Supergiant Games are like the Lernean Hydra. Every time they come back, they come back with more, and stronger than ever. Hades proves this, and we didn’t even have to decapitate anyone.
As a practicing Hellenic Polytheist for over a decade, I’m normally pretty wary with reimaginings of the Gods in media, and approach them with caution. God of War’s original trilogy, for example, was extraordinarily fun as a gamer, but deeply upsetting in its depiction of the Theoi.
Luckily, Supergiant Games have done things differently with Hades.
Styx it to the Man
You play as Zagreus, Prince of the Underworld and only son of Hades, God of the Dead. Zag’s not a huge fan of spending eternity as what amounts to a soul accountant, and decides to head up to Olympus to meet the rest of the family.
Hades himself is deeply against the idea, and musters the full might of the dead to prevent his son from reaching the surface. So your journey begins; hack and slash your way through the legions of the dead to escape your overbearing father.
A Family Affair
The rest of your extended family, the Gods of Olympus, have recently become aware of your existence, and want to help you come party on the mountaintop. The Gods grant various boons that modify and enhance your abilities, and make each run unique. Figuring out how Boons mesh with your playstyle and interact with each other is a treat; some are synergistic dreams, while others are counterproductive as rolling a boulder up a hill.
Those who the Gods seek to punish they first make mad, I guess.
It’s also refreshing to see diversity of race among the Olympians. Athena, Ares, and Dionysus are all depicted as Gods of Colour, a refreshing change from most modern depictions of the Olympians despite the fact that they were originally worshipped in, ya know, Greece.
My main complaint is the distressing lack of certain Gods. Explained in games as some Gods just not caring about Zagreus, I’m a little put out by the exclusion of my boy Apollon, as well as several other Olympian and Chthonic Gods respectively. Some, like Nemesis and Eris, are referenced in other ways, which is cool.
Look, I know I can’t have it all. But I WANT it all.
Rock and Roll and Roll and Roll
It’s not just family aiding you in your quest to break free of your father’s shadowy realm. Along the way you meet several notable figures from Greek myth, such as legendary musician Orpheus, greatest of the Greeks Achilles, and a Stockholm syndrome afflicted Sisyphus. Heroes and kings, monsters and Gods, all feel unique and satisfying to interact with.
The characterisation of these allies and enemies is truly glorious. Not only is the dialogue well-acted and all but infinite (seriously, 50+ runs in I’m still hearing new lines), Hades also delves into topics like loss, betrayal, forbidden love, and redemption in ways you rarely see in any media, let alone gaming.
I’m trying my best to avoid spoiling the plot and some more intricate details that you should discover for yourself. Being as vague as possible, the bosses are fantastic, the secrets revealed at the end of each run are juicy as a delicious pomegranate, and the side-stories will fill or break your heart respectively.
Team Patrochilles. That’s all I’m saying.
Show Me How to Die
This is a roguelike, of course, and so you’re going to die. A lot. Some deaths will be epic, facing a powerful boss or insurmountable odds. Others are less heroic, like walking onto a trap in the last area because you weren’t paying attention.
Death is not the end because, you know, you’re an immortal. It also gives you a chance to head back home and upgrade your abilities, enhance your weapons, and make friends with the various denizens of your father’s realm.
Your arsenal of legendary weapons also makes every jaunt through the Underworld a treat. From the Stygian Blade to the Shield of Chaos, each offers a unique playstyle for whatever suits you. You like close combat, prefer ranged attacks, or a mix of the two? You’re covered regardless; there’s really something for everyone.
You calling me a Lyre?
It’s almost unfair of me to talk about Hades art style, because I love it so much it hurts. Character and level design, weapons and symbols, all are just gorgeous.
Each of the four main biomes of Hades has a unique feeling and atmosphere. From the depths of Tartarus and the burning fields of Asphodel, to dreamy Elysium and the infested Temple of Styx, each area has its own challenges and obstacles to face, overcome, or run away from while desperately trying to stay alive.
It’s pretty fun.
The music of Hades is, in a word, legendary. It’s so perfectly matched to the gameplay itself that it’s not a stretch to say that Apollon himself may have inspired Darren Korb in his composition of heavy guitars, strumming harps, and the occasional lyrical poetry. Hyperbole? Probably. But it’s damn good.
Keeps you Erebusy
Once you get the hang of things and start winning runs, Papa Hades ramps things up a notch with the Pact of Punishment. This optional set of difficulty-enhancing settings allows you to earn more rewards in exchange for a variety of self-imposed restrictions. These serve to not only challenge the hardcore players, but also to add replayability and variety to what could potentially become a slightly samey experience.
Admittedly, I’ve played over 60 runs at this point and I’m not even close to bored. But it’s theoretically possible, I guess.
An Asphodel Field Day
Hades is a story of forging your own path, of repairing a broken family, and patting an extremely good three-headed boy. Add to this a varied, enthralling, and challenging roguelike gameplay loop to that, and you’ve got the makings of a magnum opus.
This is, to me, a modern hymn to the Gods. The team at Supergiant Games may not worship the Theoi, but their seal of approval is all over it.
Hades is one hell of a great game.