Leave it to the Lord of the Underworld to scorn his only son and prompt him to run away from home. In Hades, Supergiant Games’ hack-and-slash roguelike, you play as Zagreus, the cool Prince of the Dead with daddy issues. Your sole goal is essentially to escape Hell with single-minded, laser-like focus, and as with any game in the same genre, you’re meant to die over and over again until you get better and stronger with every new run.
Zagreus will be inevitably squishy when you start out, but before you rage-quit and just decide to stay in the House of Hades for all eternity (I mean, Cerberus is there, all cute and fluffy, so it can’t be that bad), we’ve got some quick beginner’s tips and tricks to help make those first few runs easier on your sanity.
Pick the Right Buffs in Hades
Dear ol’ Dad may condescend you while he’s up there signing off on paperwork for the dead, but the other gods on Olympus are actually sympathetic to your plight to escape from Hell. While they spawn randomly with every new run and every new chamber you enter, the Boons from the other gods grant you lots of important buffs to help you on your quest (and don't forget to check our guide on the best Boons). It will depend on your playstyle, but pay attention to the Boons that you get from the gods—some of them offer powerups for your regular Attack, your Special, your Cast, or your Dash.
Personally, I think that the most important buff you should prioritize during the early stages of the game is anything that upgrades your Dash. For instance, Zeus may offer you a Boon that will imbue your Dash with lightning so that you can strike down foes as you dash through them, which can be incredibly helpful when you need to get out of a tight spot.
The thing about Boons is that you can only accept or “equip” them one at a time, which means that if you already have a buffed up Dash with lightning effects from Zeus, accepting another one, say, from Aphrodite, will replace that lightning-infused dash. If you’re lucky, though, you may chance upon Duo Boons, which are Boons that combine buffs from two gods.
Choose Your Room Rewards and Door Symbols in Hades
Remember that Boons obtained in a run are lost when you die, so they’re really only useful for a particular run. This is why it’s important to strategize which Boons and rewards you think will help you with survivability.
This is where room-clearing rewards come in. After you clear the enemies in each chamber, the door to the next one will unlock, showing you an icon of the reward you can get after clearing it. Sometimes, there will only be one exit; other times, there will be two or more. Your choice will be crucial to your survivability in every run—if you’re low on health, then choosing the exit that will grant some form of healing is your best bet. If your existing buffs are crap, then you might want to go for the room rewards that have the gods’ symbols on them, pertaining to a god Boon in the next room.
When I first started playing, I had no idea what those symbols were, so I didn’t know which ones to choose best. It can be pretty annoying to figure out, so here’s a quick description of the most common ones to help you out:
- Boons - Defined by the symbol for that particular god (a red sword for Ares, a purple wine goblet for Dionysius, a green arrow for Artemis, a lightning bolt for Zeus, a blue trident for Poseidon, a gold wing for Hermes, a gold shield for Athena, a pink heart for Aphrodite, five purple arrows that shoot out for Chaos). You lose this when you die.
- Pom of Power - Looks like a fruit; can buff existing Boons you already have. You lose this when you die.
- Centaur Heart - A blue heart; can increase your maximum health. You lose this when you die.
- Charon's Obols - A gold coin; gives you gold that you can spend in Charon’s Shop, which is one of the random rooms that may appear in every run. You lose this when you die.
- Nectar - A yellow bottle; you can “gift” this to the NPCs in the House of Hades and the gods as well to obtain Keepsakes that give you buffs. You keep this when you die.
- Daedalus Hammer - A hammer; can give your current equipped weapon a boost in power. You lose this when you die.
- Darkness - A purple teardrop-shaped gem; used as a currency to upgrade the stats in the Mirror of Night in your room. You keep this when you die.
- Chthonic Key - A silver key; used to unlock new weapons and Mirror of Night upgrades. You keep this when you die.
- Gemstones - Multicolored gems; used to buy renovations from the House Contractor in the House of Hades; renovations can either give you assistance during runs or can be purely for aesthetics inside the House of Hades. You keep this when you die.
- An Exclamation Mark - Means that you will encounter Sisyphus in the next room; you can pick one out of three buffs like Healing, Darkness, or Charon’s Obol; can also mean you will encounter the muse Euridyce in Asphodel, who will give you three options on buffs as well.
- Charon’s Shop - A satchel with a skull; this room has no enemies; you can buy Boons, health items, and other useful stuff from the Stygian Boatman, Charon (he is also a hidden mini-boss)
- Titan Blood - Red blood with a spiked crown around it; you get this after defeating a region’s boss for the first time using each weapon; used to unlock weapon Aspects. You keep this when you die.
Note that a symbol above that has a skull mark means that there will be a boss or mini-boss encounter in the next room. Also, after clearing a room, you might chance upon a hole on the floor with a swirling purple aura. Enter this by sacrificing some of your health to encounter Chaos, a primordial being who offers you rewards if you survive the next few rooms with a certain debuff (e.g. your movement speed is reduced for 3 Encounters or chambers, then you get a big buff after).
