Your goal is a simple one: playing as Zagreus, son of Hades, escape the realm of Hades and reach the surface, where you’ll be embraced by Zeus and the other Olympians, all of whom are tempting and helping you along the way.
To do this, you flit through dozens of self-enclosed rooms, randomly arranged and with ever-changing spawn pits of demonic (et al) minions to battle. It is, when you zoom out, an absurdly simple premise: fight through to earn your freedom. But the ever-increasing layers ladled on top are what makes Hades jump from goodness to greatness.
You’re choosing from a selection of different weapons, each with its own pros and cons – a simple sword for your regular combat, maybe, or the Twin Fists of Malphon (aka holy boxing gloves) to get up close and quickly batter things… even a machine gun of sorts. It mixes things up, makes you learn new techniques, and – with each weapon triggering its own unlocks for defeating bosses along the way – also encourages you to actively switch weapons with each run.
You’ll have plenty of those runs, so there’s always the chance to mix it up a bit and just try out something different for a while; it’s so easy, it’s never a chore, and there are potential rewards for doing so. Elegant doesn’t begin to cover it.
The plenty of runs are what you’d expect from a roguelike, and Hades – again – is utterly sublime in how it handles things. You’ve one life, but along the way, you can restore health through differ-ent means. You can also upgrade Zagreus to give him an extra life of sorts, and other boons can pop up to extend your single life bar into multiples. So it’s not the most punishing of games in that respect… all the same, you will fail a hell of a lot, and with that comes the chance to be mightily miffed by the whole thing, of having put in half an hour to a run, got seriously far, then not noticed some Elysian spear-wielding arse scuttling up behind you to stab you in the back like the cowards that lot are.
Except it doesn’t get annoying. Death is inevitable, but really it just acts as impetus to start over, push harder, try something new, upgrade yourself, and more. Best of all, dying sets you back to the realm of Hades, and in the house of the Underworld’s god, there’s plenty of story and charac-ter and other fantastic elements to keep your interest and maintain momentum to things. Death is hardly even an inconvenience here, and I never found myself wanting to stop playing because of a death, instead, other things like ‘real life’ tended to come up and demand things be paused a while. Elegant still doesn’t begin to cover it.
Every run sees different boons, too – favours from the gods – to augment your weapons, attacks, dashes, and more. Hermes, god of lost packages – sorry, messenger of the gods – might offer an additional dash to your base one or two, while Athena might make it so that your attacks cause damage and deflect incoming attacks at the same time. Zeus can add lightning effects, Dionysus can flirt like the sexy boy he is (and offer boons), Artemis can make it so that arrows shoot out with every strike of your weapon.
There are dozens of options for each god, and plenty of gods to share their wealth, so no run is ever the same. One boss fight might seem insurmountable the first time around, only to be drifted through with ease thanks to a handful of different boons picked up on a fresh run – it’s Just. So. Elegant.
Supergiant Games pushed Hades through a significant Early Access period before its v1.0 release, and it paid off massively. The game has seen the benefit of, effectively, mass-scale user testing before its ‘final’ release (it will be updated, of course), and the studio has put an incredible amount of effort into tweaking, changing, and perfecting elements big and small throughout the game.
Hades is a poster child for the good Early Access can do – equally, it’s the poster child for what a good game should be. Elegant might not be the word. Eleganza is.
Every time you die, you go home. This hub – the realm of Hades – is a constantly evolving place full of exposition, improvements, and a three-headed hellbeast to give a few chin scritches to. It is, as with everything else in the game, a considered, useful, and entertaining element that makes dying far less of a chore.
Stylish and sublime, Hades earns its place among the gods of gaming.
Genre: GOTY contender
Format: Switch (tested) / PC
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Supergiant Games
Price: £22.49 (PC £19.49)
Release: Out now