Hades: Defying Dad; Greek style!
Ahh, Greek myth. One of the cornerstones for our cultural obsession with terrible people doing terrible things to each other for stupid reasons. Thankfully, Supergiant Games is here to remedy this by telling a story about moderately selfish people defying their Dad due to poor communication skills and a teenager's rebellion phase. I should disclose that I have not finished Hades, in any other situation I would have played until completion. But with the 10th drawing close, I want to make sure that I am free to move onto Cyberpunk 2077 in time. That being said, however, I bloody love Hades; it is one of the best I have played this year.
Zagreus: the son of Hades, the god of life and hunting is defying his Dad and escaping the Underworld. The relationship between his father and himself has become very strained, to say the least. However, upon discovery that his mother (Persephone) is on the surface world, seemingly abandoning him. Zagreus sets out to find her, defying his Dad even more and becoming extremely relatable to any teenager who has disagreed with their dad in the past (not that I have).
Narratives in Roguelikes
Roguelikes are typically gameplay focused as opposed to narrative. Normally this is a good thing as in most cases it would be very difficult to write a story that does not take into account the stop-start pacing of gameplay standard for Roguelikes. Hades is something of a rarity in this case, as the narrative is not only strong but finds a way to turn the pacing problem into an advantage. Because everyone is either a god or undead, death is merely a temporary inconvenience and plot device, as each defeat furthers the story instead of stalling it.
Killing a boss once causes a stir in the hub world, killing Hades causes a small panic to erupt. The world as a result feels alive, that your actions have consequences as opposed to a purely mechanics-based game. The characters too feel like people, who have their own lives, ambitions, and motivations. They get into trouble helping Zagreus (or failing to stop him), their opinions change as our protagonist proves himself to them. These persistent changes to characters and setting make Hades an incredibly compelling experience.
The gods themselves
Every single god is fully fleshed out and memorable in his or her way. I must also congratulate Supergiant Games for their faithful depiction of mythology. They are all remarkably petty towards each other while competing to use Zagreus for their ends. Hades is strict and grumpy with a disapproving opinion of his son so reminiscent of Kratos from Dad of War, that I thought they were the same actor (Logan Cunningham is Hades instead of Christopher Judge).
Demeter’s cold indifference to mortals fittingly terrifying, I love how she casually considers causing Famines because she feels like it. Zagreus himself is highly motivated as relatable as a protagonist. He wants to get to the outside world and nothing can stop him. But he is also good-natured and snarky, always coming up with something witty to say. His motivation is clear, and his personality makes him instantly likable and relatable.
A story as a reward
One of the best examples of positive feedback loops is a rewarding failure with more story, along with the customary upgrades typical for Roguelikes. The reward of letting the player interact with such a rich cast is enjoyable and encouraging. Most Roguelikes do not provide much encouragement outside the gradual accumulation of power. That can be effective but not engaging if the combat is fun and satisfying. Which each escape attempt you get to learn a little more about the world, chat with such a wonderful cast of characters to find out more about them. The experience of failure as a result, through writing, becomes a reward in itself.
Hades is a Roguelike, which means that you can expect several common attributes: randomized level layout, permadeath, and gradual increment of power against a rising difficulty curve. Nevertheless, Hades mixes up this well-worn, reliable formula with some tricks of its own to spice things up.
Boons of the gods
In each run, you are granted a random assortment of buffs from the various Olympian gods. While the randomness can backfire on you, some boons are just not compatible with the weapon you chose at the start it can also enhance your run. Hades forces you to experiment with boons that you might not have thought compatible. When boons are combining, you feel gradually powerful, as lighting strikes combatants while slowing and rupturing Zagreus’s foes. Boons also add another level of strategy to proceedings. Weapons that have knockback benefit from Poseidon while fast-paced weapons benefit from Zeus buffs.
Levels and the problem with Roguelikes
Roguelikes tend to have a problem intricate to the genre itself. Namely, that randomized levels tend to become unremarkable and rather repetitive. An algorithm might,( in theory) create an indifferent number of levels, but in reality, tends to create some very similar levels. There are only so many entrances and exits at any given level. As a result, the player will just go through the same levels from slightly different angles. The levels rather blur together, unmemorable parts of an otherwise distinct stage. Please note that this is more of a shortcoming of the genre as opposed to Hades the game. It makes the means of exploring each stage disappointingly weak and mechanical as opposed to a real place. Although explained within the lore (the underworld changes to order to prevent people from leaving), so I suppose that makes it less of a problem?
You have six infernal arms (weapons) at your disposal. All of them have unique playstyles. Aegis, for example, demands the player to take a more careful approach, as it is the only weapon that provides you with a shield to block incoming attacks. The Twin Fists on the other hand require you to act quickly and aggressively. All the weapons feel good, with the satisfying audio-visual sound effects that one would expect from a high-quality game. The sheer amount of customization however makes Hades an endlessly compelling experience. From the different aspects that heavily influence the behavior of Agegis (Aspect of Zeus turns the shield into a spinning ball of electric death when flung) or turning Coronacht’s basic attacks into heat-seeking bombs to the minor adjustments offered from Daedalus hammer. Hades ensures that each run has something fun and interesting to do with its armaments.
The boss fights
Many Roguelikes often run into the problem of repetitiveness. Ziggurat's bosses (while randomized) are very static in behavior. The big scary red skull one vomits skulls in your diction with the velocity of a machine gun if you do not get out of the way. It might swing towards you but that is about it. Dark Devotion too has static bosses, the Keeper of the Books behaves the same way as any other time you would encounter him for example. Not so much in Hades, the first boss in Tartarus is Megara, but over time you might encounter Megara’s sisters like Tisiphone or Alecto. All of whom have wildly different attack patterns and strategies to defeat.
A simple change brings a nice dose of fresh change into the mix. It prevents the player from settling into a numb trance, thus keeping the game challenging and engaging. It is also worth noting that that one pact of punishment clause (difficulty settings induced post first successful run) adds another gameplay feature. The “Extreme Measures” pact for example gives Alecto the power to summon circles of lightning near Zagreus or Theseus’s chariot complete with miniguns and cluster bombs. Hades is always changing the rules or behaviors to ensure things are interesting and challenging.
Art style and graphics:
If you have ever seen Ancient Greek pottery or Disney’s Hercules? If so, you might have an idea as to what Supergiant was going for here. Everything looks suitably larger than life and very easy on the eyes, and I am not just talking about Zagreus (lol). The use of soft yet varied colors never gets old and is delightfully beautiful.
Hades is a continuation of Supergiant Games' near-perfect record of accomplishment. Endlessly fun, charming, sexy, and artistically inspired. It is only moderately let down by the flaws intrinsic to the genre it is a part of. Even then, the gameplay and feedback loops more than makeup for it. Hades is as good as Supergiant’s line-up.
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