Hades

On the surface, Hades sounds exactly like the kind of game I wouldn’t enjoy: you fight a lot; you die a lot; it looks like another pointless arcade game.

It wasn’t until I saw Felicia Day play the game on a YouTube video from her Twitch stream that I became interested:

So what makes Hades different from other rogue-likes?

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.

The House of Hades, the “home base” you return to after each escape attempt. Much of what you see here are result of cosmetic upgrades I made as a result of accumulating non-money currencies during escapes. For example, I purchased the golden tiles you can see between the lounge and the purple entrance to Zagreus’ bedroom near the lower right of the image.
Zageus’ bedroom. Again, some of what you see here are the result of cosmetic upgrades I made; for example, the poster of Aphrodite on the right. On the left you can see the Night Mirror, which lets you purchase permanent upgrades for Zageus with Keys and Darkness earned during escapes.
Another way that Hades stands above many similar games is its visual style. There are a couple of places where you can go just to admire the view. Here Zagreus looks out over Tartarus before he attempts his next escape. You can’t tell from the picture, but in the game the view is animated and the green dots (souls) flow among the landscape. These overlooks offer no particular game advantage, except that I enjoy them.
During each escape attempt you’ll receive help from your relatives, the Olympian Gods. Here we see Zeus offering his aid. Each god offers a different set of “Boons” for Zagreus’ abilities; Zeus’ tend to involve lightning bolts.
These are the Boons Zeus offered this time. Boons are lost at the end of each escape attempt. However, you’re offered enough Boons with enough variety that you can take advantage of their synergies. For this particular escape attempt, I decided I wanted to give off lightning bolts with every Attack. (As it turned out, I used my Special so often during this run that I should have picked that instead.)
Some enemies attack! Zagreus is standing still while I take this screen shot, otherwise he’d be attacking and lightning bolts from Zeus’ Boon would be flying all over the place. Like a typical rogue-like, the geometry of the individual rooms changes with each escape attempt. There are some constants; for example, there’s a shop offered in the middle of each zone and just before the boss battle at the end of a zone.
Zagreus was contacted by Artemis in this run. Artemis tends to be a bit more talkative than the other gods, because so few of them listen to her. Give her a chance; she often has something worthwhile to say.
Here are the Boons that Artemis offered. This time I chose to augment Zagreus’ Special attack. Most of Artemis’ Boons involve improving the chance of a Critical attack or doing additional Critical damage.
Tisiphone, one of the Furies, is about to attack Zagreus. She’s obsessed with the idea that Zagreus is a murderer, and she rarely says anything else.

I wanted to show you an image of a different Fury, Megaera, who both attacks Zagreus and is his occasional lover. However, she didn’t show up this time.

During this particular escape attempt Zegreus encountered Thanatos, another of his occasional lovers. Thanatos neither attacks Zagreus nor offers Boons. Instead, he enters into a friendly competition to see who can kill the most enemies in the room. If Zagreus wins, he gets some additional Health.
Once in a while you’ll encounter a room with two Gods. You must choose which one from whom to receive a Boon. The other one, offended, will summon creatures to attack Zagreus. Should he survive that God’s wrath, he will receive a Boon from that God as well.
Zagreus has a moment to pause just before a Boss fight. Here he meets the skeletal remains of the Lernaean Hydra. Zagreus nicknames the creature “Lernie,” which does not seem to please it.
Along the way you may find a portal into Primordial Chaos. It costs Health to enter that realm, but you can gain some interesting Boons. Chaos is the ultimate ancestor of all the Gods, and so is another of Zagreus’ relatives. (Chaos is the sole parent of Nyx and accepts the pronoun “they.”)
Chaos offers Boons that have a price: You have to accept a penalty for a certain number of encounters. Afterwards you get a benefit. Here I choose a reduction in Health for 4 encounters to have a more powerful Cast afterwards.
If you defeat the final Boss at the end of the escape attempt, you’ll see a summary screen of the Boons Zagreus received. Here you can see that I managed to improve some of Zagreus’ Boons to the point where they’re Legendary. A Duo Boon can be offered by two Gods simultaneously; in this case, the Scintillating Feast is offered if you’ve previously accepted Boons from both Zeus and Dionysus.

The banner at the top is an icon representation of the skills I acquired from the Night Mirror (see above). To the right you see some overall statistics comparing this attempt with others. (A more detailed overview is available elsewhere in the game.)

At the bottom left you can see the title Gamma Fixer. This is a cosmetic title you can purchase through currency accumulated during escapes. It’s purely a currency dump, since the only time you see the title is during this summary.

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.

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