No one ever said leaving the Underworld was easy.
As a mythology buff, it always makes me happy to see the various deities of the world’s cultures represented in contemporary fiction. The Greek Pantheon, in particular, is always good for a laugh. Bunch of nutballs, those Olympians, waging war, turning into cows, and drinking excessively. Unfortunately, not all of the Pantheon get to enjoy that lifestyle. Take, for instance, Zagreus, son of Hades.
Forcefully confined to the Underworld for his entire life, Zagreus has grown tired of the wailing of lost souls and endless paperwork, and decided to leave the dark depths, by force if necessary. Hades isn’t really into that, and sets a never ending wave of traps and minions between his son and freedom. If Zagreus is killed, though, he’ll just end up right back at home. Because, well, where else is he going to go? It’s a battle of attrition. What will give out first? Zagreus’ will to fight, or Hades’ resources?
Hades is a rogue-like action game from Supergiant Games, whom you may remember for Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre. All three of those games were slam dunks (Pyre especially, since it was pretty much high fantasy three-on-three basketball), so when Hades made its way onto Steam, I had to try it, despite my policies against Early Access titles. What a surprise; they knocked it out of the park once again.
Each run of the game starts at the very bottom of the underworld. Typical rogue-like rules; if you die, you gotta start all over. When you enter a room, monsters will spawn, and once you’ve smashed them all, you can move on. I’ve played my fair share of rogue-likes, but the combat in Hades has a certain… snappiness to it that I enjoy. Even when a bunch of monsters come at you, if you’re quick on your feet (and the dodge button), you can clear out a room in less than a minute. Occasionally, the Greek gods will send you Boons, which are passive powerups that last for the duration of the run. For example, Poseidon, god of the ocean, may grant you area-of-effect damage on your dodge, or Dionysus, god of wine and parties, can grant you extra damage resistance or poison on your attacks. The right combination of Boons can make you feel a bit overpowered, but trust me when I say that if you ever feel overpowered, it won’t last long. The game will quickly ramp up the volume and strength of your foes to meet and exceed you, which really keeps you on your toes.
After you die (and you will), Zagreus will return to the House of Hades, where he can say hi to the Lord of the Dead himself and pet Cerberus. Man, Cerberus is such a good boy, I always have to stop and pet him. More importantly, with loot obtained from your run, you can order new installations in the Underworld, upgrade your base abilities, and unlock new weapons. There are also lots of NPCs to chat with; most of them speak like you’d expect Greek gods to, but there’s also a sort of exhaustion to them you’d usually get from clerical workers. It’s pretty amusing. Supergiant always did have a penchant for entertaining dialogue.
Hades isn’t finished yet, and there’s no projected end date for development, but honestly, they could call it a day right now, and I’d still call it a pretty great experience. The characters are interesting and likable, the combat is fast-paced and exhilarating, and there’s lots of trinkets and upgrades to unlock. If the game’s this good now, it’s gonna be pretty incredible once it’s finished. I, for one, cannot wait.