Supergiant’s best game yet… and it isn’t even finished!
Genre: Action, RPG
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Supergiant Games
Release Date: 10 Dec, 2019
Hades is not a strange game for quite some time as it’s been exclusively on the Epic Games Store for over a year and debuted on Steam this last December. My preview for this Early Access will cover the content presented on the Early Access debut on Steam and not the content progression and changes that happened over the already 1 year long development cycle prior to the Steam release.
Hades is an action RPG roguelike that somewhat tries to tell a story continuously throughout the many runs you’ll play and it does this mix really well; as Zagreus, Hades’ son, you are trying to escape to the surface while fighting through rooms filled with enemies and getting rewards while doing so, upgrading your weapon and stats as you go along. Hades manages to not only tell a compelling story through its nicely written characters, but also give a rewarding and persistent gameplay experience worth replaying over and over through some shockingly well-done perma-upgrades and item management.
It is Supergiant’s best game to date by far, in my opinion, and I cannot wait for the full release to see what new weapons, items, characters and essentially, everything they are going to add in future patches.
As mentioned above, you are Zagreus, son of Hades. Zagreus is visibly unhappy and wants to leave, even if it means fighting through until reaching the surface. You’ll discover a stronger reason to reach this goal later in the story (which is mostly told through dialogue that isn’t necessarily useful but is always a joy to listen to due to the great voice acting and the great writing and character establishment) which is never properly addresses – the final chapter is seemingly missing and should only be released later in the early access period.
Upon death, Zagreus returns home, where Hades and a plethora of characters are present and you can talk to all of them, getting new dialogue and lore bits extremely frequently, even after over 10 hours of play which is extraordinary. Zagreus’ deaths have a reaction by the characters once seeing him returning home (and thus, assume he died in the run), mentioning the boss who killed him (should you die to a boss) or the stage you died in, especially Hades himself – constantly poking Zagreus’ inability to escape and solidifying your will to complete the damn game and prove him wrong!
Overall, the story is admittedly incomplete but it’s the characters and the amounts of great, interesting lore (a solid Codex is also available about not only enemies, but characters too) that carry the story aspect of Hades, and it’s a treat every time to die and go back home and talk to all these characters again and enjoy the atmosphere.
Another strong aspect of the game is the tight and responsive gameplay, that changes massively every run due to a couple factors and also the perma-upgrades available that you can remix upon death.
Firstly, the combat – it’s fantastic. Currently there are 5 weapons in the game, all of them with their own style and upgrades. You will start with a regular sword, fast and medium damage, has an AoE special attack and is the basic weapon, even upgraded it’s probably the most basic to control in the game.
The remaining weapons have to be unlocked using keys – found in the levels, keys are a sort of currency that you use to upgrade Zagreus’ stats permanently, unlock weapons and trade in the shop. Once enough keys are collected for a weapon, you can permanently unlock it and have another combat choice before entering a new run – you can only carry one weapon per run and can’t change midway. Following the sword comes a spear, my personal favorite, with a nice range, a spin attack and a throw/recall attack, it’s the most varied weapon due to its close and long-range combat possibilities.
The remaining three weapons become a bit less generic from the trusty sword and spear. Starting with the shield, it blocks damage from all sources you’re aiming at and has a very useful dash attack; next is the bow, with great long-range damage potential, but weak overall close range power making it the weakest weapon in the game, in my opinion. Finally, a machine gun (yes, you read that right) with low damage and accuracy but can be devastating if properly upgraded throughout the run.
All weapons feel distinct and that gives the game great variety, making all runs and builds different each time, provided you change it up every run and don’t trap yourself in the addiction of using the same weapon all the time.
Combat itself is simple but fun due to a great amount of enemy variety and patterns to be learned. Enemies have a health bar (Elite versions have an armor bar on top of that) and usually have more than 1 attack so you must watch out for their movements. Combat upgrades are all tied to Zagreus’ uncles/aunts, Hades’ siblings which are the other Gods. Tied to certain elements or upgrade styles, each God is different and makes them all very easy to distinguish during a run, in case you want to spec into something specifically – from Zeus’ focus on giving lightning elemental attributes to your attacks, to Dionisyus’ poison capabilities or Artemis’ critical chance upgrades (my personal favorite).
It doesn’t end here and pretty much ALL levels will give you rewards, some more permanent than others. The keys are an example of a permanent currency, where you can (only) spend them in Zagreus’ home to buy new weapons, trade for other currency types or even unlock new permanent upgrades for Zagreus; the latter refers to a Mirror in Zagreus’ bedroom where you can then spend another type of currency – Darkness. Similarly obtained in the levels just like keys, Darkness serves as Zagreus’ permanent upgrade currency, allowing you to get more lives during a run, more starting health, more chance of epic Boons (the Gods’ upgrades), etc. etc.
There are a lot more currencies that you can use to upgrade pretty much anything, from your relationships with characters (through gifting) to weapon upgrades/reworks (further enhancing the uniqueness of every run) and even change the look of the mansion or the music that is being played in Hades’ house. It’s also possible to add new mechanics in the game world through certain purchases like, for example, having a chance of breaking jars in your run give you money (to then spend on the shops midrun and upgrade Zagreus further), all while keeping the game fair and hard – Supergiant balanced everything perfectly and I’m so happy they did.
The strongest aspect of Hades is, in my opinion, the excitement to actually die and upgrade Zagreus more, to talk to characters, change weapon or how one fundamentally works and test it out. There is a very strong incentive to keep playing to further upgrade and spend the currencies to improve the whole game experience, something not many roguelikes have done or, worse even, done well.
Hades is a beautiful game, from the crisp animations to the great renders in the background and of characters during dialogue screens, everything is a pleasure to look at and there is nothing worth noting that could take away from the experience. Overall art style will be quite familiar with Supergiant fans, mixing Bastion and Transistor a bit, in my eyes; it’s a joy to look at overall and it has a really clean aesthetic, helping the combat play greatly without confusing the player by putting too many effects on screen.
The game also performs well at a constant 60FPS (it seems locked with no way to disable, no graphical options seem to be present either besides resolution) further enhancing the smoothness of the combat.
The game also has very little to discuss when it comes to the UI, the menu is as basic as ever and the rest is perfectly displayed in proper size and position of the screen, not screwing with the action or immersion of the gameplay. The only complaint I can mention is the codex as it doesn’t pause the combat when you open it, which is a really odd design choice I hope it’s fixed by the full release.
I’m going to buy this soundtrack, holy hell is it good.
While there is more to Hades that just the OST, it’s hard to ignore the absolute masterpiece the soundtrack truly is, one of the best I’ve heard in a while by far. From more calm tunes in Hades’ home (you can even choose which song to play with a certain upgrade) to the action rock during combat; Eurydice’s “Good Riddance” is one of the best things I’ve heard in a game, ever.
Moving on to other sound aspects, the voice acting is thrillingly great, from Hades’ powerful voice to capture his disregard for Zagreus’ rebellion to the sweeter and calm Eurydice or Aphrodite. Everyone has a specific voice that makes them distinctive and all are a joy to listen to.
Combat sounds are great, from hitting enemies, to breaking their armor or breaking a few jars, everything has a crisp, clean sound that enhances the combat’s responsiveness.
I hate giving an early access game a score or even call it something it may not be down the line, but Hades is so polished, filled to the brim with content and replayability and mechanics that just make it such a fun, replayable brilliant game that I never expected I’d break this rule and score an Early Access game. This is the purest definition of an Autosave – a must-buy for essentially everyone (people who dislike roguelikes will obviously have trouble enjoying this), especially at a 20€ price tag.