If you know me, then you know that I absolutely love roguelites, and as someone who’s also a fan of Greek mythology (probably because of all the time I spent playing Age of Mythology as a child), I just had to buy Hades after seeing it on my Steam discovery queue. Before we go any further, I’d just like to preface this by saying that I’m in no way an expert in Greek myth, so feel free to correct me in the comments if I get anything wrong.
Developed by Supergiant Games, who are known for highly-acclaimed titles such as Bastion and Transistor, it’s an isometric roguelite set in the backdrop of Ancient Greece’s underworld. It was originally released as an Epic Games Store exclusive (oh boy, that’s another topic for a later date) and, as of writing this, still hasn’t reached version 1.0 yet. Despite that, it’s already rich with content that’s guaranteed to keep you hooked for several hours.
Greek Mythology With a Twist
In Hades, you play as Zagreus, the charming and determined son of the eponymous god of the underworld. Right off the bat, it’s established that Hades isn’t a very good father, and in order to escape him, Zagreus must find a way to the surface, battling lost souls and his dad’s underlings along the way.
Before the events of the game, everyone believed that Nyx, the primordial deity of the night, is Zagreus’s mother. Early on, a flashback reveals that he’s actually the son of Persephone, who has somehow managed to escape the underworld and is presumably in hiding. This is his main motivation for escaping to the surface. Though the true reason why Hades won’t just let him leave is still shrouded in mystery, my current theory is that it has something to do with his true lineage. In some versions of Greek Mythology, Zagreus was conceived after Zeus, under the guise of a serpent, “seduced” Persephone. Keeping his son in the underworld, much to his chagrin, could be Hades’ way of protecting Zagreus from the truth and getting involved with the messy world of the Olympians.
Throughout your playthroughs, you receive help from the gods of Olympus in the form of boons, which are blessings that enhance your abilities. These upgrades vary in themes (both aesthetically and mechanically) depending on who they’re from. For example, Poseidon’s boons revolve around powerful knockback effects, while Athena grants defensive bonuses that let you deflect enemy projectiles.
The Olympians are all too eager to assist you in your quest to escape your father’s clutches, blissfully unaware of your true intentions to find your mother and possibly only helping you to spite Hades. Occasionally, you’ll run into a room that contains two boons from two different gods, and picking one will cause the other to attack you relentlessly until you clear the room, implying that they don’t really care that much about your well-being (they do apologize and reward you if you survive, but still).
The game is a top down hack-and-slash dungeon crawler with your typical roguelite mechanics. Each run features randomized chambers and rewards, and some of the resources you collect along the way can be used to upgrade the House of Hades and your equipment (we’ll get back to that in a bit). Similar to RUINER, the dash button in this game is your best friend, and not just because it lets you dodge certain attacks. Dashing is the fastest way to get around levels, and it can also damage or debuff large groups of enemies depending on your build.
Aside from the boons mentioned earlier, there are also several power-ups that upgrade certain aspects of Zagreus. The Daedalus Hammer, for example, can drastically change the way your attacks work either by adding bonus effects, such as making your melee swings with the Stygian Blade fire a shockwave for additional AOE damage, or completely switching out your basic attack for a slower, but more powerful, chop.
Aside from that, other power-ups include the Pomegranate of Power, which lets you level up one of your boons to increase its effectiveness, and the Centaur Heart, which raises your maximum HP by 25 (or more, if you have certain boons).
Speaking of weapons, as of writing this, Zagreus can unlock a total of five different Infernal Arms, ranging from a shield that you can use to block attacks to the Adamant Rail, a rifle that needs to be reloaded every few shots. Over time, you can permanently upgrade these weapons and unlock different versions of each back at the House of Hades using Titan Blood, one of the resources you can acquire by killing certain bosses or buying from the Wretched Broker back home.
All of the game’s characters are fully voice acted, and most of the lore is revealed through dialogue. After every run, new dialogue options pop up around the House of Hades, with some characters occasionally talking to each other. In this main hub area, you’ll learn more about Zagreus and the other residents of the underworld (e.g. Hypnos, Nyx, and even the ghost of Achilles).
Throughout your runs, you can collect nectar and ambrosia, which can be given to characters (even gods, whenever they offer you a boon) in exchange for a keepsake that grants bonus stats and effects as long as you have them equipped. Continuing to give gifts to certain characters will increase their relationship with Zagreus, potentially unlocking special keepsakes after hitting a certain threshold.
I don’t wanna spoil too much about this aspect of the game as there’s a lot of humorous interactions and interesting characters to encounter, but I’ll have you know that as of writing this, I’ve already clocked in 23 hours of gameplay and I’m still running into tons of new stuff (it took me 20 runs to finally meet Thanatos, the Greek god of death who challenges you to kill more enemies than he can). One of the bosses, Megaera, will also start showing up in the House of Hades after you’ve beaten her once, where she’ll often berate you and express her disappointment at her failure to beat you.
Now, as this is a review of the early access version of the game, I feel like I should spoil at least just this part since it may not be in the game after it’s fully released. The game makes a lot of references about the “ongoing renovations” in the underworld, and funnily enough, after your first successful run, the narrator will suddenly throw a curveball at you and say that we should just pretend that Zagreus died at this point. Upon respawning, Hades will mock you and pretend you never beat him (yes, he is the final boss of the game, and I don’t think that’s really much of a spoiler). Reaching the final level again will result in hilarious exchanges that try to be as meta as possible without explicitly breaking the fourth wall.
Overall, despite being an early access title, Hades is already an amazing experience that’s absolutely rich with content and features a very satisfying and fluid combat system. You’ll most likely never run out of new things to discover until the next update (unless you spend every waking hour playing the game). As of writing this, another huge update will be released in a little over a week, which will add a new Olympian to the game—among other things.
It’s available on both Steam and the Epic Games Store. Now what are you waiting for? Get out there and pet Cerberus already! I mean, uhh, escape the underworld.