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December 2022


Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Private Division
Developer: Supergiant Games
Release Date: Aug. 13, 2021


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PS5 Review - 'Hades'

by Redmond Carolipio on Aug. 10, 2021 @ 6:00 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.

Buy Hades

I don't get along with roguelikes, and they don't get along with me. I respect how well-crafted they usually are and the way they can push the art form forward with their combined elements of design and storytelling. But they can also whittle down your spirit, trigger rage at a moment's notice, and leave you feeling that maybe, just maybe, the experience you're playing is only meant for only the most skilled and hardcore among us.

That was some of the mental baggage I was carrying when I fired up Hades for the first time. And I love it. Love it. I've died many, many times playing it. It doesn't matter; I'm looking forward to trying and dying many more times. I'm simply having too much fun trying to depart the Underworld.

The story might feel familiar: The rebellious son of a Greek god decides he's had enough and decides to fight his way up the Olympic chain of legend to achieve the impossible. However, while Kratos' odyssey in the God of War series drowns you in a sea of rage and emotions borne from epic tragedy, the plight in Hades that befalls Zagreus — prince of the Underworld and son of actual god Hades — seems borne out of curiosity, maybe boredom. He just wants to leave the Underworld and explore, and dad isn't feeling it. Zagreus battles his way out, knowing (and enjoying) that it pisses off his dad, while he encounters a realm of constantly changing chambers and a true litany of creatures and Greek characters who either want to help him on his quest or send him back down to his increasingly annoyed father.

What separates the Hades experience from other roguelikes I've encountered is that I instantly get the vibe that Zagreus attempts this a lot, which explains why he seems incredibly chill and glib about everything, and why Hades mostly speaks to him like the dad at a Fortune 500 tech company whose son just told him he wanted to pursue a career in pro wrestling instead of heading to Stanford to major in engineering. There's much, much more to the narrative here, but I'll avoid babbling out spoilers — if I had to die a ton to find out more, so do you. That's part of the game's brilliance. Each time out, you get a little more story, a few more lines of dialogue, perhaps some new lore to read, and it's all worth it.

If there were a way to make a journey out of Hell charming, Supergiant's design and art teams found it. The art, sound, visuals and overall tone are irresistible, especially if you're into Greek lore. The first time Zagreus emerges from a pool of blood and shakes the drops out of his hair, players will take in a Tartarus where a grumbling, swole Hades is scribbling away at a massive desk and awaiting a line of floating souls with Cerberus, the three-headed hellhound, pettable and snoozing by his side. There's a lounge with a kitchen with an "employee of the month" picture on the wall. The lobby of Hell is gaudy, classic Greek architecture with stone columns and marble floors, with some candles scattered in places. It's darkly vibrant, which can actually be said for the aesthetic for anything, or anyone, you see in Hell. It can also apply to every "run" you make.

There's an addictive energy to the combat in Hades, and it's supported by an ecosystem of play mechanics that fit together and make sense. Zagreus comes with the standard face-button oriented package of a basic strike, strong/special attack, a magic attack (called "cast") and an evasive dash. Of course, there are combinations you can use to tear through the array of foes and evade the various traps scattered around each room Zagreus enters.

Where the gameplay really sings is in its handling of ways to help Zagreus gain strength as he proceeds on his run. Foremost among these methods are blessings from the Olympian gods themselves, which arrive in the form of glowing icons. If Zagreus accepts, it leads to a fun conversation with that particular god, who is exquisitely voice-acted and impeccably designed to the point where that god's personality latches on to your senses. Zeus, haughty and superior, sounds exactly how you think he would. The same goes with the not-bashful Aphrodite, the goddess of love, or the badass and youthful-looking Aries.

The blessings (or boons) they give are a selection of nuanced boosts to facets of Zagreus' attacks — perhaps his special attack can also send down thunderbolts, or every dash or "cast" lights up an area that weakens your enemies' attacks or poisons them, eating away at their lifespan. Occasionally, you'll get more direct godly help in the form of even more powerful attacks that can be triggered by the right shoulder button. For the sake of strategy purposes, some of the rooms Zag fights through have several doors, each marked with an icon of the boost or bonus that awaits if you head in there and fight. Want a chance at additional life? Open the room with the heart icon in front of it. Feel like a boost from Athena? When you come across a door with her wheel icon (it looks like a wheel) on it, come on through.

You're going to need as many boosts as you can gather because Hades wouldn't be a contemporary roguelike without higher-end difficulty. Every room's enemies pose a variety of different problems, whether they're witches casting gobs of offensive magic or jumpy creatures who throw bombs or floating chunks of crystal shooting laser beams. Then, as I mentioned, you have traps. The apex of difficulty (and the most fun) comes with the boss encounters because not only are they joyously challenging, but they're also against actual Greek legends, so it'll resonate with anyone who likes that God of War energy. Among my major encounters are the three Furies (Megaera, or "Meg" being the first one you see), the Hydra, as well as Theseus and Asterius, the bull of Minos. If you don't know who these folks are, read up. They're dope.

All of the above has included Zagreus' repeated demise, over and over again, only for him to re-emerge from the pool of blood, mutter something about the last thing that killed him ("Damn you, Meg" or "stupid, floaty crystal thing") and dive back into his rich, massive world of characters and lore. I remain amazed at how much Greek mythological ground this covers. Achilles is in the next room to offer some advice. Nyx, the embodiment of darkness, is Zagreus' ever-supportive maternal figure. Charon, the Stygian boatman, functions as the game's merchant. You might find Sisyphus hanging around with his boulder, ready for a chat and willing to offer some kind of boost on his own. I've poured a lot of hours into the game, and I'm still exploring. There are characters I still want to meet, enemies I still need to vanquish, and adjustments I still want to ask the contractor in Tartarus to make to my chamber (yes, that's a thing, too).

I can see why Hades was such a big deal when it came out almost a year ago, and I'm glad more people on other platforms are going to experience it for the first time. For people still scarred by their Dark Souls, Sekiro or even Returnal experiences, consider this: This edition of Hades comes with a "godhood" mode, where you start out at 22% resistance, and then another 2% gets added each time you die. This might make the most ultra-hardcore elitists raise an eyebrow, but I think it's a brilliant way to make the game a little more accessible without doing a full bow to add a full-blown "easy" mode, which in my opinion mostly goes against the ethos of roguelikes. In this instance, you still have to go through a lot of pain to get stronger. You have to earn your easy, so to speak.

To that end, I'm headed back into Hell with a smile. Hades is some of the most fun I've had playing something, and I would recommend it to anyone.

Score: 9.5/10

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