Review: Hades Video Game

Image courtesy Supergiant Games

As a kid I got into Greek mythology through the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” book series by Rick Riordan. Something about the exciting stories of the gods and the famous heroes had me hooked. By extension, it deserves credit for me getting into writing as well. Since then, the interest in mythology went dormant, with nothing to really ignite the spark of interest within me-until recently.

On Sept. 28, Supergiant Games launched “Hades,” a roguelite game where Hades’ son Zagreus attempts to escape from the underworld over and over again. Roguelite games are a slight departure from the roguelike genre, which run on three core rules: procedurally generated levels, turn-based gameplay and the permanent death of the character. Specifically, “Hades” falls under a “procedural death labyrinth” where each death sends you back to a place where you can upgrade your character for the next run.

The gameplay itself is addictive. Zagreus cleaves his way through increasingly difficult rooms with one of six weapons to choose from, each fulfilling a different style of play. Meanwhile, the Olympians assist Zagreus by buffing his attacks and abilities to aid him in reaching Olympus. Other rewards include Deadalus’ hammer, which has different sets of buffs depending on your weapon, and various currencies to be used to buff your subsequent runs. It’s surprisingly simple for being so fun to run through for hours at a time.

Experimenting with different setups is definitely fun, but the game also appeals to long-term players with rewards for grinding the game. There’s a built-in achievement list for players who want to do everything there is to do. There are achievements for receiving every buff from every Olympian, every upgrade for every weapon, winning while being affected with every pre-run enhancement. It took me 21 hours alone to win with the base weapon, so I certainly have a long way to go.

What’s more, Zagreus can build relationships with not just the Olympians but any number of characters from the characters at the house of Hades where Zagreus ends up between runs to all the characters locked away within the various levels of the underworld. Whether you’re in a game for a good time or a long time, “Hades” has you covered.

What truly sets “Hades” apart is just how thematically perfect it is. It sounds ridiculous to keep the idea of dying repeatedly appropriate from a story standpoint, but it does through its basis of Greek Mythology, where non-mortal beings regenerate over time. It stays true to its roots as well. Aside from the gods being gods, the side characters within seem to follow the stories written about them. Daedalus’ hammer, for example, is based off of Daedalus, a craftsman from mythology who was behind the ancient labyrinth. Orpheus and the tragic tale of trying to save his wife Eurydice is referenced multiple times by the both of them. Sisyphus was doomed to forever roll a boulder up a hill in the underworld after cheating death twice. Patroclus was a close friend to hero Achilles was carried over. Theseus takes up arms with the Minotaur he slew in life.

Getting to participate in the retelling of these stories is a great selling point. Building relationships with them and learning more about the characters through conversation is one of my favorite parts, especially since it stays historically accurate. This mechanic puts the dialogue in the forefront, and it is awesome. This is particularly noticeable with the gods themselves, who were all given unique personalities, each of which feel remarkably in-character. The boastful natures of Zeus and Poseidon, the relaxed nature of wine god Dionysus and the aggressive nature of war god Ares are given form. I found myself pleasantly surprised by the portrayal of Demeter, goddess of agriculture. While her usual portrayal is that of a helpful being, Supergiant chose to portray the Demeter that took place after the abduction of her daughter Persephone, where her grieving nature was adapted to be more focused on the phase of the earth where everything dies in the winter as opposed to when everything blooms in the spring and summer. Strangely enough, Hephaestus and Apollo, both Olympic gods, are missing from the game. Hephaestus, god of the forge, can be written off as not being able to provide what Daedalus’ hammer cannot. The exclusion of Apollo, god of the Sun, is a bit more on the strange side. With all of the personality included it’s hard to fathom that Artemis’ own sister isn’t a part of it.

At just a $20 price tag, “Hades” is worth every penny. It’s a beautiful game that plays well and looks even better. I would like to see Hades reignite a love for Greek mythology among the public for young people today that Percy Jackson did for an earlier generation.