by Andrew Wheatley
In Hades, Zagreus, the son of Hades, tries to fight his way out of the underworld so he can meet his mother who, prior to that point, did not even he know existed.
Hades is a roguelike action RPG made by Supergiant Games, released in an early access state on the Epic Games store in December 2018, then later on Steam in December 2019, and even later on the Nintendo Switch November 2020. Hades is about the young god Zagreus, son of the god of the underworld Hades, as he tries to fight his way out of the underworld so he can meet his mother who, prior to that point, did not even he know existed. As you may have already gathered, this game is set in ancient Greece, primarily in the underworld, but you can get out if you’re skilled enough.
One day, when Zagreus awakens in the Hall of Hades (his house), while his father is absent, he decides to snoop around his father’s belongings, because he hates his father and wants to be as much of a nuisance to him as possible. There, in Hades’ belongings, is a note from Persephone, the goddess of verdure, saying that she is leaving the underworld and not coming back. The narrator of the game, who Zagreus can for some reason hear, accidentally reveals that the letter was written by his mother despite Zagreus, all his life, thinking that Nyx, night incarnate & close associate to his father, was his mother.
From there, Zagreus sets out on an attempt to escape from the underworld in order to reunite with his true mother, both to get away from his abusive father, and to gather answers to questions such as “how come I never knew you existed,” “why is my father absolutely awful,” and “why did you leave the underworld?” It’s not my place to spoil the story further, but in order to get these answers you must complete a successful escape attempt, ascending through the layers of the underworld and fighting many a boss, in order to make it to the surface and find Zagreus’ mother, Persephone.
Hades is a very fast-paced game, standing still and going slow are only options if you somehow have a way of avoiding damage while being perfectly still, which is technically possible and not even that hard to achieve, but also not a super efficient use of your time. As with all roguelikes, each playthrough is randomized and defeat isn’t the end. Once you “die” in the game, you are revived in the pool of styx in the Hall of Hades and can talk to various characters and begin a new escape attempt from the beginning.
Throughout each escape attempt, you will gather various buffs and collectibles. You will receive boons of the olympian gods and the primordial god Chaos in order to help you escape from the underworld, Daedalus hammers to upgrade your weapons, and obols to pay Charon with for items in his shop. These all will go away once you die, but there are more permanent things you can collect, such as chthonic keys, darkness, nectar, gemstones, titan’s blood, diamonds, and ambrosia. These items are things you can obtain in escape attempts and will only go away when you spend them, usually back in the Hall of Hades.
Nectar and Ambrosia can be used to advance your relationship with key characters in the game, which gives you keepsakes that can improve various stats during your escape attempts, or, if you advance your relationship far enough, you get a trinket that allows you to summon them into your fights to deal damage or do something miscellaneous. If you haven’t noticed by the way I’ve been talking about these mechanics, this game has visual novel elements and, depending on which character you advance your relationship with, it can also kind of be a dating simulator, but in a very school friendly way.
Chthonic keys can be used to unlock new weapons as well as unlock new buffs in the mirror of night, which you can spend darkness in to receive permanent buffs that persist throughout all of your escape attempts. Diamonds and gemstones can be used to perform miscellaneous tasks, such as redecorate the Hall of Hades and obtain otherwise neat things, such as a list of prophecies that, once completed, provide you with a reward, and titan’s blood allows you to upgrade what weapons you have. You can also go fishing in this game.
Throughout each escape attempt, you will have to ascend through the different parts of the underworld. You begin in Tartarus, make your way up to the flaming lakes of Asphodel, then to the idyllic Elysium, and finally, just before the surface, you enter the rat and satyr infested Temple of Styx, guarded by Cerberus, the ever-lovable hellhound. In order to ascend through these layers of the underworld, you must battle through hoards of foes sent by your father to stop you from reaching the surface, as well as several bosses, such as any one of or all of the furies, the Lernaean bone hydra, Theseus & Asterius, king of Athens and bull of Minos respectively (you fight these two at the same time, generally), and finally, your dad, god-king of the underworld, Hades himself.
If it felt like I was trying to be as brief as possible in the gameplay section of this article, that’s because there’s a lot in this game. There is so much fluff and care put into this game, and the total word count in the game from all the dialogue surpasses the Lord of the Rings novels, which is daunting at worst and absolutely confounding at best. Supergiant Games put so much care into this game, so much effort, and such an incredible amount of time, and the result is a game that’s polished so much that it doesn’t just shine, no, it glows all on it’s own.
The best example of this I can think of is that one of the people you can build a relationship with in the game, Megaera the fury, is also one of the bosses you have to defeat in order to progress in th game, and she will tell you, whether during an escape attempt or in passing conversation, that you are only able to beat her thanks to the gifts that Nyx has granted you, namely the mirror of night which grants you various permanent stat boosts. If you then reset all of the bonuses gained from the mirror to 0, and then fight her, she has special dialogue for that too, commenting that she senses your “old weaknesses.”
In addition, though you can gain the boons of the olympian gods throughout the game, if you manage to fight your way through the Underworld and make it to the fight with Hades without having any boons, he has special dialogue for that too. In fact, there is special dialogue for interacting with the olympians when gaining their boons depending on whether or not you have a boon from another god, on whether or not they will offer you a rare or legendary boon, or just whether or not you’re using a specific weapon.
There is so much dialogue from every character and it feels like the characters in Hades actively respond to your every action and move. They feel alive, and they feel rich with personality and character. Every character is a goldmine of dialogue and let me tell you it really doesn’t get old. From important characters like Nyx, night incarnate, to side characters like your training dummy named Skelly, to bosses like Theseus and Asterius, they all have so much to say and do, and it’s amazing.
I don’t think you really need to hear my closing thoughts; I literally just praised this game for four paragraphs on end, but for the sake of a structured article, I will reiterate that Hades is a great game. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone that has $24.99 on either PC or the Nintendo Switch. It’s so good, actually, that I got it on sale for $19.99 and I feel dirty for it because that was an absolute steal. If you like roguelikes or if you like rich and dynamic characters, this game is definitely for you.