I feel a great deal of gratitude to the developers of Supergiant Games for making Hades. So much so that I’ve already bought the game twice. 2020 has been a hectic year for me, too, and now I find it hard to remember exactly how many games I tried that year. Still, in addition to Ghost of Tsushima, this was another digital creation of 2020 that helped me recognize video games and why I like smaller budgets and independent games.
I am convinced that the budget for AAA video games is now so low that there is very little chance of creating groundbreaking pieces among them. Perhaps not primarily because large companies do not like to take risks, but because such gigantic developments are difficult to fine-tune. Take Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, for example. The Viking game really got better than the previous two AC’s, simply because what the player does in it has become more diverse and interactive. But even though it entertains me, I get the feeling that its different elements fit together quite difficultly – sometimes you have to travel too much between two interesting things, looting is a little more important than it should be, and characters are not always spent enough time portraying them. These are not fatal mistakes, but for a truly outstanding gaming experience, it takes the user to feel that everything is in place, and all the elements of an AAA video game (missions, track, character models, etc.) are so detailed that you have to move mountains to make a breath of changes. And not always, just figuratively.
That’s why I think it would be nearly impossible to create a game like Hades in the form of a $100 million project. It’s not so easy to explain why you have a 92 Metascore and a 98% Steam rating because if all I’m saying about is that its rogue-lite set in the world of Greek gods, it doesn’t get anyone interested. Hellenic mythology is a popular video game starting point these days (God of War, Immortals). Making Roguelite in indie circles is as unusual as when a large company announces a battle royale. But you must already know what I’m trying to say. Hades is not a stylish visual creation, an interesting story or an exciting combat system. I mean, but, by the way, it’s all there, but the game is so much more than the sum of its pieces.
The Hades are about Zagreus, the underworld prince, trying to get out of his home, but his estranged father, Hades, is not a fan of this idea. But let the rebellious teenager try, thinking he won’t be able to fight his way through the high-rise abode of the dead. All this translates into gameplay, which means going into a room, cutting off any resistance that stands in our way, and then going on to the next randomly drawn (but otherwise not randomly generated) room. In most cases, we choose what room we want to enter next, and we can see in advance what reward awaits us if we manage to clean the room. Or if a boss doesn’t want to love us in the next room, so that’s what you can do with tactics. However, previously saved jobs cannot be refilled. If all our lives run out, we can climb out of the blood pool of Hades’s family home (yes, that’s what I wanted to write), where we are greeted with a foreskin remark by the lord of the underworld who is robotizing behind his desk all the time. And we can start Prison Break all over again.
Concerning Hades, it is important to know that this is not a roguelike, but roguelike, that is, it has a meta developmental system, and it is robust. In English, this means that although we will die many times by the time we get to the surface (the combat system itself is not particularly difficult, but very little HP has to be managed), our attempts will not be wasted because there are a lot of raw materials that can be collected from which to buy the remaining developments forever. This will not appear at first because Hades is gradually introducing its various game mechanics ideas. In fact, the thing is, at the first run, the game seems to be extremely skinny because the combat system itself is not exactly complicated. We have a sword that has a smooth cut (Attack), a larger but slower attack (Special), a long-range attack that requires collecting the “bullet” (Cast) after use, and in addition, we can jump a short (Dash).
Honestly, if someone could get to the surface for the first time, they could “execute” the Hades in less than an hour, so it shows that this is the work of a team of about 20 people. However, one of the game’s greatest feats is how mind-bogglingly high its replayability factor is. Sure, you can only unlock six weapons in total, but they provide a fundamentally different style of play. And then there are the Olympian gods (there are about ten of them, but the exact number is a bit spoiler) who can support Zagreus with two dozen random “blessings” (boons) each. These active and passive abilities somehow modify our combat movements, level them up, and combine them almost indefinitely. And since these are rewarded (mostly) randomly in the rooms, like real rogulite, we have to constantly decide which random options we are trying to include in our build. And this really weighs because it’s easy to die in Hades.
In Hades, experimenting with many development routes is a lot of fun. Still, each escape attempt doesn’t feel unnecessary because many permanent developments in Hades’ house can be solved. In the underworld, we can collect “darkness”, gems, nectar and all kinds of raw materials from the archenemies. We can develop our statistics and weapons and rooms and furniture that unlock (or decorate) souvenirs and new game mechanics functions. It’s amazing how accurately supergiant has calculated how much to collect and do in the game because, in Hades, I don’t feel like anything is unnecessary, boring or burdensome.
What’s perhaps most unusual about Hades is the way he combines his story with gameplay. Roguelites often do not care to explain why we can start the adventure again after death (they rewind time, allot good days), but here it makes sense that the prince of the underworld cannot die even better, but only goes back to where the souls of the dead are going anyway. Supergiant, however, goes further: here, death does not interrupt the story but moves it forward. Hades, for example, tells us differently each time we climb out of the pool, and in the house, the other characters react to how far we have managed to get. One of the best examples of this is Megaera, the arch-enemy of the first level, which is routinely ringed down after a while. When we return to the starting point, she feels increasingly desensitized by how we humiliate her in front of her employer (Hades). Otherwise, there are also game mechanics consequences. For example, the movements of the bosses are constantly changing the more we overcome them. In place of Megaera, for example, we sometimes find other boreholes who turn up because they want to know who regularly nibblets their brother.
The Hades tells the story of a family drama centred on a father-son conflict and, in the background, a larger feud between the gods of Olympus. Zagreeus’s story is essentially about growing up about a disgruntled young man who tries to assert his own will by rebelling against parental coercion. This theme fits not only the whimsical gods of Greek mythology but also the gameplay itself, which is itself about defiance. It’s about trying to jump them over and over again because we know that one day we’ll grow up to the task.
Hades was released for PC and Nintendo Switch on September 17, 2020, but is now available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Series S/X from August 13, 2021. We were trying to get out of the underworld. For more releases and tests this year, visit our constantly updated game calendar!
- Extremely tight design, virtually no unnecessary elements of this game
- An interesting family drama that cleverly embraces rogue-lite gameplay
- Fast-paced and well-controlled battles with a rich development system
- Quality character design, voiceovers and music
- The very high replayability factor
- Sometimes with all the effects, it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening in combat.
Although there are many positives to be listed about Hades, the ultimate reason why it is so special is that this year I have not encountered any other games that would have had all the elements in such perfect harmony. If the weapons weren’t that different, if the capabilities weren’t so diverse, if there weren’t so many permanent improvements, if the dialogue wasn’t so interesting, if the game was a little easier or harder… if the developers had done even a little something different, Hades might have been a lot less fun. That way, it was as tight an experience as maybe any other game in 2020. And in terms of design, it’s a masterpiece that almost only an independent game can do.