If you’ve been paying attention to the various social media platforms, you’ll have likely heard of Supergiant Games‘ newest title, Hades. Their first title back in 2011, Bastion, was so good it had critics raving not just about the amazing gameplay and watercolor art, but the soundtrack as well. In fact, fans of the game, including myself, are still listening to “Build that wall” from Bastion; a song performed by Ashley Lynn Barret and Darren Korb – in Korb’s bedroom closet, no less – who still work together on various songs for Supergiant games to this day. Needless to say, the fact that it won “Best Song in a Game” at the VGA’s in 2011 is impressive, all things considered.
They’ve also done amazing work on two other games I haven’t played as much, but have heard amazing things about and seen briefly: Pyre and Transistor. Darren Korb is responsible for all the soundtracks, recruiting Ashley Lynn Barret more than once. A personal favorite song of mine by the duo is “She Shines” a bonus track from Transistor I was lucky to stumble upon via Spotify.
But enough of me raving about music as I tend to do, let me get to the point of today’s article: Hades is a roguelike – we all know how I feel about those – with copious amounts of lore and substance. This is partially due to the fact that the game is drenched in Greek mythos, character designs absolutely dripping raw talent and representation. Athena, Ares, and Dionysus, for instance, are all represented as POC, just to name a few.
Personally, I’ve always been a huge fan of Greek mythology and I’ve always been a fan of Nyx, Goddess of Night. I don’t want to seem too thirsty here, but let’s say that that favoritism and fangirling has been cemented and escalated thanks to her depiction in this game. Not only is her art absolutely breathtaking, but her voice actor does an amazing job portraying her cold, emotionally distant personality. This could be said for all of the gods and goddesses though, depending on your type. Each one has their separate personality, none of them feel same-y, and you’re left with a sense of awe after hearing from each one.
Before I get too far and forget, I want to point out one thing: You can pet the dog. Not only that, the game devs encourage it with an achievement on Steam for petting Cerberus 10 times (and I have to angrily point out that only 27% of players have said achievement).
As stated above, Hades is a roguelike where you play as Zagreus, Prince of the Underworld, born from Hades himself. I won’t get into spoilers, so that’s all I will say about his origin. Your goal is to escape the underworld, jumping out of an unguarded window against Hades’ wishes and in the face of everyone saying that escape is impossible.
The story is rich here from the beginning. You are meant to fail, repeatedly, and as you slowly progress, getting better and better with each run, you experience new pieces of the story. You see the classical drama of Greek mythology unfold before your very eyes, hearing it from various viewpoints between Hades, Nyx, and messages from the Olympian gods that come in the form of boons – blessings to help you on each run.
As with all roguelikes, your boons and buffs don’t remain static, minus a few upgrades you can buy before each run. You can unlock certain passive abilities as you progress, new weapons, and keepsakes, all of which remain even after your inevitable death. Personally, having just gotten it about two weeks ago, I haven’t gotten as far as I’d like. This leaves me unable to really speak in regards to the playing experience in the long run, but I have at least been able to get past the first stage/biome and into some very good story events.
The controls are responsive and smooth, with optimization that allows even my crappy all-in-one to run it easily. The enemies are varied enough that no run feels similar to another. At the same time, you do become familiar with how to best deal with various situations as you continue to play. Some enemies require that you take advantage of ranged attacks or abilities to dispatch them most effectively, while other enemies require melee and speed or timed attacks interspersed with dashes.
The weapons are not only well-designed but again have enough variety that everyone can find their favorite. I personally enjoy the bident for its ability to do crowd control, quick jabs, and double as a ranged weapon. Some players may find that the classic sword fits their style, or prefer the weaponized shield or the bow. Even as I’m saying it, it’s easy to name friends who might be drawn to one over the other. After all, we all know a person who always plays a bow-wielding rogue.
The voices are the winning element when it comes to the audio of the game. The soundtrack, from what I’ve experienced so far, is fitting, but not as impressive as past titles. Darren Korb is still responsible for the soundtrack – which has four vinyls, I might add – but I just didn’t feel as much magic with his work here as I did in previous titles. It’s hard to blame him, considering the game market has been forced to ramp up all aspects of production over the years, and it can be hard for smaller companies to keep up, but it is what it is. This isn’t a game that needs as good of a soundtrack, in my opinion, because of its nature as a roguelike.
That said, each moment does have its own ambient feel thanks to the soundtrack, its own emotional pull. Still, though, the voices, as I said, are what leave me reeling even still. I look forward to hearing every line spoken by every god, no exceptions. The editing and filters of the voices really cement this for me. Nyx, Goddess of Night, sounds like the personification of night. Zeus, the world’s most infamous adulterer and abusive husband and father, sounds like you might imagine Zeus should sound, and so on. I could go on fangirling over each god’s voice actor forever, so I’ll cut this short here and recommend that even if you don’t want to play the game, you should listen to the story and dialogue through lets plays if you like Greek mythology. Hell, even if you don’t care for Greek mythology, I would say you’re missing out, to be honest.
As a final note for audio, the sound effects are all very well done. There is absolutely nothing that sounds out of place or off. Every slash, magical sound, and grunt is impeccably done. It really is worth playing with good headphones while not being interrupted by discord chats or Spotify, as I tend to have up with other games.
Story & Graphics
The story is explained through dialogue, mostly, and more uncommonly in encyclopedia entries you can unlock through various interactions with each character. I’ve been immersed in it since the first line of dialogue and haven’t had anything take me out of it since. I find myself drawn in further with each event and interaction, wanting to progress the story and not seeing it as a side to the main course of the game. Instead, the story is like a wonderfully addictive alfredo or cheese sauce mixed with pasta cooked just right and topped with beautifully cooked protein, all expertly seasoned. You’re left wanting more but satisfied at every bite, delighted by the melody of flavors and textures.
That’s what it’s like, for me, enjoying all the working parts of the game. The graphics really add to this. I mentioned it before, but the character art has had me crushing on several of the goddesses (and some of the gods), including my favorite, Nyx. It’s hard not to drink in each character each time they appear. The attention to detail allows you to see something new and retain it each time they appear, and they’re all so unique and fresh that it really feels like they took Greek mythology and ran with their own visions of each character.
I love that. It’s easy to imagine every Greek god and goddess as a pretty white man or woman. Supergiant Games has allowed their art team to bring their own visions to life in a way that feels nothing like pandering. They all feel authentic, fitting, and are so carefully crafted that it’s hard to fault them in any way.
The backgrounds make for wonderful desktop backgrounds, and the level design is remarkable. I found myself stopping after each encounter to look around the levels my first few runs, and when I hit the second biome it was a complete change of scenery. Nothing felt or looked the same, and I just couldn’t get enough of it.
All of these things considered, Hades has to get a high score from me. I can’t bring myself to criticize anything. It’s like a trip back to my youth, playing sidescroller beat’em ups on my Sega Genesis. On that level, it’s one of the best roguelikes I’ve ever played, and after more time with the game might even be good enough to take the number one spot on my favorite roguelikes list.
Because of all this, Hades gets a
Perfect. I really can’t think of a reason for it to get anything lower. Its premise and approach is simple in theory, but the amount of depth and substance it provides is like finding a hole in the wall restaurant that makes some of the best food you’ve ever had. It’s not a big restaurant that’s trying to do too much. It’s a small place that does a few things but does them right.