A Must-Play Masterpiece
Even most of the best games have issues. Things I would change if I could, even if they’re minor. Every now and then, though, a game comes along where every element complements the others. Where everything clicks to the point where changing any one element would just feel wrong. Hades is one of those games. Easily my favorite game of 2020, Hades arrives on Xbox Series X fully intact and available via Game Pass. Any player who hasn’t checked this one out yet owes it to themselves to do so.
Hades does a great job of getting right to the action. You’re dropped right into the shoes of Zagreus, the son of the Greek God Hades. You make a mad dash out of the underworld, going from chamber to chamber, earning rewards and abilities as you go to grow more powerful. Other members of the Greek Pantheon reach out to offer their support and help your escape. Each of them grants your choice of boons that can enhance your abilities or help you survive. Pretty soon, you’ll almost certainly die.
A Roguelite For All
Upon your death, Hades starts to reveal itself. This is a roguelite, the kind of game where you’ll complete run after run through the same areas, learning, gaining new abilities, and working to eventually overcome what initially seems impossible.
I can already see some of you heading for the door, but you really should hold up. I’m not always a fan of the genre either. While standouts like Dead Cells and Slay the Spire have captivated me in the past with strong enough gameplay, I generally need more in the way of progression than the genre likes to provide. That’s where Hades comes together for me, though.
Death, an inescapable part of roguelikes and roguelites, becomes part of the story, how Hades provides progress. Every time you die, Zagreus wakes up back in his father’s hall. There you’ll interact with many of the game’s characters, all of whom provide new information and continue the storyline the more you die. Death also provides an opportunity to spend resources you earned on your last run. While some of what you find, like your powers and money, are gone at the end of a run, many of the game’s currencies return with you. These allow you to unlock new abilities, new chambers for future runs, new weapons, and power up your existing abilities.
Keeping Things Fresh
Even dozens of hours into Hades, I was still having new interactions with characters, finding ways to improve my abilities, and feeling a real sense of progression. This is everything I usually miss in this genre. Strong enough gameplay can get me past it, but just doing the same thing over and over again, hoping I get good enough to eventually get further, tends to get old. In Hades, even when I came upon a section where I had trouble, I knew if I kept pushing, I’d get some upgrade or option that would help me get past it. Practice did help me improve as well, to the point where I often got further without needing those upgrades, but knowing they would be there if needed helped me keep going.
Hades features a rather absurd amount of variety. Six weapons are available, with no weak links among them. I’m fond of the spear, because I love being able to throw it and then reposition myself before recalling it to hit even more enemies. If you prefer to fight in close with a sword, or even fight with a machine gun, you’ll have great options available. Each of these weapons can be further customized with alternate aspects, provides even further ways to customize your combat.
Boss encounters are much the same. Each is suitably epic and feels like a moment worth overcoming. Yet even after facing a boss dozens of times, you may show up to find they have new moves, or that a completely different boss will be stepping in. Hades constantly keeps you on your toes, having to be ready for many situations.
Roll The Dice
Your upgrades during each run can be customized to some degree, but there is still a big element of luck in getting what you need. Many chambers provide multiple routes for you to select between, with the reward in each identified upfront. You’ll need to decide what you need. Even if you choose something that sounds useful, though, there’s no guarantee you’ll get what you want. You’ll be given three choices on most rewards, but they are random from a much longer list of possibilities. The Zeus boon you want may not be offered even if you meet him. Once you gain a bit of power, even a weak group of upgrades mid-run can be workable, at least to a point. If you luck into a strong enough combination, with many powers complementing each other, you can feel like, well, a god.
A Tale Worthy Of The Gods
Encountering the different characters who make up the House of Hades, the Greek Pantheon, or who populate your father’s realm are highlights. Every character here has so much life and personality, and they all change and grow the more you interact with them. Some of the best voice acting around helps bring them all to life. Incredible visual design enhances every element of Hades. The striking design of the characters may be where it makes the biggest impact, however.
Everyone will have their favorites. I was thrilled every time I got to challenge Thanatos or visit Eurydice’s chambers. Even now, with dozens of hours behind me, I still have to stop every time I visit Eurydice and listen to her song. It’s by far my favorite track in what may be the best soundtrack in a Supergiant title. If you’ve played the rest of their games, you know that’s no small praise.
Playing Hades on the Xbox Series X is as much a dream as it was on PC. Performance is consistently strong, and everything works great. I actually played it originally using an Xbox controller, so there was no transition there. It feels just as I remember. Everything loads quickly, leaving you with little downtime. I love the support for quick resume, letting me jump between this and other games easily just to get a quick run in.
Hades remains an absolute must-play modern masterpiece on the Xbox Series X. I’m thrilled to see new ports bring it to a new audience. With a wonderful story, memorable characters, some of the best voice acting around, a stunning soundtrack, variety that keeps things fresh even after dozens of runs, incredibly tight gameplay, and game design, which will allow even those who don’t usually care for roguelites to engage with it, this is a game that every player should try.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC, Mac; Publisher: Supergiant Games; Developer: Supergiant Games; Players: 1; Released: August 13th, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Hades.