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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: Supergiant Games
Release Date: Sept. 17, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Hades'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 18, 2020 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Hades is a rogue-like dungeon crawler in which you defy the god of death as you hack and slash your way out of the Underworld of Greek myth.

Supergiant Games came out swinging with Bastion, a distinctive action game from the previous console generation. Since then, the developer has released Pyre and Transistor, both of which meshed unusual mechanics with lovely storytelling to create unique gameplay experiences. Bastion was my favorite of the three, but I'd rank all of their games among my favorites. Hades, the latest offering, lives up to Supergiant's reputation and then some, as it's probably the developer's best game to date.

Hades puts players into the shoes of Zagreus, the son of Hades. Zagreus and his father have a rocky relationship at the best of times, but it came to a head when Zagreus discovered that his mother was not Nyx the Goddess of the Night, as he'd originally thought. Rather, his mother is the now-missing Persephone. Rather upset at this for obvious reasons, Zagreus dedicates himself to escaping from the inescapable underworld to find his missing mother. His father can't bar him from trying, but he'll sure make every step of the way a living hell — literally.

Hades is effectively a collection of stories about lost loves and broken relationships, so it's a far more personal story than expected. There are mysteries involved, but a lot of them may be clear if you know Greek mythology, so the focus is on how people in love can be split apart. The result is a rather mundane story that is full of likeable characters but perhaps lacks some of the punch of Bastion's postapocalyptic world. It is still incredibly enjoyable and well-written, and it's easily one of the most engaging roguelike plots I've encountered.

The gameplay is simultaneously simple and incredibly deep. You take Zagreus through a series of randomly generated rooms and must slay every enemy inside to advance. You're given the choice between various rooms (and prizes), but there's no backtracking, so once you make a choice, you're stuck with it. Your eventual goal is to escape by advancing through all four levels of Hades, each of which is guarded by a boss. It's easier said than done.

The core combat in Hades is delightfully fast-paced and fun. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes, and your goal is to defeat them while taking as little damage as possible. If you die, you have to start over, but you'll retain some resources to power up for the next run. You essentially have four moves: attack, cast, dash, and special. Attack is self-explanatory. Cast is magic that uses up crystals that need to be knocked out of enemies to reuse, and dash is moving around quickly, which you'll spend 90% of your time doing. Special depends on the weapon you have equipped.

It sounds simple, but the game offers a lot of customization. At the start of every run, Zagreus can choose from a selection of weapons — bow, gloves, railgun, shield, spear, and sword — and each has its own set of attacks and moves. The sword is your baseline, and it has quick attacks and a smash attack that hits everything around it. The shield can block, bash, or throw like you're Captain America. The railgun has limited ammo and needs to reload but attacks quickly and has an explosive secondary fire.

Each weapon has three alternate modes that significantly change how the weapon plays. The bow can change to "load" your cast spell and fire it at the enemy for greater accuracy and versatility. The spear can be changed so you toss the weapon at enemies and dash to it. There are even alternate modes based on non-Greek historical figures like Guan Yi and Arthur, which completely change the weapon's move sets. Each weapon can also be upgraded with hammers that can be found throughout the dungeons; the upgrades add powerful abilities to the weapon for the course of the run and can drastically change how they play.

While venturing through the underworld, Zagreus encounters various Greek gods who offer him boons, which are active or passive abilities. Each god provides Zagreus with a dedicated set of upgrades and the ability to summon him or her. For example, Zeus adds electric bolts to most moves, but he can also improve the power of electricity damage and make the god-summoning attacks stronger. Aphrodite can weaken enemies and improve healing. Poseidon has knockback-enhancing spells and abilities and rewards you with loot.

Balancing the gods is important because they are fickle. You can only have one boon on each ability at a time; stacking the same boon isn't a good idea, so you should figure out which combination works best. Passive abilities from a specific combination of two gods can grant Zagreus with a unique special ability. For example, Zeus and Demeter yield the Jolt status effect, which damages enemies for 10 seconds when they attack; it's brutally powerful against fast-attacking foes.

