Reviewing Hades in 2021 almost feels redundant. The game's been available on other platforms since September of last year, and has garnered heaps of praise and awards in the months it's taken to appear on Sony's systems. You probably already know what we're going to say about Supergiant's rogue-lite action game, because we've had a year of people falling in love with the darn thing. Still, it's always nice to try something first hand, and we'd be remiss to skip over this celebrated indie title. We've been making our attempts to escape Hell on PlayStation 5, and you know what? The game's really bloody good.
Let's wind it all back and start at the start. You play as Zagreus, son of Hades, and he's sick of his stuffy life in the Underworld. Shunning his princely duties and with contempt for his uncaring father, he decides to leave home and escape to the surface — but to do that, he'll first have to make it through the four treacherous regions between him and the fresh air above. Of course, his journey will be a tough one, and will involve numerous deaths as he tries again and again to make it that little bit further. Fortunately, being a god of the Underworld, repeatedly dying and returning to his own home isn't exactly a problem.
The main thrust of gameplay is with these escape attempts, and it all plays out like an isometric dungeon crawler. You'll hack and slash your way through hundreds of enemies in hand-crafted rooms that are randomly arranged. The action is generally very fast and, for the most part, taking damage feels dangerous; you'll be making liberal use of the dodge in order to preserve what little HP you have.
After defeating a handful of baddies, you'll move into the next area. You might have multiple doorways to choose from, and your only decision will come from what reward you want after the impending fight. Boons are buffs handed down to you by the gods of Olympus, and these can imbue Zagreus with all kinds of stat boosts, elemental effects, and more. They're your bread and butter for getting stronger throughout a run, and each god's unique set of Boons will stack with the others, resulting in some seriously potent effects.
In addition to these, you might also pick up Darkness crystals, Gemstones, Keys, or gold for the shops that could appear ahead. The thing is, every room reward is valuable to you in some way, so it can be a tough call between building your strength or acquiring something that'll come in handy down the line. The balance feels pretty spot on; you're never left with bad options.
Starting off with a simple sword, the combat can initially feel limited, but the small selection of attacks all feel great to pull off. Each of the six weapons has a basic attack and a special move, and then you have your cast, which is a projectile. It's not much, but when you factor in how differently all the weapons play and how the Boons and other modifications can alter your moveset, the developer has squeezed surprising mileage out of a concise combat system. Depending on which Boons you have, how they play off each other, and how you build out Zagreus, each run can feel very different from the last. It's wonderfully done, even if some of the encounters can get a little too chaotic.
But what's perhaps most remarkable about Hades is what it does outside of the escape attempts. Every time you die, you return to the hub area. Here, you can not only invest persistent currencies in things like new weapons and making Zagreus stronger, you can hang out and talk to numerous characters, which progresses the story in some way. You can speak with Hades himself, but others like Nyx, Achilles, Dusa, Megaera, and many more will be up for a chat sooner or later. Everyone in the game is fun to talk to, and you'll find that death isn't really a pain — you may even look forward to returning to the House of Hades so you can see what everyone has to say next.
The sheer amount of dialogue is pretty staggering — we've very rarely seen the same thing twice, and even better, the game has context sensitive answers for basically everything you do. The characters really feel as though they're responding to you and your actions, rather than simply reading the next line on the page. Even the Olympian gods will pass comment on your exploits when you encounter one of their Boons during a run. It's fantastic, and gives every character presence in Zagreus' journey. Occasionally the voice acting misses the mark, but the majority is well done, and everyone you meet has a distinct personality.
The loop of going out on a run, dying, and doing the rounds in the hub becomes super fun and addictive, because everything feeds into everything else. Making steady progress out in the Underworld, trying out new weapons and Boon combinations, is seriously moreish, and only gets better the more time you put in. Then, talking with residents of the House of Hades, deepening your relationships and slowly unraveling the story, is compelling too, especially the way it all reacts to what and how you've been playing. It's all so cohesive, it's a wonder that rogue-lite titles ever struggled to tell stories in the past.
After finally escaping for the first time, the game's momentum does slow down somewhat. The endgame Pact of Punishment, which introduces Heat levels to up the challenge for experienced players, is a brilliant and fleshed out addition, but it all gets a bit grindy. You might need some rare resources for certain upgrades, and getting them can be a proper burn. Fortunately, the game is such that you can play it for just minutes or several hours and have fun, but it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle to get what you need. Still, this is a small nitpick in the grand scheme of things. The overwhelming amount of things the game does well is remarkable — and we've yet to mention the superb music and artwork, which is the cherry atop a delicious cake.
Hades has been a long time coming for PlayStation players, but the wait was certainly worth it. Supergiant's rogue-lite action title is every bit as good as you've heard, with its fast-paced combat, wonderful Boon system, and amazing story that's interlaced with the gameplay. It's a complex game, but not a complicated one; it's a brilliantly constructed thing that delivers in practically every department. Easily one of the best rogue-lite titles available, Hades lives up to the legend.