A grizzled narrator introduces you to the dark and dangerous depths of hell. Rivers of crimson flow on all sides. A steady and addictive beat starts up, and in drops our protagonist Zagreus – quite literally from above. He’s on a mission to escape from the underworld and for that, you must fight to the death. This is your disarming welcome to the “god-like rogue-like” Hades, loaded with ominous portent for all that you’re about to face, and gleaming with style.
Originally released as early access in 2018, Supergiant Games’ Hades now stands as “one of gaming’s greatest-ever surprises” in recent years. With fantastic reception and a devoted fanbase even for its initial stages of development, to only climbing higher with its full release, it dominated with several nominations and wins for various awards – Hades swept through the gaming world as brightly and powerfully as a bolt from Zeus. At the recent Game Awards, its developer delighted fans and followers of gaming news alike with the unexpected announcement of Hades II. The enticing reveal trailer features a magical new main character (Melinoë, Zagreus’ sister, and another child of Lord Hades) and set of gods at its forefront. This installment looks just as deliciously fulfilling (and quite simply cool) as the first game in both its combat and depiction of ancient Greek religion and mythology. After Hades‘ success it is no wonder that this is an exciting announcement if the developers truly are going to hit the target again – a feat which it seems there are high hopes for, with a consensus that “if there’s a studio that’s equipped to do it, it’s Supergiant“. But, looking at all this anticipation, just what was so good about the first game? Let’s take a look back.
Somewhat uniquely this is a game in which you’re supposed to die
The genre of game that I usually turn to is certainly not one that’s primarily combat-focused, but then Hades is more than your usual roguelike. With a vague knowledge of the reputation that preceded it but blind to how exactly the gameplay and story worked, I turned to this game on a whim backed by intrigue. I might have been thrown out of my comfort zone by it but I was not disappointed. Hades is – forgive me for a pun that’s absolutely been made before – hellishly hard. The first time I led Zagreus to his death I knew I was in for an uphill climb. But whilst I tended to hold my breath during the boss battles of each stage, it was often with a grin. Somewhat uniquely this is a game in which you’re supposed to die. The prince of hell will emerge from a pool of blood, make a cool comment, and shrug it all off ready for round two… and three… and four. After all, you’re the son of a god. Not too far in, Hades might kindly (but somewhat audaciously if the sting of defeat is still with you) suggest that the player might prefer to switch to an easier gameplay mode for enjoying the story – but I had become just as determined as the protagonist to get out of hell. Frustration can be made into invigorating fuel in fighting gameplay, and the sheer gratification of advancement in Hades in being able to see more of its world is a wonderful reward.
Much like another outlier to my typical genres of gameplay (the Bioshock series), the atmosphere and world-building at work is just so incredibly key here – I might not turn my hand to combat too often, but when it’s for a story this well-presented, it’s hard to resist. All the features of Hades work in captivatingly dynamic tandem. I couldn’t wait to see the entrancing design of a god that I had not yet met, and to hear what they sounded like. It’s impossible not to linger specifically on the game’s voice acting, where the characters are so well imbued with personality that it’s almost a joy to die and do it all again just to talk to them more (at least in the beginning stages of the game, until you start to lose more and more progress). The dialogue is thoughtful in its crafting of relationships between characters and ensures that even if your interactions with them are fleeting, what’s behind them is full of depth. Many players noted that even after several days’ worth of gameplay and round trips through hell, there was very little repetition in the conversations. It’s a sating compensation for that lingering itch of wanting to send the enemy that just felled you into oblivion themselves. By and large, all of this speaks to the passion put into making Hades which stood out so clearly to its audience to help boost its success amongst other indie titles.
Simply knowing that this is on the horizon sets a terrific precedent for what to expect from gaming news in 2023
Presenting you over time with a wide range of weapons, status boosts, supportive items, and abilities bestowed upon you from the gods of Olympus, there’s a lot to work with in your escape attempts from hell that keep the gameplay fresh. The player will continuously need to adjust to new possible tactics of attack and defence, but be on their toes to oppose the constant threat of losing it all. Death in Hades is essentially a given, but the daunting and somewhat foolish realisation I felt upon learning that coming back from it is true not just for your character, but also for every stage and its boss fight, was an eye-opener for just how harsh the game’s challenge was. Health restoration can be few and far between in the sprawling dungeons, meaning that any slip-ups can add up to be devastating. On the other side of this coin, delivering final blows to enemies (often set to an awesome rock track) has a deeply divine satisfaction.
So, Supergiant’s Hades has the backing of its many fans, awards, and platform releases, and it’s not hard to see why. The promised sequel is set to be released in early access just as its predecessor was, so following its development looks to be an exciting journey. A prospective date for this was not provided in the announcement, with more information to come this year. But quite frankly, simply knowing that this is on the horizon sets a terrific precedent for what to expect from gaming news in 2023.
The main goal of Hades might have been to escape from hell, but I’m definitely looking forward to diving back in.