For me, hearing that a new Supergiant Games game has released is a purchase simply on merit of their past games. There is a quality of art, music, and story that is poured into their past entries that most AAA studios can’t even reach. There is a deep cohesiveness that makes these not just games, but living worlds to explore. When the news of a Supergiant game hit I was ready to buy already, but there is more to this story than that.
Hades is the first time Supergiant has put a game out in an early-access format. Although truth be told, ‘early-access’ is an entirely meaningless term these days. With big-studio games releasing barren of content, and small indie games coming out in a more polished format in ‘early-access’ the term simply means nothing. The best you could says is it means the developer hopes to continue development on it with the proceeds. Although Destiny 2 was a one-time purchase but uses in-game purchases to continue to host, run, and update the game drastically. If you put a game out in a way that people can pay money to play your game, you have released a game. Label it how you want.
More interestingly Hades is a rogue-like game. A game in which you make multiple runs through an ever-shifting dungeon to try and reach the end. Run after run you get better at the game and accumulate power to help your runs get further and further. These games have become a dime a dozen and it would be incredibly easy for Supergiant to churn out a fairly generic, but passable, one of those.
On top of this Supergiant has also decided to partner with the Epic Games Store, choosing to release this game in early-access only on this storefront. Though the epic games store is huge thanks to the success of Fortnite, it doesn’t yet have the established history of Steam. This isn’t a bad thing, just an unusual thing if you want as wide an audience as possible.
All of this means that I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this game. An ‘early-access’ rogue-like dungeon crawler from Supergiant games on a very narrow scoped storefront. With all of their previous games having such a story-heavy focus with deep and authentic characters, it was confusing how they could fit their previous level of games into something like this. I purchased the game somewhat hesitantly, even after seeing some video of the game. I’m glad, in the end, I have come to trust Supergiant Games and their choice in game creation because this game certainly doesn’t disappoint.
While most rogue-like games tend to eschew story for action, and only pepper in characters, narrative, or plot, Hades finds a way to still create the rich worlds Supergiant is known for with it’s handful of characters and intermittent story opportunities. The story is simple, and straightforward at first. You are Zagreus, the prince of Hell, and are trying to defy your father and escape Hell to be with your family on Mt. Olympus. Your family is aware of your situation and actively tries to help you as much as they can along the way. Unfortunately escaping hell turns out to not be so easy.
Since this game is a rogue-like you will find yourself in brutal combat that will quickly bring about your untimely demise, and it will do so often. With each death you find yourself spawning back into hell along with all the other damned souls. Your father is always waiting to drill your inescapable situation into you with a cutting word every time you return. He knows you are trying to run, and simply believes you will never be successful in your escape.
This hub area, while visited only briefly between attempts to escape is exactly where the story and depth of the game starts to arise. In this hub area you will see a rotating cast of characters, from Nix the woman who raised you as your mother, Cerberus, your loyal dog who is seated beside your father’s desk, Achilles who often has kind words to say to encourage your escape, and my personal favorite, Dusa, a nervous gorgon that seems to have a slight crush on the prince and often floats off nervously after any conversation.
Each of these characters has that patent Supergiant Games personality and character that shines through even through brief conversations between runs. Even the absence of a character often goes noticed by the prince and makes the whole world feel like it moves whether you are there or not. Their voices are unique in both tone and character. After a small handful of runs you also will take a rest in your bedroom to be treated to a small interactive snippet of gameplay that replays some past events to fill in the story of why the prince is trying so hard to escape.
When you find yourself embarking on runs to escape hell you equip one of a few different unlockable weapons, and drop into a randomized version of the dungeon. Along the way after clearing a room you will get to choose along branching baths that offer various rewards you can see ahead of time. This allows you to shift the nature of the random upgrades you get along the way. These come as boons left by your relatives on Olympus. Thor, Aphrodite, and Artemis are just a few of the deities that will leave a choice of boons for you that empower your basic abilities or offer defense and offense upgrades. Even these incredibly brief interactions with the gods reveal more of their relationship with the prince and his father.
Along the way you will fight all manner of enemies that use different and unique attacks to try and take you down. Fights involve dodging away from attacks and finding opportunities to hit enemies to knock them out of their attacks. There is also a load of environmental traps and effects you can try to use to your advantage, one of the most useful being hitting enemies into walls for additional damage. You also have a small spell bolt you can fire at enemies, the effect of which can change during the course of a run. Once the bolt hits an enemy it will stick to them, meaning you either have to give it a bit to be able to collect again, or destroy the enemy for them to drop it again.
The feel of the combat is loose yet tactical. It reminds me in a way of Dead Cells where you move with some speed and your roll feels a bit slidy in a way that works to your advantage. The hits feel satisfying and all of the weapons you can take have entirely unique move sets and special attacks.The game truly feels unique each run as a good rogue-like game should.
It appears that Supergiant plans for a good amount of improvements, and they even list the countdown to their next update to the game. While this is an early-access game it already has reached a level of polish of a full launch game that plans on improving content as it goes. I would highly recommend it if you’re a fan of rogue-like games or any of Supergiant Games previous entries.