Game Review: Hades (2020)

Defy Hades, the god of the Underworld, as you hack and slash your way out of his domain in order to reach the surface. Aided by the Gods on Olympus and other denizens of the underworld, Zagreus is hellbent on making it out of his father’s domain. 

Listen carefully, says the narrator, as the player, young Zagreus, gracefully lands outside the House of Hades, sending his last goodbye to his father. With only a sword, you venture into the depth of Tartarus, the first biome. There you must defeat a variety of enemies: wretched thugs swing their clubs, the witches cast a damaging projectile and brimstone’s energy beam can stack up damage fast. Each completion of a chamber rewards you a variety of goods and, more importantly, access to the aid of multiple Greek gods, Zagreus’s uncles and cousins. They root for you as make your escape. Each failed attempt sends you straight back home via the Styx.

Oh, how a random fanart that ended up on my timeline led to me discovering one of my favourite games ever. Here I was thinking nothing could top the sheer joy I felt playing Breath of the Wild, but Hades comes quite close. Hades is one of the best games I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. From music to gameplay, Hades is a visual and audio treat. 

“Beyond the present chamber lies the outermost perimeter of Tartarus, promising terrifying dangers far beyond the Underworld Prince’s reckoning.”

The Narrator

As Zagreus, I play it simple, my trusty Stygius is my weapon of choice for the first ten or so runs. That is until I received enough keys to unlock the rest of Zagreus’s armoury, which range from a bow, shield, spear and my favourite, the Twin Fist of Malphon, a pair of armoured gloves that have carried me through over ten successfully attempts in the underworld. Hades is made with replay value in mind. Each run is almost unique and dependent on the player’s choice. Completing a run was never really on my mind as the journey making it there brings just as much joy. Unique chambers on each biome reveal a shade to befriend and a cause to help, further along, you receive the aid of an old friend who isn’t all too happy to see you leave. (Thanatos, I would die for you.)

There are no difficulty settings in Hades, which had me, an easy mode player, sweating a bit. But God mode was extremely helpful to combatting any problems I had. You are not invulnerable, but it does reduce the damage you take from enemies, each death will increase your resistance by 2%. The music of Hades is amazing. I found myself way too focused on my runs to really appreciate it until I made it to Asphodel, the second biome of the Underworld, where you have the chance to meet Eurydice who gifts you treats that can boost the Boons you have acquired. When you enter the chamber, it is silent and then comes the gorgeous voice of Ashley Barrett. A song dedicated to her carefree life in the afterlife, now unbothered by her worries of mortal life. There I was compelled to listen to the soundtrack on its own and genuinely felt its effect. 

The art style truly had me scrolling through Twitter to find any and all fan art I could find. I had initially seen pictures from the game in development where most of the major characters were given placeholder images. In its official release, you see the gods, Chthonic and Olympian, in all their glory. Hades towers over you in his seat as he scoffs at your return. Nyx, the personification of Night, is your adopted mother who guides you in your journey, offering wisdom and advice. One of her sons, Hypnos, watches over you and greets you in your return. His hilarious quips and unhelpful advice (“Maybe try killing [the enemies] beforehand, I don’t know!”) makes each failure almost worth it. You also meet Zagreus’s mentor, famed Achilles, who taught him everything he knows, who stands strong within the halls of the house of Hades, far away from the man he once knew.

Image: Supergiant Games. From left to right: Zagreus, Meg, Hypnos (in red), Thanatos, Achilles and Zeus

Hades is ridiculously addicting. A completed run would take me around thirty minutes at most, I’ve slowly shaved off time in each run, but it appears to be my average time. Loss is nothing in this game because each failure brings a new path. The heart of the game resides in Zagerus and his interaction with the various mythic figures. Each reinterpretation stole my heart and broke it at the same time. By the time the final credits roll, the game is not done, new storylines and challenges appear that will have you returning to the House of Hades in no time. As the game eerily proclaims with each death, there is no escape.


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