God-Tier Roguelike Action RPG Review: Hades
Written by Sexy, edited by Otaku Apologist
Hades, an action RPG developed and published by Supergiant Games. Officially released on September 17, 2020. Download on Steam for $20.99. Full English voice acting.
Defy the god of the dead as you hack and slash out of the Underworld in this rogue-like dungeon crawler from the creators of Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre. – source: Steam
In your escape, you fight hordes spanning the fabled Underworld of Greek mythology. For each run, the game gives a new skill build. You also get some permanent perks and modifications to spice things up for the long haul.
Hades is a delicious game in its own territory. It bears comparison to beloved staples such as crown king Diablo 2 and Path of Exile, but it explores its own direction with multitudes of interesting creative choices.
While not as complex as the aforementioned, Hades offers a variety of tactical choices that keep pleasantly surprising you the more you get into it. Hades boasts large numbers of synergies and crazy skills, but it’s also much more understandable and easier to get into than the super popular action RPGs that defined the genre.
With but a few clicks, you can go through the screen, swoop past a monster, backstab it for extra damage or push it into a spiked trap. If that’s not enough, in the middle of those you can reflect a projectile back to the hater who shot at you, then throw them a devastating spell of your own. Few games can fit all that into a single second. Fewer still can make it not only functional, but a joy to play.
That’s where Hades shines, moment to moment combat. While the variety is great, things are simplified to five moves: Normal attack, Special attack, Spell, Dash, Ultimate. All of these can be changed with a slew of behavior modifications: Range, speed, knockback, debuffs, damage, DOT effects, and all sorts of tweaks that affect the flow of encounters and compliment each other.
You think it’s mostly for those twitchy players and not for you? Don’t want brawling by shoving your iron fists into enemy skulls? The game is so rad, that you can chillax and carpet-bomb the living fuck out of everyone with your grenade throwing machine gun ala Scarface. Being Scarface is not cool enough? Well, what if Zeus gave you chain-lighting, triggered on each bullet hit? Still not good enough!? Call Zeus to complain, and he’ll throw thunderbolts on half the screen. Throw grenades on top of it all, why the hell not!?
While the permanence of building long-term characters is gone, you get the benefit of random generation and getting into situations with a different skillset. Maybe you don’t like the melee warrior life, or your parents got shot in an alley and you would never use a gun. Well, get the good damage turret skill! Place a few of those rascals down to start crippling enemies and impale some bitches with your bow’s homing arrows and other tricks. Or just let the turrets deal with the grunts and shove the big bad into a lava pit.
When you begin playing the game, it looks simplistic. However, the level of fine-tuning it has received, made it one epic experience. You almost always have opportunities for excellent maneuvering, to really dominate the field. In games like this, it’s important you don’t get fucked unfairly. That never happens in Hades: The attack sets of all enemies are well marked visually, and predictable enough.
With excellent command skills, you can make perfect use of the always available ability of dash. Not only can you avoid an arrow, last hit a monster, and knockback its friend into spikes. Dash has a very short split second evasion. If you are a high-skill player, you can remain in the kill zone of a heavy damage hit and still dodge it. Instead of running out of a boss monster’s AOE attack range, you dodge and keep smashing their face.
There aren’t many things that are as satisfying in gaming as a flawless victory in a chaotic brutal fight or dodging that final attack that would have killed you and landing your own deadly strike in return.
The variety of skill effects you pick up steadily through each run. Unfortunately, that leaves less for items. The thrill of fun random drops is lost for you looter fans. You don’t really get to keep the random skills beyond the run. There are items but a limited amount and of limited power, and they are acquired through different means than drops. Other than that you have an arsenal of 6 weapons from the bow, sword, combat shield, spear, blade fists, even a gun with a grenade launcher, each produces a variety of combat dynamics. Not to mention those have permanent upgrades that still change their behavior.
It is quite nice that Hades makes its own space with fans of combat, and manages to outgrow the typical large stash item collections that usually go with action RPGs.
There is a great and persistent story that is built with butt-loads of voice-acting, milestone incentives, and interconnected events. The NPCs react to most things you can do in the game. It has many hours of excellent voice-acting and methodically unlockable events for you to uncover. Some 20’000 or so recorded lines. The mix between combat and narrative is very well done. Your playthroughs are actually connected through the story as you are immortal and being killed just sends you back home in Tartarus where you started. If an explosion killed you, there is a little quip voiced dialogue given to you by the NPCs about explosions.
The persistence of all that you do really ties everything together in a tangible way that makes more sense of your quest, and definitely compensates for a large item collection and permanent characters.
Heck, you can even buy some furniture and cool shit for your staging area.
