by Adam Nix
reviewed on PC
Roguelikes are hard, there’s no getting around that. Every time I’ve tried to pick one up, I find myself frustrated and annoyed. They are built to make sure you die over, and over, and over again. I’ve always found that grind to get tiring quickly and I haven’t been able to grasp how people can get so into them. That is, until I got my hands on the latest Supergiant game, Hades.
Where every other roguelike fell short for me, Hades is the one that came through. Hades takes place in the underworld. You play as Zagreus, the misbehaving son of Hades, as he tries to escape the underworld. TIme and time again, Zagreus shoots, slashes, and crushes enemies in his way as he traverses four levels of the underworld, each more destructive than the last.
The flow of gameplay is similar to other roguelikes. Every time you die, you learn a little more about the world around you, its enemies, and the weapons and tools at your disposal. This is where I’d usually start to fall off of a roguelike. Most games of this type keep track of the number of times you’ve failed, but besides that, everything feels the same at the beginning of any given run. Hades shakes this up by having the story revolve around an immortal god. Each of Zagreus’ deaths are part of a larger narrative. Every time you die, you are actually rewarded with interesting story pieces. Players might discuss how you died or you might learn more information about Zagreus’s past or his relationship with his father.
Stop and Chat
Every time I died in Hades, I found myself more than OK with it. I loved running around the house of Hades, the main hub of the game, and discovering the backstory and complex relationships of the people around me. You can even give Nectar to the characters you like the most to progress their specific storyline, eventually gaining “keepsakes”, a charm of sorts that you can use to provide extra buffs on your next run.
Not only does this setup provide for a more fleshed out world, but it makes me feel better about dying constantly. When Zagreus falls prey to another trap or frustrating boss, he is transported back to the house of Hades, suddenly emerging from a pool of blood. He is greeted by those around him. Sometimes he might stop by Hypnos, the god of sleep, for some comedic relief and egotistical one-liners, other times he’ll stop by his dad’s desk where he hears the judgement and disappointment in his father’s voice.
Having the chance for dialogue with these characters provides for a feeling of “keeping up” with the game and its difficulties. If the game has dialogue and story beats that line up with my progress, I don’t feel like I am “falling behind” in the game.
Drama in Olympus
There is more to the story than the conversations that happen in the house of Hades. As you make your way through the underworld, you move from room to room, clearing all enemies before the next one opens up to you. Upon the completion of any given room, you are given the choice of what rewards you want. This could be more health, more money, a shop to buy things, special character interactions, or upgrades from Olympions.
The rewards you run into the most are the upgrades from Olympions. In these rooms, you will receive messages from Olympians with gifts. These messages work as upgrades for Zagreus’s weapons, but also provides an onslaught of fantastic, well animated characters. The Olympians have only recently learned of Zagreus’s existence and believe he is trying to escape to come join them. To provide a helping hand in his efforts, they excitedly offer up all sorts of neat gifts to help him on his journey. For example, Zeus, the god of lightning, will provide Zagreus with the ability to strike his foes with lightning, while Aphrodite, the god of love, will give him the power to cast a spell on an opponent, making them an ally. Each Olympian gives you a new playstyle to learn and think about.
As you progress through the game, you will slowly get a feel for which upgrades work best together. Once I got into the groove of the game, I would constantly find myself thinking about the upgrades I’d need from each god. A particularly great skill from Ares might work exceedingly well if I can find an upgrade from Hermes. These upgrades are all paired with fun dialogue from the gods themselves. You’ll slowly learn of different rivalries as Zeus makes fun of Poseidon and Hades, or Hermes laughs about how slow the rest of the gods are. These gods don’t just act as an upgrade mechanic, they are lively and interesting characters.
Choose your Weapon
At the beginning of any given run, you can choose the weapon you want to use. Each weapon completely changes how you will play the game. Close range ones like a sword and metal fists ask for completely different strategies than a spear or bow. Once you beat a few bosses, you can also upgrade and modify your favorite weapons. This, along with the unlimited amount of upgrade paths you could take, provides for a game with incredible replayability.
The enemies you might encounter also play a huge role in the variety of the game. A particularly easy demon to handle with a bow might be much more challenging to deal with when you wield a sword. I’d find myself dying the most when I let my guard down during boss fights or simple enemy encounters that I thought were a piece of cake.
An Amazing Experience
I always assumed I wasn’t a fan of roguelikes, but my love for Hades is making me rethink that relationship. Looking back at how bad I was at this game during my first couple attempts is astounding. Over time, it was easy to see my progression as I tried to escape from the underworld again and again. I truly feel good about myself and my understanding of the game compared to when I started. Now, the flow I feel when I dive into another run just fees amazing.
I think the only way I was able to get past the difficulty hurdle of dying over and over in this game was due to the fantastic story that felt effortlessly melded in with the game mechanics of a rogue-like. Whenever I stopped playing this game, all I could think about was how I was going to handle my next run. I’d think about the gods I should look for and the characters I wanted to learn about, I’d think about the next weapon I should try and how frustrating a certain boss was. Then, I’d sit down and play again, losing myself in a world that I could consistently feel myself getting better at. And once I still think about the first time I fully completed a run, beating the final boss. That feeling of accomplishment is something to be celebrated and appreciated.
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Great story, Fun characters, Replayability, Rewarding gameplay, Approachable roguelike
No Pros and Cons at this time