The boons are well balanced, although certain boons synergize better with some weapons than others. The combination of boons and weapons is almost endless, and it gives Hades an absurd amount of replay value. Since all boons are lost upon death, you'll have to start a new build each time.

As mentioned, you can expect to die quite a bit in Hades. The game is built around it, as each return to the House of Hades unlocks new abilities, characters, upgrades, and so on. When you die, you'll retain certain valuable items. Darkness gems can be used to give Zagreus permanent upgrades, but dying is rarely a setback even if you don't make it off the first floor. You'll just try and try again until you succeed with a bit more power behind it. (If you only care about the story, there is a God mode that gives you a huge buff to power.) The Fates provide a series of challenges so you have goals to work toward for huge amounts of rewards, including the valuable Titan Blood, which is needed to power up weapons or unlock new forms.

Gifts are important because they unlock the story of the various characters you meet throughout the world of Hades. All are based on famous Greek mythological figures, and each has a ministory that requires you to talk to them, gift them things, and complete tasks to help them overcome their personal traumas. The cast is quite likeable, and I found myself genuinely wanting to help them all, to the point where I didn't even mind dying because it meant I'd see more of their stories. This is a big part of the fun in Hades and a large reason why dying isn't frustrating. There's enough backstory and content to dig through, so death just means another chance to pet Cerberus or snark with the Fury, Meg.

Once you've completed one run of the dungeon, you'll discover the story doesn't end with one completion; you're asked to run it again and again. This might sound tedious, but the game does a wonderful job of keeping it interesting. In addition to all the usual reasons to die and try again, it also adds the Pact of Punishment, which is similar to ascensions in other roguelike games: You're able to take on the game with more challenges. What makes the Pact cool is that you get to customize your challenge. Each choice gives you heat, and once you reach a certain amount of heat, you'll earn new rewards for clearing stages, which also makes it the optimal way to farm items like Titan's Blood or diamonds. There's even some content that you can only see by completing pacts.

Strictly speaking, you don't need to complete pacts, but you should because they provide additional challenge and reasons to take on the game in new ways. Once you've completed a pactless run, you'll find that pacts keep the game fresh, make it easier to form friendships with other characters, and minimize the farming and grinding that you need to do. They provide new and constant challenges, and that is a big part of what makes Hades fun.

Fun is one area where Hades absolutely excels. There are so many things to do in the game that you always have a goal of some sort. Maybe it's getting enough darkness gems for an upgrade, enough ambrosia to max out a friend's heart meter, a new pact, a new weapon to unlock, or perhaps you really want to buy Cerberus a new bed. It's possible to burn out on Hades if you keep going nonstop; there are so many minor goals that it will be hours before you run out of things to do.

It helps that Hades is absolutely gorgeous. The environments and animations are top-notch, and the artwork is beautiful. I wish there were a few more character portraits for some characters, but that is the closest to a criticism that I can come to. As in all of Supergiant's titles, the audio is where Hades knocks it out of the park. The soundtrack is phenomenal with a bucketload of amazingly enjoyable songs. The voice acting sets the mood with excellent voice work that gives each character a style and personality of their own. Even if it weren't incredibly fun to play, Hades would still be a joy to experience. The only real complaint I can offer is that in handheld mode, you get some noticeable slowdown when there are a lot of enemies on-screen. This isn't anything game-breaking, but it's worth pointing out if you're deciding between the handheld or PC version.

Hades is Supergiant's best game yet, and that is high praise. While it lacks some of the emotional punch of Bastion, that is basically the only area where it lags behind. The characters are likeable, the gameplay is phenomenally fun, the soundtrack is amazing, and the entire game is a joy. Even if you're not a fan of roguelikes, it's worth giving Hades a shot because it is the embodiment of a roguelike done right. It's easily one of the best games on the Nintendo Switch, and it's a solid port. Hades is a must-play and easily one of the best games of the year.

Score: 9.7/10

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