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‘Hades’ makes death divine

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Hades, developed and published by Supergiant Games.

My knowledge of Greek mythology is a dusty tapestry of Disney’s Hercules, Disney and Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts (with Hercules in it), questionably appropriate plays of God of War as a child, and actually appropriate documentaries about ancient civilizations. Suffice to say, I’m no Athena on this aspect of history. However, I am a glutton for rogue-like punishment and Supergiant Games’ Hades is worth dying for… again and again.

Hades is a rogue-like, isometric, hack-and-slash adventure game steeped in rich Greek mythology. We play as Zagreus, the cheeky, edgy, and under-supported son of Hades, the God of the Underworld himself. The bulk of the gameplay is spent massacring out of the chambers of the Underworld in order to reach the surface. As rogue-likes do, chambers are randomly generated each run and scale exponentially in their difficulty until you learn the attack patterns of enemies, chamber layouts, weapon strategies, and upgrade synergies that will score you respite from the inevitably countless and bloody failures that await you. 

If fighting against your own ego wasn’t enough, the world invites you into its parallel Greek lore without hesitation. Every lovingly-realized character is given voice and personality in a quality that other games could only dream of, including those of similar triple-A titles. Your exploration and progress are rewarded by a satisfyingly complex narrative. Cerberus is your emotional three-headed canine guarding the land of the dead. Orpheus and Eurydice are hot and cold ghosting each other. And god damn–Theseus just won’t shut up will he? 

The household Greek gods and their tropes are all on offer here as well, with appropriately practical importance to boot. During your repeated attempts to slay familiar monsters, you’ll be blessed by “boons” from the gods themselves that alter your weapon’s abilities. Zeus’ lightning bolts will bounce between enemies, Artemis bestows critical-hits, and Aphrodite weakens your opponents–which can be combined in various degrees to form the perfect combination. If that weren’t enough, the banter between the big fat Greek family of gods is a pleasure to witness. Awkward, touching, and often hilarious in-fighting is something that even the most divine aren’t immune to. 

Beyond rogue-like masochists like myself, I truly believe that this game attracts every type of player. Hours and hours of dialogue trigger the literature nerd in my brain. There’s an interior decorating B-plot that does enough to make room for any Animal Crosser to peek in. Hell, there’s even fishing! Fishing! This review cannot do justice to the fact that I have spent 45 hours in the past three weeks playing this game on the Switch and I legitimately believe that writing this review is distracting me from playing one, two, or three more runs tonight. There is a lot to love here.

The team at Supergiant Games are evidently content to continue a hot-streak of meticulously built worlds, compelling gameplay, and affecting writing that leads their game design. This furthers the case that the indie game scene has above and beyond transcended fad status and refuses to be ignored. Hades feels good to read, to learn, to listen, to feel for and return to. Hades feels good to play. If the group of friends I was gushing to during a stream last night are any indication, the fan-base is still growing robustly. So float down the River Styx with us and experience a Hell worth fighting through.

This version of Hades was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.

Hades is developed by Supergiant Games and is currently available on Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Nintendo Switch.

Relevant links: Nintendo Switch | Steam | Website

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