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Hades review: tough as hell but heavenly to play

A hellishly tough underworld action roguelite from one of gaming’s most original developers is heavenly to play

Failure is an important part of Hades, where each run has a random layout of enemies and death sends you right back to the beginning. That sounds like a turn-off for those preferring a story over a challenge, but this roguelite is more forgivable than most – and better too. 

The dungeon-crawler’s fast and tight combat feels terrific to play as you hack and slash your way out of the Greek Underworld to the surface. Clearing each room of enemies grants items or gifts from the gods who provide game-changing boons and buffs allowing you to unleash even more destruction. Being randomised, while you also have paths and rewards to choose from, means each run plays out differently from the last, but still leaves room to tailor to your playstyle.

More crucially, developer Supergiant Games has been careful to ensure defeat doesn’t completely strip you of progress. You might have to start at the beginning but you’ll unlock new weapons, while collectables can be used on upgrades to make your life a bit easier on the next run – for your own stats, death defiance is the next best thing to an extra life. Better still is the option to toggle on a ‘god mode’, which gradually reduces your overall damage, while ensuring the experience isn’t a cakewalk. 

It’s a delight discovering each weapon’s quirks and much elation comes from defeating a previously impossible boss, making them quicker to overcome the next time. Even if you’re lucky enough to reach the end early on, which is possible with the right build and skills in about 40 minutes, you’ll have only just scratched the surface. There’s still an intoxicating number of upgrades and play styles to uncover, not to mention more of Hades’ colourful cast who won’t cross your path until later runs. 

Just when you think you’ve seen all Hades has to offer, a new addition or tweak takes you out of your comfort zone while also expanding your options and its lore, the latter smartly delivered in bite-size chunks rather than with walls of text. Put all that together and Hades becomes very addictive for diving back in for another go, seeing what this weapon or that upgrade can do or what you’ll find in the next room. Even if you’ll have to face numerous setbacks, few games make you feel so godly.

All Greek to me

From the God of War series to the upcoming Immortals: Fenyx Rising, games can’t get enough of retelling Greek mythology. But Hades revitalises many of these in modern refreshing ways, which should be expected from developer Supergiant Games who have a reputation for gorgeous hand-drawn art and original storytelling. You’ll no doubt have come across many of these gods and monsters before, from Zeus and Aphrodite to Cerberus and Hydra, but the character art for each of these are simply stunning, while protagonist Zagreus and his Olympian cousins have already set thirsty players ablaze on social media.

The beauty of Hades is how you get to learn about each character over time through each new encounter, adding new layers upon their well-worn myths, such as Theseus and the Minotaur, who are now a fearsome buddy duo. Zagreus’ escape attempts might be the same plot but it’s the growing relationships between the cast, teased with new lines of dialogue or backstory with each encounter, sometimes directly commenting on your past actions or failures, that makes repeat runs even more enticing. Who knew that a roguelite would be such a perfect framework for a divine dysfunctional family soap opera?

Stuff Says…

Score: 5/5

An absolute treat to play even if you don’t like roguelites. For those that do, it’s undoubtedly the best there is.