Are you really a lover of games if you don’t have that one title that turns you into a ball of squealing nerdiness? That one game that speaks to you on some sort of spiritual level, the likes of which your own partner can’t even reach? For me, that game is Hades, one of the finest works of art our beloved medium has seen in years, and right up there in my top ten favorite games of all time. A hyperbolic statement for sure, but I’m going to need to you to shut up and just let me have this one, okay? Because now that Hades has hit Game Pass and launched on Playstation, there’s no excuse for failing to experience Supergiant’s masterpiece.
Over the years Supergiant have been responsible for some excellent games, starting with Bastion and its wonderful narration. Over the course of three games Supergiant have honed their craft, and Hades feel like the culmination of all their work. The isometric view, the super-sleek combat, the rich storytelling and world building, the way every little aspect seems expertly woven into everything else. They took it all, somehow made it even better and then jammed it all into a beautifully designed rogue-like experience and then covered it all in Greek mythology.
As Zagreus, son of Hades and demi-god, your goal is to escape the underworld and reach the mortal realm where you hope to be reunited with your mother. That means battling through the four different realms of Hades and dying an awful lot, sending poor Zagreus back to the very bottom of Hades where his father gets to witness his failure. Hades’ biggest success is how it handles the many deaths you will suffer at the hands of the various monsters that inhabit the underworld. Not only is defeat a chance to go back and upgrade a few stats or buy some nice decorations, it’s a chance to check in with a host of amazing characters and develop the story further. Never in a game have I been so pleased to get brutally murdered and sent back to the start, because it was a chance to give Meg a gift and see how Dusa was doing and pet the goodest boy! whose the goodest boy? You are, Cerberus! You are! Death in this game is a fundamental part of the progression system, cleverly balanced in a way that I don’t think any other rogue-like matches.
Zagreus isn’t battling through Hell on his own because his quest has captured the interest of his extended family on Mount Olympus, and while his distant family can’t communicate with him in real-time they can provide powerful Boons to aid him on his journey. Zeus might grant bolts of lighting that strike with every attack, or maybe Aphrodite will share her love with you These Boons make every run through the game different, and discovering which ones work best with each other and with different weapons is a real pleasure.
The Gods themselves are an eclectic, fascinating, funny bunch of misfits and Hades contains a staggering amount of voiced dialogue for each of them. I’m convinced you could play through the game multiple times from start to finish and only hear the occasional repeat, each new piece of dialogue fleshing out the Gods and their relationships with each other. I could easily talk for hours about their personalities, the performances and the myriad possible combinations of Boons. It all forms a slick, satisfying, fun combat system that simply feels great.
It’s difficult to do justice to how well designed everything in Hades is. There’s just the right amount of weapons, just the right amount of enemy types, just the right amount of mechanics and every run takes just the right amount of time to complete. While Hades does have flaws I’m convinced it’s about as close to perfectly designed as a video game can probably get. Every element feels tightly tuned, right down to the fact that the game has multiple points where you could set the controller down and feel satiated and happy. Although, I’d always recommend pushing for the true final ending, even if that does stretch Hades just a little bit longer than it should probably go on for.
The beating heart of Hades is the story and the characters. Zagreus is incredibly likeable and his desire to escape Hades, both the place and his literal father, is an easy goal to understand. But along the way things become more complicated. Zagreus comes to understand his father more, grows to appreciate the people around him, perhaps finds love, learns about himself and develops new relationships. The dialogue is sharp, engaging, endlessly charming and funny. Every character is well defined and interesting. And the pacing of the narrative is spot-on, constantly delivering another chunk of plot at the right moment to keep you going forward. In the recent Returnal I talked about how the plot often vanished for ages, especially if you were struggling to complete a section. But in Hades, a bad run will still teach you new Boon combinations, give you a load of new dialogue from Zeus and Aphrodite and Dionysus and the others and will frequently advance the plot in several different ways. It’s truly, truly fantastic.
And the visuals? Have you seen this game? Holy shit! It’s gorgeous. The colour choice blows my mind, the animations are smoother than the Rock’s polished head, the character designs are stupendous and the music is like a massage for the soul.
I could gush about Hades for thousands of words and multiple hours. I really could. It connected with me on a level that most games could never come close to matching and I adore nearly every aspect of it. Now that it has reached Game Pass, I urge you to at least give it an hour or two. What have you got to lose? And like me, you might just discover something beautiful.