes provides movement and utility support.

The game’s boons or skill system tends to have a ton of depth as well. There are various levels and rarities, heroic versions, legendary versions, and duo boons — a skill that’s made available if you’ve already found requirements from two gods.

It doesn’t stop there. Throughout your journey, you might meet with Primordial Chaos (an entity that provides a buff after getting hampered for several encounters). There might be an Infernal Gate challenge that you could complete to net you improved versions of skills. Heck, you could even stumble upon a Trial of the Gods. This lets you choose between two Olympians to gain their boon. The one you don’t pick gets mad, and you’ll need to kill mobs while that Olympian’s spell attempts to damage you.

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Unparalleled depth and replayability

Hades‘ mechanics are complex, intricate, and interconnected; discussing one would mean you’d have to go into detail to explain another. I mean that in a good way. Hades has a depth that’s unparalleled and unrivaled by most games.

No two runs will ever feel the same. Even if you’re going through the same zones or rooms, or battling the same enemies, the fact that you could be using different weapons and getting different rewards would be enough to alter your playstyle. Because of RNG factors, there’s a good chance that one attempt will give you everything you’d need to survive early on, whereas the next one might gimp you until you reach later stages.

As mentioned earlier, progression is a given. By learning more about Hades‘ supporting cast, you’ll strengthen your bonds and relationships. This could yield Keepsakes (accessories that provide benefits during your escape attempts), companions that can be summoned, and even a bit of romance. As for the resources I mentioned, you’ll eventually use the Pact of Punishment which is a main component of the gameplay loop. It adds modifiers to make your playthroughs slightly more challenging. In turn, you’ll earn rarer resources such as Titan’s Blood, Diamonds, and Ambrosia — i.e., the Titan’s Blood is used to unlock alternative versions of weapons such as the Aspect of Gilgamesh.

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What Hades 1.0 brings to the table

The Aspect of Gilgamesh is just one of the new additions that’s part of Hades‘ 1.0 release. The biggest inclusion, arguably, is the true ending. During the Early Access period, defeating Hades automatically led to Zagreus’ death as though he’s stuck in a Groundhog Day time loop set in Ancient Greece.

I won’t spoil much, but, with the official launch, Zagreus will finally achieve his goal of meeting a special individual. Your adventure doesn’t stop there because the true ending can only be achieved by speaking with this person a total of 10 times (that means more successful escape attempts). The ending itself might be one of the best I’ve seen in any game. It’s fairly simple and yet so effective because it ties together the entire plot. Surprisingly enough, the narrative even suggests why you need to continue playing. Yes, the reason to keep grinding in a rogue-lite is very lore-friendly given how it relates to Greek mythology.

Furthermore, obtaining the true ending will unlock late-game features such as cosmetic badges, a couple of Keepsakes, extra dialogue and banter with characters, as well as a modifier to have an absolutely nailbiting boss fight. There’s also an epilogue which has you doing more clears.

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A helluva great time

As noted earlier, Hades is an amazing game and one of the most memorable ones I’ve ever played. It runs like a dream too. I didn’t experience any crashes, and there was nary a framerate drop even when some of the fights turned into “bullet hell” or frantic scenarios. Thanks to the top-notch performance that’s not too demanding on rigs, you won’t see incidents where you’d incur random deaths due to random mishaps or clunkiness.

Perhaps the only point of contention I’d have, as it relates to hardware, is that using a gamepad is recommended. The controls are tight and responsive, but it’s definitely a lot more comfortable to use a gamepad over a mouse and keyboard setup.

In any case, if you’ve been following Hades since the Early Access period, then you’ve got some extra activities to do now that the 1.0 version is available. If you’re a newcomer or beginner and you’re going in blind, you’re bound to have a refreshing, challenging, and thoroughly engaging experience. I genuinely can’t wait for additional DLC in the future. It’s not because Hades feels “incomplete.” Rather, it’s because it’s already complete — you can’t help but want more, and you know that Supergiant Games will do an excellent job at it.

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Hades is an absolutely phenomenal game. Its characters are brilliantly written, and the worldbuilding and lore are top-notch. The combat mechanics are refreshing, intricate, and unbelievably deep. Its replayability and fun factor will keep you continuing onward with Zagreus' adventure well after the true ending and epilogue. This is one title you wouldn't want to miss out on.
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Jason Rodriguez
Jason Rodriguez is a guides writer. Most of his work can be found on PC Invasion (around 3,400+ published articles). He's also written for IGN, GameSpot, Polygon, TechRaptor, Gameskinny, and more. He's also one of only five games journalists from the Philippines. Just kidding. There are definitely more around, but he doesn't know anyone. Mabuhay!