Developers Supergiant Games have definitely learned that they can use all the tools in their previous great titles to produce a game that can entertain people for far longer than 5 hours. That was the main issue before, complex and entertaining systems that just ended as you reached peak performance.
The soundtrack is maybe a bit less amazing than previous entries. Mostly because the older ones had epic scores with godly vocals. Hades although having good music just has a hard time reaching the high bar of previous glory. The sound effects I had to double-check. There is usually a lot going on and I don’t notice them so much. They are good enough it seems. More utility than sound bliss, but that’s much needed in a robust game.
While talking about hack and slash, there always has to be some mention of visual clusterfucks. Although Hades has some, you can usually read what’s happening on screen. Very rarely you’ll lose track of it all, which is better than most games that rely on flashy visuals.
High action fans can appreciate numerous affordances that allow you to play more laid back runs and toy around with things. Even explosive barrels make a regular appearance to give you extra variety. So maybe you can one-shot everything with your OP special ability upgrades. But, every now and then you just want to knock-back a cluster of swordsmen into an explosion and let them be finished by another hazard.
Even if a randomly generated run is not going so well, you can usually modify it in a way that gives you some abilities that salvage the situation. So, maybe you wanted Ares to give you that nice Doom buff and he isn’t showing up. Grab an item that makes sure you meet him in the next quarter of the game.
Hades is a pool of good ideas that have been elevated to a superb performance by extensive testing and adjustment. It was unfortunate that it started as an early access Epic games exclusive, however, it seems a maximum value has been gained from it. It is generally the opposite of Bethesda games – Hades started good, and ended up magnificent with the extra work.
Now Steam and console players can enjoy a polished and ready full experience, with the game recently having launched version 1.0.
Scaling is one more excellent thing in Hades. You get to tailor your own difficulty as you could with the previous Supergiant titles. You can add handicaps, power spikes, and some useful buffs to yourself, allowing you to push the boundaries at your own convenience.
This is where unit behavior and AI make an important appearance. There are very few wildcards in the game. If you are being punished it is because you took on more than you should and didn’t handle it well. The power, control, and risk are all in your hands to do as you see fit. There won’t be any overpowered randomly generated monster or effect that cripples your run for no good reason. This is one more staple that is crucial in a roguelike game that continuously pushes your abilities to new heights.
It’s unfortunate it is completely built for single-player, and nobody is planning to do multiplayer. However that may be a good thing, because upscaling Hades to an online game, has the potential to sink thousands of hours of people’s lives. God knows we don’t need many more WOW level time sinks. There’s always Jah runes and Mirrors of Kalandra to farm in those other worlds anyway.
Hades is that ARPG that allows you to have any isolated run that feels worthwhile, with the option to come back for more. Which is more than can be said for Baal runs.
Repetition in this game is not a chore, it’s a blessing. It allows you to stand right next to a boss, let it swing its heavy weapon, but why really dodge this one when you can just take the hit and bash him into next Tuesday.
The variety of what you can build and the way you can tailor your combat experience is almost unrivaled by any game our there.
Isolating each of the features of the game, they are not too impressive. It’s the superb level of quality when they are combined together that forms one of the best dynamic hack and slash games of all time.
All that you would have to do, to transform this into a bland, generic game, just take the story and the voice acting out, and be left to the mercy of extensive but somewhat repetitive combat mechanics.
Out of general hack and slash mechanics the only thing it doesn’t have is minion summoning. I’m 150 hours in and I just unlocked a laser version of the gun, with new kinds of grenades. Such is the nature of everything cool that instead of taking out the shiny thing for a spin, I’ll just do another Captain America run first, throwing my shield around like a lunatic and slaying them all.
Hades is not just a good game, it’s a masterstroke of an immersive world where you get to enjoy kicking ass and taking names. Or just sit at base admiring the view while playing a cool song. It allows nearly no limit to how much you can challenge yourself by escalating the level of threat to whatever you like. It is spaced wonderfully – you can take your half-hour session and even split it further to however many rooms you have the time for (1-3 minutes each). Go about your business and pick it where you left off – no hassle. Whether you play for 15 hours straight or just drop 20 minutes, Hades has you covered with beauty, awe, and excellence in every direction. The wiki is integrated into the form of a journal. You can check everything and what synergies you want to go for – maximum convenience.
If you’re not playing Hades yet, sit your ass down and grab it on Steam. This game is culture, it’s a genre-defining entry into the world of western ARPGs that will be spoken about, referenced, and copied for the next decade to come. Worth every penny, check it out at your earliest convenience. And while you’re still feeling pumped, download the below app for free. Thanks.