Here we go again, talking about another roguelike game. Honestly, we’re at a point of saturation in the genre that when Hades slid across my desk I was exhausted. Not feeling the passion or energy to actually invest time in the game, I set aside a few hours a day, ready to play it for a week just for this review. I was just doing my job, almost adamant that it was going to strike the same chords as every other indie rogue-like either poorly or very well.
I’m a diehard fan of roguelikes but we’ve reached a point where it’s difficult to really get excited about a new one. They all pull from the same general bag of tricks and unless there’s something special in the mix, most of them become tedious sessions of mindless starting runs, dying, and repeating the cycle. So I fired Hades up about an hour before my usual bedtime, not expecting much. Then the hour came to turn my lights off and I was still playing. Another hour came and went and… I was still going.
On and on, it went until I forced myself to put down my Switch. I’m now utterly blown away by Hades and after having spent days sinking time into the game’s world, combat, and characters, I can safely say Hades isn’t just the best rogue-like of the year, it might be one of the best rogue-likes ever made.
Drawing heavily from Greek mythology, you’ll play as Zagreus as he does his best to escape the underworld, the realm of his manipulative father Hades. To do so you’ll have to slay hundreds of enemies as you push through the various realms of the dead, so that you can eventually walk free amongst the gods of Olympus. It’s rare that a rogue-like’s mechanics mesh so neatly with its mechanics yet, much like the tale of Sisyphus stuck in his eternal punishment of pushing a boulder up a hill, the constant repetition of fight, die, and repeat works in the context of world it’s set in.
Developer Supergiant knows this and works with the setting to create a roguelike that doesn’t feel “gamey”, if I can use such a word and not lose any credentials. Hades doesn’t play like a roguelike despite having the features that fit the bill. It plays like an action game that just happens to share similarities with the roguelike genre, making it both stand out from the pack but also makes it more accessible to folks who might be hesitant to dip their toes into the genre.
Which is something else that Hades absolutely nails: Seamlessly juggling challenging, punishing gameplay with a constant stream of upgrades and rewards. Most notably, every run in Hades feels important in some way. Whether it be finally earning enough gemstones to upgrade the House of Hades through a plethora of tangible improvements, or listening to a new conversation with a cast of colourful characters who actively comment on your performance, there’s always something new to experience and uncover.
As ironic as it sounds, there’s a life to Hades, a vibrancy to being surrounded by characters that are actively taking note of both your accomplishments and failures, spurred on by some excellently witty dialogue and top-tier voice acting. I reached a point in my time with Hades when I realised that I wasn’t embarking on new runs to just unlock new weapon aspects or gain some more darkness to upgrade Zagreus; I was doing it because Hades kept telling me that I was a fool to keep trying and that kind of attitude deserves to be proven wrong, especially when it’s said in the most condescending, passive-aggressive way possible.
I haven’t even touched on the combat yet, which continues Supergiant’s reputation for delivering thoughtful yet utterly satisfying action. With a range of unlockable (and vastly upgradable) weapons that each play differently, Hades manages to maintain a freshness in its combat situations, not least of all because of the mountain of perks (or “boons” from the gods) that you find during your escape attempts.
Variety keeps Hades fresh as it never forces you into a particular play style of “meta-building” that’s noticeably more powerful than anything else. Everything is viable, placing the onus on the player to learn the ins and outs of each weapon and the world they find themselves in to optimise their runs. Having played plenty of roguelikes, it’s rare that one implements a system that feels so fundamentally rewarding to master while never becoming overly-repetitive. Hades’ combat system is as deep as it is wide, allowing clueless players to feel powerful on their first attempt while still retaining that sensation of being an unstoppable (yet fragile) force of the Underworld for folks that have mastered the game several times over.
I’ve played a lot of roguelikes in the past few years. Everyone’s going on about battle royales being the craze and in a AAA sense that may be true, yet in the indie scene roguelikes have held a much more dominant state of influence for some time now. Most of them turn out to be average at best because, let’s be honest, creating a game where repeating the core experience over and over again must be exceptionally challenging. Yet Supergiant, as they always do, have managed to breath life into a genre that’s becoming more stale by the month.
Hades isn’t just an exceptional roguelike, it’s an all-round marvel of a video game that’s clearly been developed with a great deal of love and passion on every aspect: From the character art and designs to the combat, everything feels hand-crafted in a way you just don’t see all that often. I started this off by saying that Hades might be one of the best roguelikes ever made and while I’m not sure how true such a statement can be, what I do know is that it’s undeniably one of the best games of the year.
Last Updated: September 21, 2020