Forgive me for the clickbait-y headline but that’s how I’ve exactly felt over Hades in my time playing it. It’s how I felt about Apex Legends, and to this day, Apex has to be my most-played title.
Just to be clear, the game is an absolute masterpiece, worthy of all the accolades that it garnered last year. And if replayability and pure gameplay were the only things in considerations, it would not have been a reach to make a case for Hades as game of the year over The Last of Us Part II in The Game Awards. Of course, discussing and comparing the merits of both would require its own article. Let’s focus on Hades.
I’m personally glad to see Hades on the PS5. I’ve played it on PC, and while I could have hooked up my computer to a TV…well, I didn’t. Now that Hades is on console, I don’t have to, and I’m happy to report that Hades is an amazing couch experience. Although I suppose it’s a matter of preference, I speak on behalf of couch or bed gamers that the frustration the game is known for inducing is much more tolerable while lying in a comfortable position.
There are so many levels on which the game succeeds.
The art is amazing. The high-contrast comic book-like appearance of the world and the characters frame the world of Roman gods in a fresh light, which is often hard to do for such well-worn literature. This journey into Tartarus is a modern, stylized affair that rivals the likes of Persona 5 in sleekness and slick factor. It’s part of what draws you in, in spite of the torturous challenge it slaps you with.
A technical note: the game runs great at 4K 60fps on the PS5. The game also has some slight use of haptic feedback like when you’re petting hell-dog Cerberus. No real use of the pressure feedback-capable R2 and L2 triggers.
That challenge is, for the uninitiated, to get from the lowest depths of hell to the surface and meet with the gods of Olympus, without dying. Die, and it’s back to the start for you. It’s an almost incomprehensible challenge for everyone who has never played a roguelite such as myself. What’s the point of making all that progress to just see it all disappear with one misplaced dodge or missed attack?
The core gameplay, by the way, is isometric-style action with randomly generated rooms for every playthrough – a roguelite requirement – with various power-ups to make you stronger or keep you alive, and a growing variety of enemies.
The point is, even with death and even with starting back at the beginning, you are actually making progress. Your interactions with the Roman gods – Zeus, Athena, Ares and the rest of the gang – change as you make repeated playthroughs. You can give them and other supporting characters gifts, and they’ll give you a power-up that you can choose to wear in future playthroughs. You gain new weapons, and you do gain some permanent power-ups, with the most important being an item that resurrects you upon death – essentially an extra life that allows you to get further.
As a player, you’re also learning how to deal with the enemies better, including the bosses, in order to perfect your playthrough and get to the end. It’s an engaging challenge. You boot it up, and you feel like you’re going get closer to your goal this time – only to be turned away and die again of course.
For me, the best way I’ve dealt with this sometimes frustrating gameplay loop, is to limit sessions to maybe 3 to 4 attempts at finishing the game, and giving it a rest, and trying again next time.
Part of the fun also is learning more about the world through conversations with its rich cast of characters.
Your character, Zagreus, son of Hades, is a stoic, rebellious figure but has this pureness of will that contrasts nicely with the despair and pain that hell is known for. You can’t help but root for the guy as he tries to escape this underground kingdom, and his father, the gigantic, no-nonsense Hades, who, most of the time, seem borderline annoyed more than anything by Zagreus’ transgressions.
You’ll enjoy Zagreus’ smarmy barbs as well. Despite its difficulty, Hades has the humor to balance out what would’ve been a world as dreary as Demon’s Souls’.
Greg Kasavin handled the writing duties for the game. He was a former editor at defunct gaming magazine EGM, which had been a favorite of mine growing up. And while Hades is so far removed from that magazine, I thought some of that EGM humor showed through in the game sometimes.
Hades is truly an example of a game’s narrative tying in perfectly with the actual gameplay. Escaping hell is supposed to be tough. What better genre to represent that in videogame form than a roguelite? And what better world to build it in than this world of ancient gods?
Hades is a must-play, but set aside some time and patience. Rethink how you define progress in a game is, and Hades will draw you in and reward you.
It can also be great for quick 1-session or 2-session escape attempts, with the randomized nature of games feeling almost like starting a session of Civilization – except instead of rolling the dice hopefully for natural resources beneficial to your city, you’re hoping for the power-ups that you want, and then just building as you go, and making the best out of a hellish situation. – Rappler.com
Disclosure: Supergiant Games provided a review code on the PS5.
Hades came out on the PS5, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series on August 13, 2021 with American publisher Private Division as publisher. It was first released on the PC and Nintendo Switch in September 2020. It was developed by Supergiant Games.
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