Sometimes, you might come across two god symbols in one icon. This means that the next room will contain a Trial of the Gods, wherein you must choose one god over another. Choosing one means scorning the other one, who will get a little pissy for a while and punish you with an extra challenge on top of the mobs that spawn in that room. For example, scorning Poseidon will make him throw rogue waves at you from different directions as you try to clear the mobs. After you do though, you’ll also get that scorned god’s Boon. This is why the Trial of the Gods is one of the most sought-after rewards in every run, because it essentially gives you the opportunity to grab two Boons in one go.
You might also chance upon a purple basin inside a room after clearing its mobs. This is the Well of Charon, where you can use your collected gold to buy buffs and other healing items. If you come across a Kiss of Styx being sold for 200 Obols, consider yourself lucky! This handy item replenishes one use of your Death Defiance, which is a skill that essentially gives you another shot after your life is depleted (like Mario’s 1-Up).
Pay attention to the environment in every chamber you enter, as you might run into a gray treasure chest with golden laurels on the front in one corner. This is called an Infernal Trove, and may contain Darkness, Obols, Health, or Gemstones. The number decreases the longer you take to clear out the enemies in the room.
Similar to this, there’s another timed encounter where you enter a room and Hades immediately declares that you need to survive for 45 seconds against hordes of enemies. You’re not really required to kill them off—as long as you survive for the required number of seconds, you’ll still “win” the challenge and get rewards after. Again, having a buffed Dash that can do damage or deflect attacks is especially useful here.
Spend Some Time in the House of Hades
Each time you die and reemerge from a pool of blood inside the House of Hades, don’t go rushing off on your next escape attempt. Take the time to talk to the NPCs inside, as chatting them up unlocks new dialogue and improves your relationships with them. You can also gift them with Nectar, which will, in turn, prompt them to give you a Keepsake.
Keepsakes aren’t just for show in the nice and shiny glass case outside your room. Each Keepsake provides handy buffs that you can choose from depending on your playstyle, but as a beginner, Skelly’s Keepsake is the one that’ll help you out the most.
Skelly is the animated (or reanimated) skeleton mysteriously hanging out outside your room. Gift the lively training dummy a Nectar and he’ll give you a Lucky Tooth in return, which will give you an extra life (Death Defiance) once per run—pretty handy to help you survive the pits of Hell a little while longer.
For beginners, I find that on top of Skelly’s Keepsake, Dusa also gives a pretty decent one if you’re struggling with your health. Dusa is the ever-loyal and ever-anxious housekeeper that I think is kinda in love with Zagreus. Gifting her with Nectar gets you a Harpy Feather Duster, which, once equipped, gives broken urns a chance to contain healing items.
You can only equip one Keepsake per run, so choose wisely. Eventually, you can hire the House Contractor (using Gemstones to pay) to work on a Keepsake collection case outside every region of the map so that you can switch Keepsakes between areas (e.g. between Tartarus, the first region, and Asphodel, the second region).
You can also hire the House Contractor to build a fountain in the chambers where you can replenish your health, as well as Urns of Wealth that make random urns in chambers contain a few Obols to help you out. Once you see the Fated List of Minor Prophecies in the list of projects you can commission, go ahead and buy it right away—this gives you a bunch of rewards whenever you encounter certain gods or get through accomplishments in the list, so it’s a passive way to earn buffs even if you don’t pay much attention to it. In short, be nice to the Contractor—that adorable shade in a hard hat can be really, really helpful.
Keep an eye out for the Infernal Broker’s wares in the lounge area as well, as he occasionally will sell you limited-time goodies that can help you out (or rip you off... he’s kind of sneaky like that). You can also eavesdrop on the conversation between the miserable souls or “shades” milling about here and there—some of the exchanges can be pretty funny, and their descriptions tell you the cause of death for each soul (like drowning, or high blood pressure).
Inside Zagreus' Room, the most important thing you need to worry about as a newbie is the Mirror of Night. Here, you can use any Darkness you’ve farmed from runs to upgrade abilities that’ll prove invaluable on the battlefield. Prioritize Death Defiance first for that sweet, sweet extra life. Eventually, you’ll be able to unlock alternate skills that you can switch around, and if you’re still struggling with health, it’s a good idea to invest in Dark Regeneration. Each level for this skill restores your Health by 30% for any Darkness you collect inside the chambers, which can spell the difference between life and death when you’re struggling to survive out there.
Enjoy Hades and All Its Aesthetics
It’s easy to get frustrated whenever you almost clear a room and get offed by a stupid spike trap on the ground, but Hades actually encourages you not to take things too seriously. If you’re having a hard time, you can always tick the God Mode option in the settings as this gives you a 2% increase in Damage Reduction each time you die. That way, you can just play and enjoy the game with all of its quirks and eccentricities.
From the stunning art to the stellar voice acting, Hades makes for a compelling game that hooks you from the very start. The awesome soundtrack hypes you up with every new run, and the humorous lines of dialogue between all of the characters are one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game for me. Just keep playing and you’ll get the hang of it eventually—and if you’re playing on PC, for the love of all things Hellish and Hades, use a controller.
There’s a whole lot more to discover as the game reveals itself to you when you go further along, but we hope these will at least help you get through those first few runs without abandoning all hope.
More Hades Guides
Do you have your own personal tips for Hades? Let us know how you’re doing in the comments below!