Supergiant Games is one of those developers that manage to build an outstanding reputation within the community despite a very limited lineup of releases. That is bound to happen when every single game manages to distinguish themselves in some way. Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre are all little jewels of gameplay with outstanding art and music in common. Supergiant Games also likes to surprise their fans by switching up both genre and themes often. It’s only natural that people have huge expectations for Hades, their fourth title currently in development and available in Early Access on the Epic Games Store.
This time around, Supergiant Games decided to try their hand at a roguelite. In Hades, players control Zagreus, the prince of Hell and son of Hades. He decides that he's had enough of the underworld and ventures to the surface. Not an easy task considering that Hell's layout specifically tries to prevent anyone from leaving. Additionally, Hades himself isn't pleased with his son’s destination of choice. He will not make the journey easy.
Hades plays like an isometric action roguelite featuring combat similar to Bastion. Zagreus moves from room to room, needing to kill every enemy in order to proceed to the next one. At the end of each room, the prince receives a reward that will help him in his quest. These rewards range from darkness (the game's version of experience points) and shop currency to boons from the gods of the Olympus.
The Olympians, in fact, wish to help Zagreus in its quest to leave the Hades. Their boons are blessings in the form of one of three power-ups. The specific bonus depends on the deity itself. Aphrodite mostly concedes boons that make Zagreus’ enemies weak, Poseidon’s blessings give the prince’s weapons a greater knockback capability and Zeus’ power-ups mostly consist in unleashing thunder when performing certain actions. These boons have a rarity attached to them with rarer blessings imbuing more power.
The combat is quite enjoyable even at this early stage of development. The action is quite fast, with enemies attacking from all the directions almost incessantly. There’s quite a bit of enemy variety despite Hades still being in Early Access. Zagreus will face any kind of damned souls, from charging disembodied skulls to huge club-wielding barbarians to floating crystals shooting death rays. Each enemy is easily distinguishable with clearly recognizable and exploitable patterns. It's critical to learn to use the environment to your advantage. Tricking an enemy to charge into a trap or making the ceiling collapse on a group of small fiends is a quick way to dispose of much of the mess.
The player has to learn to make use of all the power-ups they come across to their full extent. Most importantly, they must master Zagreus’ weapons and how the boons interact with each attack. Zagreus starts his journey with a massive two-handed sword but he gets the option to unlock a handful of other weapons soon enough. Each weapon has normal and special attacks (even charged attacks for some) that differ in range, power, and utility.
The bow attacks from afar but requires perfect timing in order to maximize its potential. The Aegis shield attacks slowly but deflects certain attacks and bull rushes enemies. Knowing the pros and cons of each weapon (and what boons are best for what weapon) is critical considering that Zagreus sticks with whatever you choose for the entirety of the run. There is only a handful of weapons to choose from at the moment but the number will most likely increase in the future.
Unsurprisingly, you'll die a lot in Hades. That’s an unfortunate reality of roguelites where play-die-improve-repeat is the entire premise. In most roguelites, there isn't much going on between death and the start of a new run. Most of the times you just click restart or spend some resources to improve future playthroughs. In Hades, the time between deaths is where Supergiant’s influence is the most visible.
After they perish, everyone stands before the God of Death. Even those who count Gods amongst their bloodline. For Zagreus, it means that our prince returns home every time he's defeated. Hades’ luxurious manor is where the player has the chance to improve Zagreus’ stats or unlock new weapons. Most importantly, it’s where you can take in the story of Hades. Every time Zagreus returns, he has the chance to talk to the many inhabitants of the Underworld, and they all try to help in his ordeal in some way. Everyone except Lord Hades himself, who instead mocks the prince's futile attempts to escape his domain.
Characterization is stellar here, despite many of the people you speak with still having placeholder art. Through these conversations, the player has the chance to learn Zagreus’ motives and the setting itself. The player meets mythological characters like Achilles, Zagreus’ fighting teacher, Nyx, Hypnos, and even Cerberus. Each of these characters has their own motives to aid the prince in his quest. Even at this stage of development, there is plenty of dialogue to listen to. Hell, even the sentient training dummy has his own agenda.
Despite being still in Early Access, Hades shows a huge deal of potential. The combat is enjoyable (although it’s no Dead Cells) but still needs some ironing out. Considering the pedigree of the developer, it feels almost unnecessary to point out that the art, the music and the voice acting are all of the highest quality. While it needs a good deal of extra content and some minor bug fixing, Hades has the potential to become the fourth jewel of Supergiant Games’ crown. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.
TechRaptor previewed Hades in Early Access on PC via Epic Games with a copy provided by the developer.