Primarily, it’s the integration of the game with its story. It’s set in the world of Greek mythology. You play Zagreus, the son of Hades and Nyx. It’s your job to test the barriers of the Underworld and make sure that no one can escape; it’s stated that being unable to escape is key to the order of Hades’ realm. Otherwise you get situations like the Orpheus and Eurydice debacle, and who needs that? Zagreus’ continued deaths during each escape attempt are therefore both expected and required.
As Zagreus continues with his multiple escape attempts, the story continues to unfold. Not everything is as simple as the synopsis above. Your relationships with the Gods (both Olympian and Underworld) changes. The goal of your mission may not be to die after all…
While you do fight a lot, fortunately the game’s design accommodates the clumsy players like me. There’s a “God Mode” that reduces the amount of damage you take by 2% for every unsuccessful escape attempt. It caps at 80%. Indeed, I only made my way to the final obstacle out of Hades in my 40th attempt.
Even after a “successful” escape, the story does not end. There’s more to be done; for example, can you do anything for Sisyphus? The story will evolve as you deepen your relationships with the characters and become aware of their goals.
The game’s story doesn’t have much of a “decision tree” and is essentially linear. You certainly don’t have a “choose your own ending” in the way you do with Sunless Skies or Detroit: Become Human. But I found the story engaging enough that it kept me going through escape attempts.
After about 120 escapes, I think I reached the end of the different narrative elements. Or did I? There are one or two minor hints that I may not have uncovered everything.
As with other rogue-likes, the “money” (in the game these are called Obols) is lost at the end of every attempt. Fortunately, the ferryman Charon has shops along the way from which you can purchase various upgrades. For the most part, these upgrades are also lost at the end of the escape attempt.
The exception are the other kinds of currency you can accumulate during your escapes: Darkness, Keys, Diamonds, Gems, and so on. These currencies can be used for some ability improvements and for cosmetic upgrades.
All of the pictures in this review come from my playing Zageus in his 148th escape attempt from the Underworld.
Even after 148 escape attempts, I still have not purchased every possible upgrade available in the game. There’s much I haven’t mentioned, such as how Weapons are upgraded, obtaining music for Orpheus, or the Pact of Punishment to adjust the game’s difficulty. There’s a lot of juice in the game if you choose to squeeze it!
I can’t help but compare Hades with the the Diablo series of games, with which it shares some superficial similarities: wandering through an isometric procedurally-generated environment and fighting monsters from the Underworld. Hades does not offer the potential of continual gear upgrades the way the Diablo games do, and there’s no multi-player element. However, Hades has a stronger narrative and costs less. I recommend it.